Unless you've been MIA from social media for the past few years, chances are you've heard of The Ordinary. Sitting under Toronto-based skincare company Deciem, The Ordinary changed the beauty game when it launched a bunch of high-tech serums that give their expensive counterparts a run for their money. With ingredients such as niacinamide, zinc, and hyaluronic acid, the brand quickly went viral and is now available at major retailers like Ulta, ASOS, Skinstore, and more.
One of the hero products in The Ordinary's initial launch was the Advanced Retinol 2% serum, now known as the Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion. The anti-ager was loved by all for its ability to refine and re-texture the skin. But since its initial launch, five retinoids have been added to the lineup. This now means every skin type, along with beginner and regular retinol users, can find their ideal concentration. Excited? So are we.
Meet the Expert
David Lortscher is a board-certified dermatologist and CEO/Founder of Curology.
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The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion
The Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion ($11) is the current name of the brand's original retinol serum and offers the same advanced retinoid complex in a creamier texture.
"Granactive retinoid (or hydroxypinacolone retinoate) is a weaker cousin to tretinoin, a prescription ingredient commonly used to treat acne and signs of aging," says dermatologist David Lortscher. "Granactive retinoate may be an effective alternative to retinol and other less potent retinoids," and it might be gentler on the skin.
Though it's gentler, granactive retinoid is weaker to tretinoin, so its efficacy could plateau with continued use. Think of this as an entry-level foray into retinoids. So much so that, according to some reviews, it doesn't tout the efficacy of other products. Once your skin adjusts, you can build to higher strengths and products with time.
Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane
The Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane ($11) is a more lightweight formula than the emulsion.
It's still gentle enough not to irritate the skin and offers better compatibility for a multi-step skincare routine. Use this formula if your skin tends to be more on the sensitive side, and your regime is more complex.
Again, this product is not going to be as strong as others on the market (or even others by The Ordinary) so it may not yield the most impressive results if your skin is already used to active ingredients. Also, as many reviewers note, this product (like the others on the list) requires refrigeration after use, making it impractical for travelers.
"Over-the-counter (OTC) vitamin A derivatives such as retinol are thought to be significantly less effective than prescription-strength retinoids like tretinoin," says Lortscher. "Prescription retinoids are not right for everyone, though, so an over-the-counter retinol product may be the best choice for some people."
Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane
Like the above, the Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane ($15) is a higher concentration of the lightweight Granactive retinoid.
This product will deliver results with little to no irritation and is an ideal progression from the above 2% option if you want to take it up a notch. As with all retinoids, this should only be applied at night and used in conjunction with sunscreen to prevent extra damage from UV rays. Additionally, "applying a retinoid at bedtime means you will reap the most benefits; applying it in the morning may cause the retinoid to break down and be less effective," says Lortscher.
Since this offers a higher concentration of the active ingredient, your skin could take some time to adjust. If you notice breakouts or irritation, discontinue use and give your skin some breathing room. Also, many reviewers are critical of the texture, which some say feels greasy and does not sink into the skin.
Retinol 0.2% in Squalane
The 0.2% formula in Retinol 0.2% in Squalane ($7) is suspended in squalane—a natural antioxidant that promises to hydrate without being heavy.
This product is a good option for those who have introduced some form of vitamin A in their skincare routine and, as a result, may be more tolerant—as using too many active ingredients and adding a stronger retinol might cause irritation. This product also gets high marks from online reviewers for its ability to help fade hyperpigmentation on a range of darker skin types and tones.
As mentioned above, this product can be used in conjunction with others—though some users have noted irritation. Use every other night, but if peeling occurs, consider trying the Granactive retinoid 5% as an alternative.
Retinol 0.5% in Squalane
Retinol 0.5% in Squalane ($8) is the same formula as the above just in a higher concentration.
If you're already a religious retinol user, this could work well for you. Plus, at such a high concentration, it's likely to yield fairly significant results over time. Many reviewers note that its effectiveness comes with continued—but patient—use, so try using it once a week before working up to every night.
Simply put, this is a strong product. If you aren't used to retinoids, it's best to try a lighter product before and allow your skin time to adjust before moving up to this one. Otherwise, you may suffer from irritation or breakouts.
According to Lortscher, "Prescription retinols can be both safe and effective. However, retinoids can cause skin irritation, especially at higher concentrations. This can result in redness, oversensitivity, and a stinging or burning sensation."
Retinol 1% in Squalane
The last of the bunch, Retinol 1% in Squalane ($8) has the highest amount of retinol suspended in squalane, making it super effective.
This product offers a lot of bang for your buck, as it comes with such a high concentration of retinol. That also means it's likely to yield impactful results. Many reviewers cite this as their staple product, saying it helps with both scarring and hyperpigmentation.
Those with reactive skin should proceed with caution. "The best OTC retinol for you may depend on your skin type. For dry skin, I suggest looking for hydrating and non-comedogenic products," says Lortscher. "For oily skin, I suggest looking for lightweight products."