A Guide to The Ordinary Retinols

You don’t need to be a skincare junkie to have come across retinol. It is one of the most popular skincare ingredients, but it is also one of the more complicated ones to understand. Because of it’s potency, there’s definitely a right and a wrong way to do retinol, and if you go down the wrong path, it could actually have counter effects and damage your skin! Whoa, that’s intense.

I know you are here because you are considering buying a retinol based product from The Ordinary. It is affordable and accessible but there are a few; six products to be exact and you are probably torn. In the past few years, The Ordinary has become a go-to brand for many of us to try out active ingredients at a lower price point.

So, let’s get down to the details of choosing a retinol from The Ordinary. There is an option for everyone: low concentration, higher concentration and a couple different retinoid options.

Why Use Retinol?

Retinol (or retinoids) is a derivative of Vitamin A, it works by increasing collagen production and stimulating the production of new blood vessels in the skin. These changes create a smoother, plumper and younger looking skin.

There are so many little things that you should be aware of before starting to use a retinol product. Your skin type will be a major factor in the type of retinoid you use.

Retinol isn’t something you can dive into, it takes baby steps, small concentrations applied a couple times week and allowing to skin to embrace the effects of retinol.

This post on retinol will give you a good grasp of what your should and shouldn’t when it comes to retinol + recommendations. But if you’re committed to The Ordinary, keep reading!

Related: Everything you need to know about retinol

The Ordinary Retinol Products

The label of a retinol product is essential when you pick a formula. Primarily because you need know where you are on your retinol journey. A high concentration of retinol in your skincare product can have very negative effects if your skin is not prepared to receive it.

Irritation, inflammation and peeling are all potential aftermath of using too strong a retinol. The key is to start at a low concentration and work your way up.

Plus, you need to be aware of the different types of retinoids that are available. Retinol is a type of retinoid, but not all retinoids are retinols. Confusing huh? This is kinda like how all toes are fingers, but not all fingers are toes.

The Ordinary Retinol in Squalane

So 5 out of the 6 retinol based products by The Ordinary are in squalane. You might wonder why and even what the heck is squalane?

Well, first some science. retinol is a potent and unstable substance that you can’t apply directly to your skin, a solvent and a carrier is absolutely necessary the formulation of a retinol product.

So, retinol needs a buddy someone levelheaded and chill. Squalane is exactly that friend. It offers the skin protection and it soothes the skin while keeping the retinol stable and capable of working on the skin, D.J Tanner to her Kimmy Gibbler.

But why squalane?

Squalane is the hydrogenated from of squalene (note the “a” vs. “e” here), an oil that is naturally occurring in the skin. The squalane form of the lipid has a longer shelf life and better stability.

As an emollient that supports the outer barrier of the skin it works great with actives like retinol (or any retinoid) simply because is counters the negative effects of retinol. It reduces the dryness or inflammation that is often caused by retinol.

Here are the retinol products made and sold by The Ordinary. All of these formulations contain squalane, there are two others in the Ordinary family that contain squalane that we will talk about below.

Retinol 0.2% in Squalane

  • Best for beginners
  • Low strength
  • Who should use this: First-time retinol users

Retinol 0.5% in Squalane

  • Can be irritating
  • Moderate strength
  • Who should use this: Those that have used a lower concentration retinol, beginners with oily skin

Retinol 1% in Squalane

  • Potentially very irritating
  • High strength
  • Who should use this: Seasoned retinol users

Granactive Retinoid products from The Ordinary

There are a variety of retinoids and Granactive Retinoid is one of them. Granactive retinoid is much closer to the form of Vitamin A that we want, retinoic acid. Although retinol takes a little more time and processes to reach the retinoic acid point it is more popular because it has been around longer and more research has been done.

Granactive Retinoid

The scientific name for Granactive Retinoid is hydroxypinacolone retinoate. Only 10% of the Granactive retinoid is the active ingredient hydroxypinacolone retinoate and the rest is a solvent.

So, although a product might have 2% Granactive Retinoid listed only 0.2% of the product has the capacity of convert into retinoic acid – which makes it a similar potency to the Retinol 0.2% in Squalane.

Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion

  • Good for oily skin
  • Creamy emulsion
  • Who should use this: Beginners with oily skin

Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane

  • Good for sensitive skin
  • Low strength
  • Who should use this: Beginners with sensitive skin or dry skin

Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane

  • Suitable for those that have used retinoids before
  • Moderate strength
  • Who should use this: Those that have used a lower concentration retinol

Is Granactive retinoid stronger than retinol?

Well yes and no. Granactive retinoid is the newer generation more advanced and more direct form of retinoid.

It is said to provide the same results as retinol with fewer drawbacks. However, they are not directly comparable because of the nature of retinoids. The type of retinoid molecule in granactive retinoid is very different from that in retinol.

The hydroxypinacolone retinoate in granactive retinoid requires fewer conversions compared to retinol before it is broken down to retinoic acid that the skin can absorb.

The hydroxypinacolone retinoate in Granactive Retinoate is often encapsulated by the other ingredients. It is considered a prescription drug in Canada and cannot be bought over the counter. Do what you want with that information.

When should I go up in retinol concentration?

Short answer: when you run out of the bottle you have.

By the time you run out of a bottle of retinol you should be applying it about 3-4 a week with no issues. This is the only way to be certain that your skin has become accustomed to that level of retinol and that you are ready for more.

What is the best retinol from The Ordinary?

The highest rated retinoid products are the Retinol 0.2% in Squalane and Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion with a 4.6 star rating each.

These are the two lowest strength retinoid products by The Ordinary making them good beginner options.

What is the strongest retinol from The Ordinary?

The Retinol 1% in Squalane is the strongest retinol sold by The Ordinary. There are other products out there with double the concentration but 1% retinol isn’t something you should take lightly anyway.

It is substantial amount of retinol for you apply on your skin and not suitable for beginners.

How to apply The Ordinary Retinol?

The product should be applied as a part of your evening skincare routine. Although these products contain squalane oil (and oils are traditionally last in an evening skincare routine) it is a treatment so it is best to apply it after any other serums that you might use, but before your moisturizer.

Your skin should feel dry after your serums, you want the serums to have absorbed into the skin before you apply the retinol. This will reduce the risk of irritation and help your skin adapt to retinol better.

See Also

Don’t forget to apply sunscreen in the morning!

Related: Read more about crafting the perfect skincare routine order

Can I use The Ordinary retinol everyday?

Excessive use of retinol can cause drying, irritation and even peeling. You want to introduce retinol slowly.

Here’s a routine we recommend:

  • 1st two weeks: Apply retinol at night once a week
  • 2nd two weeks: Apply retinol every every two days
  • 3rd two weeks: Apply retinol every other day

Once you’ve build up your skin’s tolerance to retinol you should use the appropriate strength product up to every other day. We generally don’t recommend using retinol every day, but if your skin can tolerate it – do you.

What percentage of retinol is safe?

Anything from 0.01% percent of retinol can positively impact your skin. You don’t need high percentages of retinol to see the benefits.

The highest percentage of retinol that is sold over the counter is 2%. It is a safe amount of retinol in a product, but probably unnecessary for your needs.

Also remember that this number is specific to retinol, for Granactive retinoid you should divide it by ten to really know how much retinoic acid is stored within the product.

Which retinol should I start with?

The Retinol 0.2% in Squalane is the best place for you to start. It is the safest option especially if you have sensitive or dry skin.

The lower retinol content will allow your skin to get accustomed to the effects of retinol and adjust accordingly.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to The Ordinary Products

Do I need to refrigerate The Ordinary Retinol?

Not necessarily, but you’ll increase the shelf life of the product it is kept in a cool consistent temperature. If you use the product consistently this will not be necessary.

Other retinol products to try

The Ordinary retinol products are pretty basic and they do get the job done, but sometimes we want products that multitask or are a touch stronger.

Here are some options for you to choose from.

Final Thoughts on The Ordinary Retinols

The affordable pricing and accessibility of The Ordinary products mean that you can try out retinol or granactive retinoids with little at stake financially. Plus, The Ordinary products have been around and have become a trusted part of many people’s skincare routines so that is comforting.

The variety in concentrations also provides you with options no matter where you are on your retinol journey.

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