The Ultimate Guide To The Ordinary Retinoid Products: Which One Should You Choose?

by Gio

guide to the ordinary retinoid products

“Gio, how can The Ordinary products work if they’re so cheap? Where’s the catch?”

Headaches. The catch is in the headaches The Ordinary gives you when you’re trying to decide what to buy.

Want a simple retinol serum, for example? Here are 6. 6 ladies! How the heck do you decide which one is right for you?!

Do you go with the one with the highest concentration? Play eeny meeny miny moe? Flip a coin?

I’m a nerd, so I like to decode the labels and figure out which retinol serum has the best ingredients for my skin type. Sounds too boring?

Worry not. I’ve done the work so you won’t have to. 🙂 Here’s the ultimate guide to The Ordinary Retinoid products:

Granactive Retinoid 2% In Squalane (£7.80)

What form of retinoid does it use?: 0.2% hydroxypinacolone retinoate (HPR). HPR is a retinoid acid ester, a fancy way of saying it doesn’t need to be converted into retinoid acid (the active form of Vitamin A) once absorbed by the skin. Yet, it’s gentler than pure retinol. Initial research shows it helps treat acne, melasma and wrinkles.

What’s the texture like?: lightweight oily texture that sinks quickly into the skin.

Are there any side effects?: this is the gentlest retinoid formula by The Ordinary so it won’t cause irritations. But it can still make skin more prone to UV damage so use it at night only.

Who is it best for?: retinoids newbies and sensitive skin.

Where to buy it: available at Asos and Cult Beauty.

Granactive Retinoid 5% In Squalane (£11.90)

What form of retinoid does it use?: 0.5% hydroxypinacolone retinoate. The formula is the same as Granactive Retinoid 2% In Squalane but with a higher concentration of HPR.

What’s the texture like?: a little oilier than Granactive Retinoid 5% In Squalane. It takes a little longer to sink in.

Are there any side effects?: it shouldn’t cause irritations but may increase skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so use it at night only.

Who is it best for?: Anyone looking for a gentler alternative to retinol. Those who’s been on Granactive Retinoid 2% In Squalane and are ready to upgrade.

Where to buy it:  Asos and Cult Beauty.

Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion (Previously Advanced Retinoid 2%) (£8.00)

What form of retinoid does it use?: 0.2% hydroxypinacolone retinoate + an encapsulated retinol. Retinol is the gold standard of the old generation of retinoids. It’s proven to reduce wrinkles and dark spots, boost collagen and treat acne.

What’s the texture like?: a creamy serum, it absorbs quickly into the skin.

Are there any side effects?: it’s stronger than the Granactive Retinoids in Squalane so it may irritate sensitive skin. It makes skin more prone to sun damage, too, so use it at night.

Who is it best for?: Those who want a medium-strength retinol. Those looking for the best of the new and old generation of retinoids.

Where to buy it: Asos, Cult Beauty and Sephora.

Retinol 0.2% In Squalane (£4.20)

What form of retinoid does it use?: 0.2% retinol. While research on HPR is still at the beginning, retinol has decades of data to support its efficacy. But it needs to be converted into retinoid acid into the skin and is more irritating.

What’s the texture like?: a lightweight oil.

Are there any side effects?: 0.2% is a mild concentration but if you have very sensitive skin, you may experience some stinging and flaking. It makes skin more prone to sun damage, too, so use it at night.

Who is it best for?: retinoid newbies who prefer the tried-and-tested retinol to the promising but less studied HPR.

Where to buy it: Adore Beauty, Asos and Cult Beauty

Retinol 0.5% In Squalane (£4.90)

What form of retinoid does it use?: 0.5% retinol, which translates into 0.025% retinoid acid. That’s enough to treat photoaging. The formula is the same as Retinol 0.2% in Squalane but with a higher concentration of retinol.

What’s the texture like?: a little oilier than Retinol 0.2% In Squalane. It takes a little longer to sink in.

Are there any side effects?: can be irritating, especially if you have sensitive skin. To reduce irritation, start with Retinol 0.2% In Squalane first and work your way up. Like all retinoids, it should be used at night to avoid the risk of sun sensitivity.

Who is it best for?: Anyone who prefers retinol to HPR and is ready to upgrade from Retinol 0.2% In Squalane.

Where to buy it: Adore Beauty, Asos and Cult Beauty

Retinol 1% In Squalane (£5.80)

What form of retinoid does it use?: 1% retinol, which converts into 0.5% retinoid acid. That’s enough to reduce sun damage and boost collagen.

What’s the texture like?: Oily.

Are there any side effects?: out of all The Ordinary retinoid formulas, it’s the most irritating. It also increases skin’s sensitivity to the sun.

Who is it best for?: Retinoid pros who’ve worked their way up to this strength.

Where to buy it: Asos and Cult Beauty

SHOP THE POST

The Bottom Line

If you’re:

  • Looking for a gentle form of retinoid: stick to the Granactive Retinoids In Squalane.
  • Prefer the tried-and-tested retinol and your skin isn’t sensitive: go with the Retinol In Squalane.
  • Can’t choose and want the best of both worlds: Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion.

Whatever you opt for, always start with the smallest concentration first and work your way up.

Confused about The Ordinary? Click on the image below to subscribe to my newsletter and get “The Ordinary Products Guide” Cheatsheet:

Bonus: How To Make Retinol Work For You

Here are a few more tips to make the most of retinoids:

If you’ve found this guide useful, you may also be interested in The Complete Guide To The Ordinary Vitamin C products.

Don’t forget to let me know which The Ordinary retinoid product you’ve picked in the comments below!

Granactive Retinoid 2% In Squalane Ingredients: Squalane, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Bisabolol, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate, Solanum Lycopersicum (Tomato) Fruit Extract, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil.

Granactive Retinoid 5% In Squalane Ingredients: Squalane, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Bisabolol, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate, Solanum Lycopersicum (Tomato) Fruit Extract, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil.

Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Glycerin, Ethyl Linoleate, Propanediol, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Cetearyl Isononanoate, Bisabolol, Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate, Retinol, Tasmannia Lanceolata Fruit/Leaf Extract, Inulin Lauryl Carbamate, Glyceryl Stearate, Ceteareth-12, Ceteareth-20, Cetearyl Alcohol, Carrageenan, Xanthan gum, Acacia Senegal Gum, Cetyl Palmitate, Sucrose Laurate, Polysorbate 20, Isoceteth-20, Behentrimonium Chloride, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Disodium EDTA, Dehydroacetic Acid, Benzoic Acid, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Chlorphenesin.

Retinol 0.2% In Squalane Ingredients: Squalane, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Retinol, Solanum Lycopersicum (Tomato) Fruit Extract, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, BHT

Retinol 0.5% In Squalane Ingredients: Squalane, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Retinol, Solanum Lycopersicum (Tomato) Fruit Extract, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, BHT

Retinol 1% In Squalane Ingredients: Squalane, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Retinol, Solanum Lycopersicum (Tomato) Fruit Extract, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, BHT

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30 comments

Alex January 25, 2018 - 2:51 pm

How would you use those products in a PM routine?
I currently have the Advanced retinoid emulsion. Should I apply it first or after other water-based serums? (I have SubQ, MMHC, Matrixyl, Survival 0).
Thanks!

Reply
Gio February 2, 2018 - 3:54 pm

Alex, I usually apply retinol straight after cleansing. But if your other serums have a thinner consistency, use those first.

Reply
LENNI January 29, 2018 - 6:33 am

hai gio..i’m so happy found this article …can you recommend which one retinol that safe for malassezia (fungal acne)?i need your help…thx you

Reply
Gio February 2, 2018 - 4:12 pm

Hi Lenni, Paula’s Choice makes some great retinol products that are suitable for you. Just stay away from the 1% booster.

Reply
Alexandria March 22, 2018 - 2:56 am

Are you on Instagram?

Reply
Gio March 23, 2018 - 12:18 pm

Alexandria, yes. My handle is @beautifulwithbrainsofficial

Reply
Sascha May 15, 2018 - 7:54 pm

Hi Gio,
Thank you so much for this post, I really find it helpful. 🙂
I am concidering trying the Granactice Retinoid 2 % in Squalane, but since I have oily skin, I’m worried if I should be using a product with squalane oil? What do you think, is squalane suitable for oily skin?

Reply
Gio May 19, 2018 - 6:45 am

Sascha, yes, squalene oil is one of the few oils that’s suitable for oily skin too.

Reply
Elena June 12, 2018 - 9:50 am

Hi Gio,
Can I use retinol 0.5% after using retinoid 2% in squalane, without having to worry about irritation? Has 2% retinoid helped build up my skin resistance to retinol?

Thank you!

Reply
Gio June 16, 2018 - 4:33 pm

Hi Elena, do you mean using them on the same day, one after the day? Retinoid 2% helps build tolerance indeed but I’d stick to just one retinoid product in your skincare routine at a time.

Reply
Elena June 20, 2018 - 3:18 pm

No, no, not at the same time, of course ?. I’ve been using 2% retinoid thus far and I was wondering if I could replace it with 0.5% retinol (I’d like to try something stronger).
But your answer helps, thanks!

Reply
Gio June 22, 2018 - 12:18 pm

Elena, I see. Yes, you can totally upgrade. If your skin hasn’t built up enough tolerance, just cut back on usage a little.

Reply
licornice August 15, 2018 - 1:30 pm

Hi there, this is a nice article and helped me a lot to find my way with the only affordable retinoid products on the market.

However there’s is a lapsus between melasma and melanoma in the top of the article! (In the research references). Not quite the same 😉

Reply
Gio August 16, 2018 - 11:55 am

Licornice, oops, my bad! Thanks for spotting the lapses, I’ve just fixed it.

So glad the post has helped you. 🙂

Reply
Casey September 3, 2018 - 11:18 am

Hi. I have been using Granactive retinoids 2% emulsion for the last few months. Wondering what strength would be best to use next as an upgrade?!

Reply
Gio September 7, 2018 - 5:11 pm

Casey, from TO, 1% retinol in squalene.

Reply
Gemma September 23, 2018 - 1:54 pm

Thanks Gio, this was super helpful.

Reply
Gio September 26, 2018 - 7:16 pm

Gemma, glad it helped! 🙂

Reply
April January 30, 2019 - 2:52 pm

I have recently started derma rolling (0.5mm) at home once a week. Tonight will be my 3rd treatment. I want to add a Retinoid or retinol to my regimen. I have dry skin & is ‘slightly’ drier since I started derma rolling. I am also acne prone, not severe, 1-3 at a time. I use The Ordinary products because they are so budget friendly. Can you help me figure out which one I should start with. I really don’t want to start with the lowest if I don’t have too. Thank you

Reply
Gio February 7, 2019 - 6:01 pm

April, yes you have to start with the lowest (granactive retinoid 2%). everyone has to. In your case it’s especially important because you’re already drying out your skin with dermarolling.

Reply
Janel Rigsby February 22, 2019 - 5:07 am

Hi! I just discovered The Ordinary and I am looking forward to trying their products. I was just wonder if the OG retinol products are encapsulated? Thanks!

Reply
Gio February 28, 2019 - 5:45 pm

Janel, the Granactive emulsion is, but I don’t think the others are.

Reply
Jo March 20, 2019 - 2:49 pm

Thanks for your helpful insight. For a night regimine I’m using SubQ Anti-age followed byRetinol:1% and then a night moisturizer. I’m 60, live in dry Colorado and trying to keep my skin as wrinkle free as possible. Please let me know if this is the right layering . So far no irritation at all. Jo

Reply
Gio March 21, 2019 - 4:05 pm

Jo, yes, the layering is correct. 🙂

Reply
Julia June 29, 2019 - 1:01 pm

Hi Gio!
I’ve been using serum with 0,1% adapalen for a past 2 months, and before that I’ve been taking Accutane for the whole winter. Which of these serums would you recommend to me as a prevention for acne relapse?

Reply
Gio July 6, 2019 - 2:43 pm

Julia, the emulsion. Just because I don’t like using anything oil-based for acne prone skin.

Reply
Nausheen Kauchali July 4, 2019 - 2:30 pm

Hi
Is the granactive 2% emulsion stronger than the 5% granactive in squalane? You seem to be the second blogger to say this.
TO started with the emulsion and that’s what i started my retinol journey with too in June 2017.
I then moved to granactive 2%, then granactive 5% and then 0.5% retinol. Have I moved in the wrong direction?
Am now looking to move to the 1% retinol in squalane.
Its all very confusing, especially since Deciem insists that the granactive 5% is the strongest retinol in their arsenal.

Please help

Reply
Gio July 6, 2019 - 2:30 pm

Nausheen, you did move in the right direction, so go ahead with 1% retinol now.

Granactive retinoid is very powerful on paper, but we lack independent studies on how it compares to retinol, which has decades of evidence behind it. So whenever possible, I still prefer retinol.

Reply
Nausheen Kauchali July 8, 2019 - 12:14 pm

Thanks! i have, however developed fine pimples on the sides of my face since TO has introduced squalane in the retinol, could this be the reason?

Reply
Gio August 8, 2019 - 2:53 pm

Nausheen, oh no! Unfortunately, you’re not the first person to report this. I think TO retinol products are great, but I don’t really recommend them to oily skin for this reason.

Reply

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