The Ordinary Retinol Review: How to find your perfect fit.

The Ordinary Retinol Review: How to find your perfect fit

In Product Reviews by Cheryl WoodmanLeave a Comment

Retinol! The gold-standard in anti-ageing. The hero of oily, acne prone skin. The go-to gem of dermatologists.

Your skin can easily LOVE retinol. Your skin can also easily HATE retinol.

Imagine yourself ordering a very exciting ASOS haul. You’ve clicked yes to a pair of stone-washed waist high skinny jeans, yes to an oversized, yellow-gold knit jumper, yes to a Chanel lookalike chain strap bag. You can’t wait for the delivery man to rock-up at your door.

Finally it happens – you snatch your order, you run upstairs, you strip and you… stare in disbelief at your jeans, jumper and bag.

…because that bag is just about big enough for 1 lip-gloss and half your phone.

…because those skinny jeans are 100% mom-fit and 0% skinny fit.

…because that huggably cosy knit jumper is guaranteed not cosy because it’s crop (!)

Moral of your ASOS haul: How well your skin loves retinol depends on you finding your perfect fit retinol.

Use the right retinol and your skin will love you.

Use the wrong retinol and your skin will hate you.

Yikes ‘eh.

Question: How do you find the right retinol?

Answer: You read this The Ordinary retinol review (!)

Are you ready my friend?…

The Ordinary Retinol Review: How to find your perfect fit.

The Ordinary Retinol Review

The Ordinary have an absolutely fantastic range of retinoids. Most skincare brands do one-size fits all. The Ordinary skincare are different. The Ordinary skincare recognises not everyone’s skin type will love retinol, not everyone’s skin type will love a retinoid 5%, not everyone’s skin type will love a retinoid cream.

Most skincare brands do 1 shade of retinol.

The Ordinary skincare do 6 shades of retinol.

They have;

  • The Ordinary Retinol 0.2% in squalane
  • The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% in squalane
  • The Ordinary Retinol 1% in squalane
  • The Ordinary Granactive retinoid 2% emulsion – previously Advanced retinoid 2%
  • The Ordinary Granactive retinoid 2% in squalane
  • The Ordinary Granactive retinoid 5% in squalane

Click here to see all 6 in full.

Psst! The Ordinary retinols and retinoids start from as low as £4.20. Fainting territory (!)

…and to understand which The Ordinary retinol is perfect fit for your skin – you need to know the answers to questions like these;

  • What is the difference between retinol and granactive retinoid?
  • Is 2% granactive retinoid stronger than 1% retinol?
  • What the heck’s squalane?
  • What the heck’s a retinoid emulsion?
  • How strong is 0.2% retinol?
  • If my skin’s sensitive can I use retinol 0.2% and still be skin safe?

Step 1: Measure your skin against this The Ordinary retinol strength ruler.

The Ordinary Retinol Review: Strength

Strength is one of the most important choices for choosing yourself a retinol cream, serum or oil which works. It’s like the difference between eating liquorice or having a hint of aniseed. Like having chocolate cake or a chocolate shot. Like choosing between yoga or body pump.

This my friend is your The Ordinary retinol review strength menu – choose carefully;

  • Level 1 – Low strength – Retinol 0.2% in squalane
  • Level 2 – Moderate strength – Granactive retinoid 2% in squalane
  • Level 2 – Retinol 0.5% in squalane
  • Level 3 – High strength – Granactive retinoid 5% in squalane
  • Level 3 – Retinol 1% in squalane
  • Level 3.5 –The INKEY List retinol serum 1.5% – (£9.99)
  • Level 4 – Granactive retinoid 2% emulsion

..and this extra important add-on is your The Ordinary retinol irritation potential menu;

  • A – No to Low irritation – Granactive retinoid 2% in squalane
  • A – Granactive retinoid 5% in squalane
  • B – Moderate irritation – Retinol 0.2% in squalane
  • C – High irritation – Retinol 0.5% in squalane
  • C/D – The INKEY List retinol serum 1.5%
  • C/D – Granactive retinoid 2% emulsion
  • D – Very high irritation – Retinol 1% in squalane

Psst: Best places to buy include direct at DECIEM or with smaller minimum orders on LookFantastic and CultBeauty.

Now here’s how you read this;

If your skin’s in any way sensitive – start with The Ordinary granactive retinoid 2% in squalane.

If your skin’s not sensitive at all, is oily and/or mature – try The Ordinary granactive retinoid 2% emulsion – or before you get there – The INKEY List retinol serum 1.5%.

If your skin’s dry – stick to a The Ordinary granactive retinoid in squalane.

If your skin’s experienced aka mature – go with the granactive 5% retinoid in squalane – then in future consider trying either The INKEY Lists retinol serum 1.5% or The Ordinary granactive retinoid 2% emulsion.

Note: Irritation sounds scary but fact is, if your skin’s not sensitive and you’re going to be using your The Ordinary retinol the right way (more about this soon) – your skin could be A-OK with even moderate or high irritation retinoids.

Still wondering which The Ordinary retinol will be fab for you? Don’t worry my friend, these next few extras will have this The Ordinary retinol review making a whole lot more sense.

Is There A Difference Between Retinol and Retinoid?

Fantastic question! And the answer is super simple. Retinol is vitamin A… and retinoids are a family of ingredients which can be broken down into vitamin A. Like saying you are you… and your sister/brother/cousin/mum are like you, but aren’t you.

When retinol gets absorbed by your skin it gets broken down into an ingredient called retinoic acid. This is exactly what you want it to do because once vitamin A is broken down into retinoic acid – your skin’s retinoic acid receptors bond to it AKA your retinol is activated.

When (most kinds of) retinoids get absorbed by your skin they first have to be broken down into retinol and then retinoic acid. Imagine this like your body trying to transfer water from 1 leaky cup, into another leaky cup into a final non-leaky cup. Every time retinoids get converted – they lose a little bit of retinol love.

But – on the other hand – retinol is known to be irritating to skin i.e. it can cause your skin to become dry, red, flaky and irritated. On the other hand retinoids like granactive retinoid aka what you’ll find in The Ordinary granactive retinoids aren’t studied or believed to be capable of the same irritation.

Here’s how you tell what kind of retinol/retinoid your retinol serum contains;

Retinol will be on an ingredients list as retinol.

Granactive retinoid will be on an ingredients list as hydroxypinacolone retinoate.

So why would someone choose retinol over granactive retinoid? Is retinol or retinoid better? Why do The Ordinary offer 3 kinds of pure retinol serums and 2 kinds of granactive retinoid serums?

The answer is again super simple my friend. Retinol is extremely well proven. Granactive retinoids are new and not so well proven.

What Does Granactive Mean?

When you read this next bit it’s going to be a LOT less complicated – promise. Because the very straightforward truth is granactive is simply a name. As uncomplicated as plainly deciding to call your car Fred, Betsy or Baby.

Granactive retinoid aka hydroxypinacolone retinoate is made by a company called Grant Industries.

Can you guess what a heck load of their active ingredients are called?

Gran-this, Gran-that, Gran-me (!)

Granactive is a lot, lot easier to say and remember than hydroxypinacolone retinoate ‘eh.

What Is Retinol in Squalane?

You my friend already know half the answer to this question ‘eh; retinol is just another way of saying Vitamin A aka the lovebug vitamin which is proven to help anti-age skin. Yes please.

The second bit – squalane – well it’s a word which describes a type of oil.

Your skin’s sebum contains squalene.

Squalane is a skin-similar oil.

The Ordinary retinol review: And don’t worry – squalane isn’t really that oily at all. In fact squalane is considered a light-weight, fast absorbing oil. Double fact – The Ordinary retinol in squalane plus The Ordinary granactive retinoids in squalane aren’t 100% squalane based, they also contain a helper ingredient which makes both formulas easily and quick absorbing.

Even still – if you have oily/acne prone skin you might want to hold back from The Ordinary retinol in squalane and instead pick The Ordinary granactive retinoid 2% emulsion/advanced retinoid 2%.

What Does Advanced Retinoid Do?

The Ordinary’s Advanced Retinoid 2% takes a bit of everything we’ve just spoken about and mixes it all together. Like a chocolate cake topped with fudge sauce and coffee shavings. Like a one size fits all pair of gloves with elastic tightening bits. Like a yoga class with weights.

The Ordinary’s advanced retinoid is standout because it;

  • Combines granactive retinoid with retinol – probably 1% of each
  • Uses a time-release technology to help slow down retinol absorption and therefore reduce irritation
  • Is a water based formula
  • Has other ingredients which are perfect for oily skin

And when used in the perfect way for your skin The Ordinary advanced retinoid can help;

  • Anti-age your skin i.e. spark collagen production and therefore help iron away fine lines and wrinkles
  • Speed up your skin’s natural rate of exfoliation to reveal fresh, new and glowy skin cells
  • Brighten your skin aka help fade pigmentation
  • Balance an oily skin type
  • Reduce and prevent breakouts aka help fight acne – because oily skin feeds breakouts

All of which can really happen (!) because all-trans retinoic acid is clinically proven to be anti-ageing and anti-acne. In fact doctors prescribe retinoic acid for ageing and acne.

Although bear this in mind: Products like The Ordinary’s retinols and retinoids have not been clinically tested.

Which brings us to the final question…

How Do You Use Ordinary Retinoids?

My friend, the answer to this question is hugely, hugely important because not only can choosing the wrong retinol wreck your skin but using the right retinol in the wrong way can do it too.

Here’s the most important bits to remember;

  • Always use retinol in PM
  • Use retinol a few times per week to begin
  • Use small pea-sized amounts and work your way up

If you’re very new to using retinol/have sensitive skin – be sure to read these 6 must-know skin safe rules of retinol use.


Got your perfect The Ordinary (or The INKEY List) retinol sorted? Which are you choosing? Have a few more questions before buying? Come leave me yours in the chat below…