Retinol. The ultimate over-the-counter anti-aging ingredient. It’s been touted as the key to achieving younger-looking skin, reducing wrinkles and fine lines, and evening out skin tone.
If you are looking to try retinol, The Ordinary retinol products are a great option if you want to incorporate retinol into your skincare routine at an affordable price point.
The Ordinary offers a range of six products with different concentrations of retinol or retinoids, so you can find the one that best suits your skin type and needs.
So which one should you choose? And how should you use it? I’ll break it down for you and look at the benefits and drawbacks of every The Ordinary retinol and retinoid serum.
Scroll down to the bottom of the post to learn more about what retinol and retinoids can do for your skin.
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How To Use Each of the Ordinary Retinols and Retinoids
The Ordinary offers three retinol serums and three Granactive Retinoid serums. The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid serums are alternatives to retinol that typically cause less irritation than retinol but provide similar results.
The Ordinary retinol serums are all in a squalane base, which provides lightweight moisture to offset the drying side effects of retinol.
While squalane has an oily texture, it is non-comedogenic, so it shouldn’t clog your pores or cause acne or breakouts.
For all six The Ordinary retinol and retinoid serums, there are a few things the keep in mind:
- Start by applying a few drops to your face in the evening after cleansing.
- Allow it a few minutes to absorb before following with your regular moisturizer.
- Refrigerate the serum after opening for maximum effectiveness.
- Use only as directed on unbroken skin.
- The Ordinary suggests patch testing prior to use for the first time to avoid an adverse initial reaction.
- Be sure to use sunscreen during the day while using these products and for a week after.
Let’s look at each retinol/retinoid serum from The Ordinary:
The Ordinary Retinol 0.2% in Squalane
|Great for beginners||Not as potent as other The Ordinary retinol/retinoid serums|
|Squalane improves skin surface hydration||May cause irritation|
The Ordinary Retinol 0.2% in Squalane contains the lowest concentration of retinol in The Ordinary’s retinol range.
The serum contains just 0.2% retinol, making it one of the least potent products in The Ordinary’s lineup.
The Ordinary Retinol 0.2% in Squalane is a great starting point if you’re just beginning to incorporate retinol into your skincare routine.
It’s ideal for first-time users or those with sensitive skin.
You can start by using this product every a few times a week or every other night and slowly build up your usage until you feel comfortable enough to increase the frequency/concentration of your retinol product.
Or you can take it even slower and follow the general rule of starting retinoids (in your evening skin care routine):
- 1x a week for 1 week
- 2x a week for 2 weeks
- 3x a week for 3 weeks
- increase usage to nightly as tolerated
The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% in Squalane
|Moderate strength for targeting visible signs of aging||Not for beginners|
|Squalane improves skin surface hydration||May cause irritation|
The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% in Squalane is a popular choice and the next step up from Retinol 0.2% in Squalane.
This middle-of-the-road retinol formulation contains 0.5% retinol, making it a good option for those who have already built up a tolerance to the Retinol 0.2% in Squalane.
If the serum is too irritating after moving up from the 2% concentration, you can reduce frequency and slowly increase the number of nights used as your skin builds a tolerance.
The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane
|The Ordinary’s strongest retinol serum||High irritation potential|
|Great for hyperpigmentation and sun damage||Not for beginners and those with sensitive skin|
|Squalane improves skin surface hydration|
The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane is the strongest retinol serum that The Ordinary offers. If you aren’t seeing the results you want with The Ordinary 0.5% retinol concentration, this is the next step up.
The serum contains 1% retinol and can help reduce wrinkles, improve skin texture, even out skin tone, and minimize breakouts.
The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane is the most potent of The Ordinary’s retinols and should only be used by those with experience using retinoids and looking for an extra boost of anti-aging benefits.
This is also the most irritating The Ordinary retinol serum.
If this retinol serum doesn’t work for your skin, consider trying The Ordinary Granative Retinoid 5% in Squalane for less irritation. It’s the strongest Granactive Retinoid serum The Ordinary offers but doesn’t cause as much irritation as retinol.
If this 1% concentration doesn’t work for your skin, or if you aren’t seeing the results you want, you may consider switching to a stronger retinoid like retinaldehyde.
Retinaldehyde is one step above retinol in terms of potency but tends to be gentler on the skin.
There are some very effective retinaldehyde serums on the market that I love. I see less irritation with these serums than with retinol serums: including the e.l.f. Cosmetics, Naturium, and Avene serums shown above.
Just remember to start with a low concentration and build as your skin tolerance increases like you would with any retinoid product.
The Ordinary Granactive Retinoids
Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion
|Granactive Retinoid reduces irritation potential without sacrificing anti-aging benefits||Not as strong as some other The Ordinary retinoid/retinol serums|
|Comfortable creamy texture|
|Good for beginners|
The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion contains a 2% concentration of Granactive Retinoid, also known as hydroxypinacolone retinoate (HPR).
HPR technology helps to reduce irritation while still providing similar anti-aging benefits as traditional retinols.
Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion is the only The Ordinary serum not in a squalane base. The serum also contains an undisclosed amount of retinol to boost the serum’s anti-aging benefits.
This is a great place to start if you are new to retinoids.
Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane
|Granactive Retinoid reduces irritation potential without sacrificing anti-aging benefits||Not as strong as other The Ordinary retinoid/retinol serums|
|More lightweight than Granactive Retinoid Emulsion 2%|
|Squalane base improves surface hydration|
|Excellent for beginners and may be suitable for sensitive skin|
The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane is the gentlest Granactive Retinoid serum that The Ordinary offers, so it’s a great starter retinol for beginners or those with sensitive skin.
The serum contains 2% Granactive Retinoid, which is an advanced form of retinol that is less irritating than traditional retinols while still providing great anti-aging benefits.
The squalane base helps to soothe and hydrate the skin while providing a lightweight feel.
If you have sensitive skin, it’s still a good idea to start slow and increase usage as your skin adjusts.
Granactive Retinoid Emulsion 2% vs Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane
Both Granactive Retinoid Emulsion 2% and Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane contain 2% Granactive Retinoid, which helps reduce skin irritation compared to traditional retinol serums.
Granactive Retinol Emulsion 2% also contains retinol.
The most noticeable difference between the two serums is the texture. The oil-like squalane-based formula of Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane is more lightweight than Granactive Retinol Emulsion 2%, which has a thicker, creamier texture.
Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane
|Granactive Retinoid reduces irritation potential without sacrificing anti-aging benefits||Strong concentration may cause irritation if your skin tolerance has not adjusted|
|Strongest Granactive Retinoid The Ordinary offers|
|Squalane base improves surface hydration|
The most potent Granative Retinoid serum that The Ordinary offers, The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane is ideal for those moving up from one of the other The Ordinary Granactive Retinoids or if you experience irritation from retinol products.
The serum contains 5% Granactive Retinoid, which is The Ordinary’s strongest Granactive Retinoid concentration. It’s a nice alternative to The Ordinary’s retinol products since tends to be less irritating.
if you’re new to retinoids, it’s best to start with a lower concentration of Granactive Retinoids, so see how your skin responds, and increase usage until your skin can tolerate the stronger 5% concentration.
The Ordinary Retinol/Retinoid Evening Skincare Routine Examples
Here are some example The Ordinary retinol routines for your nighttime skincare routine that take your skin type into consideration.
You’ll notice that I include The Ordinary’s Granactive Retinoid treatments in these routines since they tend to cause less irritation than retinol, but you should always choose the products that work for your skin.
If you prefer retinol to Granactive Retinoid and it works better for your skin, stick with what works for you.
While these are some basic routines focusing on retinol, you can always add additional products to your evening routine based on your skin’s needs.
For instance, for all the routines, you can use The Ordinary Multi-Peptide Eye Serum to target the visible signs of aging around your eyes.
And don’t forget sunscreen in your morning skincare routine!
The Ordinary Retinol Shelf Life & PAO
The Period After Opening (PAO) symbol indicates how long a product will remain stable after opening. For The Ordinary retinol and retinoid serums, the shelf life after opening is 3 months.
To ensure that your product remains effective, it’s important to store retinol products in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and heat exposure.
In fact, The Ordinary recommends keeping all of their retinol/retinoid serums refrigerated as doing so will provide maximum effectiveness.
To learn more about The Ordinary expiration dates and product shelf life, please see my The Ordinary Expiration Dates with PDF post.
The Ordinary Retinol/Retinoid Conflicts
Since retinoids/retinol can cause irritation, the ideal is to avoid combining with other products that cause irritation or decrease its stability.
For all The Ordinary retinoid and retinol products, they note these conflicts:
- Copper Peptides
- Direct Acids
- Direct Vitamin C
Since exfoliating acids and vitamin C are formulated at a low pH to be effective, while retinoids/retinol are formulated at a higher pH, mixing the two could reduce the effectiveness of both and cause irritation.
I would also add other strong actives like benzoyl peroxide to this conflicts list since mixing them with retinoids could irritate your skin.
Using The Ordinary Retinol and Retinoids with other The Ordinary Products
Can You Use The Ordinary Retinol With Hyaluronic Acid?
Yes, you can use The Ordinary retinol or retinoids with The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5.
The Ordinary recommends applying hyaluronic acid first, since it is water-based, and then follow with one of their retinoids.
Can You Use The Ordinary Retinol With Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%?
Yes, you can mix retinol and The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% together at the same time. In fact, niacinamide can help reduce the irritation that retinol can cause.
Since The Ordinary’s niacinamide is water-based, it can be applied before your The Ordinary retinol/retinoid serum.
Can You Use The Ordinary Retinol With Glycolic Acid?
The Ordinary suggests avoiding using exfoliating acids like glycolic acids with retinol and retinoids at the same time. The same goes for other potent actives like lactic acid, salicylic acid, other retinoids, and vitamin C.
Copper peptides encourage the skin’s exfoliation process, so it’s also best to avoid using retinol/retinoids at the same time as The Ordinary Buffet + Copper Peptides.
Of course, everyone’s skin is different, so you may be more or less tolerant of strong actives. To be cautious, it is best to use them on separate nights, at least to start.
Can You Use The Ordinary Retinol With Vitamin C?
It’s best to avoid using The Ordinary retinol or retinoid serums at the same time as pure vitamin C.
TIP: If you really want to use retinol and vitamin C together, consider using The Ordinary retinol or retinoid serums with a vitamin C derivative like The Ordinary Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12%. Apply Ascorbyl Glucoside first and then follow with retinol or a retinoid.
Related Post: The Ordinary Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12% Review
Can You Use The Ordinary Retinol with “Buffet” (Multi-Peptide Serum + HA)?
Yes, you can use The Ordinary Retinol or Retinoid serums with “Buffet” (now called Multi-Peptide Serum + HA).
The Benefits of Retinol
Retinol is a form of Vitamin A that helps stimulate skin cell turnover and collagen production in your skin, which is the base of its anti-aging effects.
The result is a reduction in the look of wrinkles, fine lines, hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and sun spots, a more even skin tone, and improved skin texture.
This skin renewal process helps create a brighter, more even-looking skin tone with fewer texture irregularities and less dullness, as well as firmer skin. Retinoids can even help with acne.
Retinol is a type of retinoid, which is an umbrella term for vitamin A derivatives. Retinoids come in varying strengths. The following retinoids are listed from strongest to weakest:
- Retinoic acid (prescription strength)
- Retinyl Esters
Retinol converts to retinaldehyde and then to retinoic acid once it’s in the skin. Retinoid acid is its active form that does all the work to improve the appearance of the signs of aging.
Drawbacks of Retinol
Unfortunately, retinol can be a bit harsh on the skin and cause redness, irritation, peeling, and dryness. It’s important to introduce it slowly into your routine to ensure that your skin is able to tolerate it.
Retinol also should not be used with other potent actives. Any other products that contain potent or acidic ingredients should not be used along with retinol as they can degrade each other or cause an adverse reaction.
What Is Granactive Retinoid?
You may have noticed that three of The Ordinary products are called Granactive Retinoid. What is it, and where does it fall in the spectrum of potency?
Granactive Retinoid is also known as Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate (HPR) and is a newer type of retinoid that is less irritating than traditional retinol and other retinoids but provides similar effectiveness.
HPR binds directly to retinoid receptors in the skin without having to be converted into retinoic acid.
The Ordinary Retinol vs Granactive Retinoid
I asked The Ordinary how their retinol and retinoid products compare and they said that they can’t compare the strength of retinoid vs retinol because they are two different technologies.
While retinol has been studied extensively, Granactive Retinoid is a newer ingredient.
As previously mentioned, retinol can be irritating to your skin, and newer retinoid technologies like Granactive Retinoid mimic the visible effects of retinol without causing unwanted skin irritation.
So as a result, The Ordinary suggests using their Granactive Retinoid products instead of retinol-based formulas.
Just keep in mind that everyone’s skin is different, so you may need to experiment a bit and find what works best for you.
Whichever retinoid you choose, it should be applied at night only since sunlight breaks down the active ingredient in retinol.
Related Post: Avene RetrinAL Review
The Ordinary Retinol and Retinoids: The Bottom Line
It’s relatively easy to incorporate The Ordinary’s range of retinols and retinoids into your skin care routine. Just be sure to consider your skin type and skin concerns.
Start slow with low concentrations and increase from there so your skin can adjust to the product without irritation or adverse effects.
It is important to note that it may take several weeks or more before you start seeing any visible results, so patience is key!
Thanks for reading!