The Ordinary Retinol

The Ordinary Retinol: The Best Guide

The Ordinary beloved by many for it’s a no-nonsense approach to skincare.  Its price point and it’s commitment to sourcing and using high-quality ingredients in its formulations make it the first choice for many a skincare nerd.

I am a big fan of The Ordinary and I am also a big fan of retinol. The Ordinary has six retinol/retinoid formulas in its line up. Some are great, some are good and some are perhaps . . .revolutionary?

I’m looking at your granactive retinoid.

We’ll get to granactive retinoid in a moment, but first, let me give you an overview.

The Ordinary Retinol

The Ordinary pride themselves on not trying to bamboozle consumers with ‘marketing hype’ names.

I give you exhibit A: “Contains Auto-Replenishing Technology”.

This is actually in the marketing spiel for one of my favourite products of all time, Clinique Moisture Surge.

I forgive them because this product is outstanding. So outstanding that the above is an affiliate link directly to this product. That is how much I think everyone should have it.

And I also get it. Clinique like everyone else in the skincare game needs to try everything it can to get a share of the $140 Billion dollars a year that is spent on skincare in the USA alone.

The Ordinary’s desire to not mislead or confuse consumers is admirable.  Instead of trying to make their products stand out by claiming ‘auto replenishing technology’, they just tell you what’s in the little dropper bottle. Like you’re chemistry major and will nod your head in appreciation.

I give you exhibit B: The Ordinary Hyaluronic AcidYeah I am not convinced that that is any less confusing for your average human who is just looking for good ingredients that work. It seems that instead of using marketing speak they bamboozle customers by naming their products after chemical formulas instead.

I am not complaining I think an educated consumer is a consumer in control of their skincare and not wasting money on products that don’t work. It does say that this product is about hydration support – so I guess that’s a little bit helpful?

The Ordinary can be confusing, but I don’t think it’s deliberate. The Ordinary is just very transparent with how they make their products and I for one love them for it.

If you want to try retinol from The Ordinary then this is how you make your way through the haze. If you’re new to retinol then you might want to read one of these:

Retinol is notorious for causing skin irritation, and The Ordinary has three retinoids in their range that contain a ‘novel retinol’ called granactive retinoid.

What is Granactive Retinoid?

The Ordinary describes granactive retinoids as ‘The next generation retinoid actives’, that sounds like marketing hype and sales speak to me. After I have just told you that they don’t do that!

So, if it’s not marketing speak then is it fact?

I wanted to find out exactly what granactive retinoid really is.

The claim is the granactive retinoids can be as effective as the prescription-only version of retinol called tretinoin. But cause none of the associated irritation that tretinoin (retinoic acid) normally causes.

The manufacturer of granactive retinoid – Grant Industries, claims to have made granactive retinoid in such a way that they give all the benefits of tretinoin without the irritation.

If this is true it’s pretty exciting because the irritation factor of retinol is what stops a lot of people from using it.

Here is what The Ordinary say about Granactive Retinoid taken directly from their site:

a) A 2% concentration of Granactive Retinoid which is a complex of solubilized Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate (HPR). HPR is a highly-advanced form of retinoid which is, in fact, a non-prescription ester of all-trans direct retinoic acid that offers a multi-fold better effect against signs of aging than retinol, retinyl palmitate and nearly all other forms of non-prescription retinoid.

b) A sustained-delivery form of pure retinol in a protective capsule system which supports both the delivery and the effect of Granactive Retinoid.

In theory, this means that you would get the benefits of very strong retinol without any of the irritation and purging usually associated with retinoic acids.

Sounds amazing. But wait, the only ‘studies’ I can find are either directly from the manufacturer Grant Industries or sponsored articles by sites paid by Grant Industries to give granactive retinoid a positive spin.

According to 

Granactive Retinoid offers formulators the ability to harness the powerful anti-aging properties of retinoid without irritation and stability issues traditionally associated with older generations of vitamin A analogues.

It’s important to make clear that this is sponsored post and that Cosmetic & make that clear on their website. I have highlighted the sponsorship declarations on this screenshot.

Granactive Retinoid Sponsored

Does this mean that granactive retinoids are bad or ineffective?

Not necessarily. It just means that this is a ‘new to market’ product and that there is not a lot of science or clinical trials supporting the claim of ‘The results of Retinoic acid without the irritation’.

It may be that these claims are correct. There is just not a lot of evidence to prove the claim.

My issue with largely untested products is that we don’t know the long term effects that these novel retinoids will have. They have been declared safe by the governing bodies of the FDA for topical application.

It’s also important to note that unlike medicine or drugs, cosmetics are not approved by the FDA they are only regulated by them.

Let me be clear many companies in the skincare business make lots of ‘claims’ about their products that are not true or have very flimsy ‘backed by science’ claims.

This is because these companies are not required by law or the FDA to demonstrate the safety of their products. This is how some companies get away with outrageous claims.

As long as they skirt around making actual medical claims like “This potion will cure skin cancer”.

They make general statements like “May brighten and plump out skin” or “Can have an anti-ageing effect”.

Granactive retinoid is new and novel and may turn out to be the best retinoid ever, but at the moment the evidence is slim.

The information on the internet is generated by Grant Industries and then regurgitated throughout many websites that are not taking the time or effort to actually find out if these claims of granactive retinoid stack up.

My Experience Of Using Granactive Retinoid By The Ordinary

The reviews of this product are good and I can’t write an article about the Ordinary Retinol without having experience of using one of them.

I am a seasoned retinol user so I decided to switch out my usual retinol which is the Medik8 Retinol 6TR Advanced. This is strong retinol and definitely not for beginners, it is not the strongest one that Medik8 make but it’s strong even for the seasoned user.

I decided to go to Granactive Retinoid 5%. As I am intrigued by the claims of this product.  I used an entire bottle which lasted about a month, before writing this article. It’s very hard to compare retinol on my skin as I have been using retinol for 3 years.

Did I notice any improvements?

No, but my skin is in pretty good condition and one month is not long enough to see a dramatic change I did take before and after pictures but they look the same and the lighting is different so I didn’t include them.

It didn’t cause any irritation or purging and it felt hydrating. My skin didn’t look worse for not using the Medik8 retinol.

Would I keep using it?

Well, that’s a tricky question. It didn’t look worse and it didn’t look better. So should I switch out the Medik8 which is nearly $100 more expensive than The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid?

I am going to honest. I’m nervous about stopping using the medik8 because my belief is that it’s amazing and my skin looks great because of it. What if I change to The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid and my skin deteriorates and then I have to start again?

What if my skin doesn’t return to its pre granactive retinoid state?

These are questions I asked myself but I have to put my money where my mouth is so I am currently halfway through my second bottle of The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid. As long as my skin stays the same, I will continue to use it. It seems madness to switch back to the Medik8 retinol when my skin looks the same.

But totally transparency I am nervous.

My skin was in a good place to start with so it’s not really a great test for someone who has never tried retinol before. On most of the website that sells The Ordinary products, Sephora, Ulta etc the reviews are mostly postive.

The Ordinary Retinol

The Ordinary has six retinol products from very mild to strong. These are split into two categories:

  • The Granactive Retinoids and
  • The Retinol in Squalane.

Granactive Retnoid 2% Emulsion

This is a 2% retinoid in an emulsion base. This base is a creamy texture as opposed to the other retinoids in this range. This retinoid is the most gentle.

Granactive Retnoid 2% in Squalane

This product has the same amount of retinoid as its emulsion sister. It is formulated using squalane and is also one of the least irritating of the retinoids that The Ordinary make.

Granactive Retnoid 5% in Squalane

This is the last product in the granactive retinoid range at 5% retinoid. It is also touted as being strong but with no to very low irritation potential.

Retinoids vs Retinol

Retinoids are all part of the Vitamin A family. Confusingly retinol is the scientific term for vitamin A and also a component of the breakdown of vitamin A. Retinol is also what most people commonly think of when buying or researching retinoids.

The strongest forms of retinoids are called retinoic acid. These are called tretinoin if they go on your skin and isotretinoin (Accutane) if you take them internally.

They are prescription-only and way more powerful than most people need.

Retinol/Retinoid Strength

As you move down the scale of strength you get to retinaldehyde and then to retinol.

Retinol is considered the gold standard of retinoid treatment because it offers the most benefits with the least amount of irritation.

If the claims of granactive retinoid are accurate then they are made from an ester of retinoic acid. which means they are more effective than retinol without the purging effects of tretinoin.

The Ordinary is not the only company that uses granactive retinoid or HRP, they are just the only company actively calling their products by this name.

Because the granactive retinoids are still fairly new to the market. The Ordinary still has a range of traditional retinol products in a squalane base.


Retinol 0.2% in Squalane

This product uses a smaller concentration of the main ingredient, so it is a good option for beginners or people with sensitive skin. The key ingredient is suspended in squalane. This is an antioxidant that supplies extra moisture. It is a light product and can be used every night as long as your skin will tolerate it. If you experience peeling, you should cut back your applications.

Retinol 0.5% in Squalane

This is a slightly more powerful product that can be used for people who are able to tolerate a larger concentration. This is the perfect choice if you have used the lighter product for a while without any irritation and want to see if you can get bigger results. Start introducing this product slowly if you are making the change.

Retinol 1% in Squalane

This is the most concentrated option and is for people who know they are not sensitive to the active ingredient. This is an extremely powerful and effective product, so it’s a great choice if your skin is able to effectively handle it. If you have not used products like this before, you may want to work up to this concentration level.

Benefits of The Ordinary Retinol

Note: The benefits of The Ordinary retinol are the same as any other brand of retinol, with the exception of the granactive retinol.

If the claims that it “provides the effectiveness of tretinoin without the irritation” are true.

The Benefits of Retinol

Treats The Causes of Acne

What causes acne is not completely understood. However, there are four main factors that appear commonly in acne. These four factors are what scientist know trigger most acne breakouts:

  • Skin cells are made to quickly within the pore. This causes the pore to become blocked as the skin is making new cells more quickly than they can be shed.

  • Hormones especially around puberty and pregnancy trigger an excessive amount of sebum to be made.

  • A bacteria that lives on our skin (Propionibacterium acnes or P. Acnes) normally gets trapped in a blocked pore and triggers inflammation.

  • Sometimes your bodies immune system triggers inflammation.

You might be interested in reading What Causes Acne

How Retinol Helps Treat Acne

Retinol normalises cell production so they don’t overproduce new cells. Retinol also blocks the inflammatory pathway.

Lessen Acne Scars

Retinol stimulates the skin to renew itself and heal damaged skin cells. Because of this, retinol is an effective treatment for acne scars that have appeared on the skin once acne is healed.

These dark spots are known in the medical world as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation or PIH.  Retinol can help acne scars to fade and because of its ability to exfoliate the skin has been proven to help with smoothing out the texture of the skin.

Slows Indications of Skin Aging

As we age our skin produces less collagen and hyaluronic acid. These are substances that give skin its moisture and plump, smooth texture. We reach peak collagen production in our mid 20’s and it declines by around 1% a year from then on. Scary!

How Retinol Helps With Ageing Skin

Retinol works by encouraging basal cells (the lowest layer or cells in your epidermis) to divide and reproduce. These new cells then migrate up to the skin’s surface where they become the rooftop until they are sloughed off or removed by retinol.

The more fresh new cells are made the smoother and plumper your ‘rooftop’ or skin surface becomes. This is also why retinol helps with fine lines and wrinkles, it makes the skin produce new cells faster at the base level and it exfoliates the dead cells off the rooftop quicker.

Lighten Pigmentation

Uneven skin tone or patches of skin that appear darker than the rest of your completion is called hyperpigmentation. 

There is a lot of science backing up retinols ability to lighten and improve pigmentation issues. it works best when combined with another topical ingredient called hydroquinone.

The added benefits of The Ordinary Retinols is the potential that the granactive retinoids have to provide these benefits without the purging factor.

The Ordianry Retinols and How To Use Them

Use at night after cleansing.

Allow your skin to dry before applying your choice of retinol.

Apply 3 – 4 drops and sweep it over your face with your fingertips.

Allow the serum to absorb for a few moments before applying moisturizer all over your face.

 Everyone responds to retinol products differently, so it is important that you start slow and allow your skin to get used to this new product.

Start by applying the product every other night. If your skin seems to be handling it well, you can increase your application to every night.

If you experience any irritation, cut back to every third night until your skin gets used to it.

You can also apply moisturizer under the retinol initially to slow down its absorption by your skin.

The sun can break this product down, so it is important that you not only apply it at night but also that you use a sunscreen the next day. Your sunscreen should be at least SPF 30. 


The Bottom Line With The Ordinary Retinol

We can all agree that retinol is a superhero of the skincare world and you should use it if you can tolerate it. The Ordinary give you lots of options and the granactive retinoid may just be the unicorn you’re looking for if you’re super sensitive to other retinols or just looking for a cheaper option.

When it comes to The Ordinary you really can’t go wrong, the ingredients and the price point are all great.

I would recommend The Ordinary Retinol they have enough variety to suit everyone from absolute beginner to the seasoned user.

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