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. This The Ordinary retinol review will make sure your skin loves retinol.
Imagine your 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 from the delivery man’s hands, 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 one lip-gloss and half your phone.
Because those skinny jeans are 100% mom-fit and 0% skinny fit.
Because that huggably cosy knit jumper’s not cosy at all as it’s crop (!)
Moral of your ASOS haul: How well your skin loves retinol depends on you finding your best The Ordinary retinol.
Use the right retinol and your skin will love you.
Use the wrong retinol and your skin will hate you.
Question: How do you find your best The Ordinary retinol?
Answer: You read this The Ordinary retinol review 😉
Are you ready my friend?
The Ordinary Retinol Review
The Ordinary has an absolutely fantastic range of retinoids. Most skincare brands do one-size-fits-all. The Ordinary skincare is different. The Ordinary skincare recognises not everyone’s skin type will love retinol. That not everyone’s skin type will love high strength retinol. And that your skin might always hate retinol and need a retinoid instead.
Most skincare brands make one shade of retinol.
The Ordinary skincare have 6.
- 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.
And psst – these The Ordinary retinols and retinoids start from as low as £4.20. Fainting territory.
To understand which The Ordinary retinol is the best The Ordinary retinol for your skin – you need to know 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 deciders for choosing a retinol cream, serum or oil which works. It’s like the difference between eating liquorice or having a hint of aniseed.
This, my friend, is your best 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 2.5 – The INKEY List retinol serum 1.5% – (£9.99)
- Level 3 – High strength – Granactive retinoid 5% in squalane
- Level 3 – Retinol 1% in squalane
- Level 3 – Granactive retinoid 2% emulsion
And this extra important add-on is your best 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
- B – The INKEY List retinol serum 1.5%
- C – High irritation – Retinol 0.5% in squalane
- C – Granactive retinoid 2% emulsion
- D – Very high irritation – Retinol 1% in squalane
How to Find Your Best The Ordinary Retinol
If your skin’s in any way sensitive – start with The Ordinary granactive retinoid 2% in squalane.
If your skin’s dry – stick to one of The Ordinary’s granactive retinoids in squalane.
If your skin’s experienced aka mature – go with the granactive 5% retinoid in squalane. Then in future consider trying The Ordinary granactive retinoid 2% emulsion.
Note: Irritation sounds scary but the fact is, if your skin’s not sensitive and you’re going to be using your The Ordinary retinol the right way (I’m explaining all about this in my The Ordinary speed training) – 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, these next few extras will have this The Ordinary retinol review making 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 can bond to it. Meaning your body can now benefit from retinol’s wonderous anti-ageing abilities.
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. However, retinoids like granactive retinoid i.e. 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 I promise. Because the very straightforward truth is that 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?
My friend you already know half the answer to this question. You brain box you 😉
Retinol is just another way of saying vitamin A aka the love-bug vitamin which is proven to help anti-age skin. Yes please.
The second bit – squalane – well it’s a word that 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 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%. If all this is still sounding a bit bamboozling, then come get your butt on my The Ordinary speed training for non-scientists – Extraordinary Skin With The Ordinary – with the help I’m giving you here you’ll soon be on the way to makeupless skin you feel awesome in. Click here to find out more.
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.
The Ordinary’s advanced retinoid is standout because it;
- Combines granactive retinoid with retinol
- 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 retinol and retinoids have not been clinically tested.
Which brings us to the final question…
The Ordinary Retinol Review: 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.
If you’re following my The Ordinary speed training there’s no need to worry about this. However, here are a few top tips as a quick reminder;
- Always use retinol in PM
- Use retinol a few times per week to begin
- Use small pea-sized amounts and work your way up
Beware of Retinol Breakouts – does retinol make skin worse before it gets better?
These rules I’ve just spoken you through are exceptionally important for one simple reason. Because retinol can make skin worse before it gets better. It’s a phenomenon known as retinol purging and if you go too hard too fast with The Ordinary retinoids, you’re extremely likely to experience it.
So what the heck causes retinol purging?
Here’s the deal – purging happens when your skin cells start sloughing off aka exfoliating quickly. This sudden speed increase clogs up your pores, which you guessed it – causes breakouts.
Psst – retinol can also be irritating, what you see as purging can actually be a mix of irritation (which can be a direct cause of breakouts) plus your skin’s exfoliating rate speeding up. The two combined can cause purging to happen in just a few weeks. Here’s a photo Collen took 4 weeks after she started using The Ordinary’s 0.2% retinol;
“Apart from the initial sensitivity, my skin seemed to tolerate the retinol quite well. However, at about the four week mark I broke out in the most huge, painful, red, blind head pimples around my lower check/chin area. I smothered them in pimple cream but they just seemed to sit there and wouldn’t go away for weeks. I get pimples, but these were different from my usual ones and I don’t usually get them in this location on my face.”Colleen of How Beautiful Life Is
As Colleen mentions here in her 6-month retinol review she saw first hand how retinol can make skin worse before it gets better. Which is why it’s super important to follow the must-know rules of safe retinol use – or to use a milder retinol alternative like bakuchiol.
Got your best The Ordinary retinol picked? Which are you choosing?
Cheryl Woodman is a scientist & award winning skincare formulator who’s more friend next door than bow tie wearing professor. As creator of Honesty For Your Skin her aim is to help you care for your skin in the best ways possible. She’s founder of the natural & fragrance free skincare brand Honesty while also hosting 1 to 1 skincare coaching to help you get your best skin yet. Find out more here.