Granactive Retinoid vs Retinol: The Ordinary Retinol Products

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a young woman applying retinol and retinoid serum

There is an ongoing battle between granactive retinoid vs retinol.

This isn’t surprising since they’re two of the best anti-aging ingredients available in the skincare market today.

As part of the retinoid family, granactive retinoid and retinol are known for reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. They also help improve skin tone and texture for brighter and younger-looking skin.

But which of the two is stronger? Which one will deliver results faster?

Don’t worry, we’re here to answer all your questions!

Here’s what you need to know about retinol vs granactive retinoid — as well as the best retinoid products from renowned skincare brand The Ordinary. 

Granactive Retinoid vs Retinol: What Are They?

To understand the differences between granactive retinoid and retinol, it’s first important to look at how these two ingredients are similar.

They are, after all, part of the same retinoid family. 

What Are Retinoids?

Retinoids are a family of organic and synthetic compounds. They are a form of Vitamin A, which is known for its anti-aging skin benefits.

However, Vitamin A can be too harsh on the skin in its purest form.

That’s why skincare companies utilize Vitamin A derivatives such as retinol and granactive retinoid. They deliver the same results but without irritating the skin. 

Benefits of Retinoids

You can’t deny that retinoids are highly regarded in the skincare community. That’s because of the many skin benefits they provide.

Though they are most known for their anti-aging benefits, retinoids are also effective in addressing acne concerns.

Reduce the Appearance of Fine Lines and Wrinkles

Retinoids can stimulate collagen production, which helps smoothen out fine lines and wrinkles. It also makes skin plumper and younger-looking.

Brighten Skin Tone

Retinoids help resurface the skin by breaking down dead skin cells and increasing cell turnover. This gives you a brighter and more radiant complexion.

Fade Dark Spots and Hyperpigmentation

Retinoids can fade dark spots and even out skin tone by boosting cell turnover. Retinoids also suppress melanin production to prevent future hyperpigmentation.

Improve Skin Firmness

Collagen production slows down as we age. Retinoids help boost collagen production to bring back the firmness and elasticity of your skin. 

Prevent Acne Breakouts

Retinoids have exfoliating properties.

This helps break down dead skin cells, excess sebum, and other debris that clogs your pores and causes acne. Retinoids can also regulate excess sebum production and keratin to lessen acne breakouts.

Improve the Appearance of Acne Scars and Pores

With increased skin cell turnover and reduced acne breakouts, retinoids can also improve the appearance of acne scars and enlarged pores over time. 

Different Types of Retinoids

Here’s a simple graph that illustrates the different types of retinoids. 

Lowest Strength <——————————————-> Highest Strength

Retinaol EstersRetinolRetinaldehydeRetinoic Acid

The effectiveness of retinoids will depend on how many conversions it takes to reach its purest form — retinoid acid. Only then will they be able to deliver anti-aging benefits.

Retinol Esters

Retinol esters include retinyl palmitate, retinyl propionate, and retinyl-retinoate.

Retinol esters have the lowest strength because they require three conversions to reach retinoic acid.

On the other hand, retinol esters are the gentlest on the skin. That makes them ideal to use for anti-aging eye creams.

a middle-aged woman applying retinol esters as eye cream

Skincare products with retinol esters are available to purchase over the counter.


Retinol only requires two conversions before it is metabolized as retinoic acid. This means that retinol has increased strength and potency.

However, it is still mild enough that it won’t cause severe irritation or side effects.

The effective formulation, together with less irritation, is what makes retinol a popular anti-aging ingredient. As over-the-counter retinol, they are also accessible to most.  


Retinaldehyde is also known as retinal. It has increased potency because it only needs one conversion to reach retinoic acid.

It is more effective than retinol. However, being so close to retinoic acid means that it is less tolerated by the skin. It may cause irritation and other side effects.

Retinaldehyde is the most potent retinoid that you can avail over the counter.

Retinoic Acid

Retinoic acid, also known as tretinoin, is the strongest among the retinoids. As such, it is only available by prescription.

Retinoic acids deliver the best anti-aging benefits. However, they are also associated with side effects, including redness, irritation, dryness, peeling, itching, and stinging.

Granactive Retinoid

Granactive retinoid belongs to the next generation of retinoids. It is sometimes referred to as hydroxypinacolone retinoate or HPR.  

Compared to the other types of retinoids, granactive retinoid is a synthetic retinoic acid ester. 

Upon absorption, it is metabolized into both retinol and retinoic acid.

That means that it doesn’t need to wait for retinol to undergo the conversion process to deliver anti-aging benefits.

With new retinoid technology, granactive retinoid also features a gentler formula that causes less irritation or side effects. 

Is Granactive Retinoid Stronger Than Retinol?

Due to its novel formulation, granactive retinoid is just as effective as retinol. However, it has some advantages over retinol. This includes: 

Faster Results

Since granactive retinoid already contains retinoid acid, your skin cells can immediately metabolize it. As such, you can enjoy anti-aging skin benefits much faster. 

Gentler Formulation

Granactive retinoid is known for being gentler than retinol. This is because granactive retinoid combines with a solvent that can improve skin absorption and tolerability.

So even at higher concentrations, granactive retinoid products are less likely to cause irritation or redness. 

More Stable

Granactive retinoid has a more stable formulation that prevents the product from breaking down. It has a shelf life of about 12 months.

In comparison, retinol tends to lose potency when placed in direct sunlight.

This means that retinol products are only good for about 3-6 months. You can keep retinol refrigerated to prevent it from breaking down, but it is still recommended to replace them after a few months.

Works with Other Actives

Due to the potent formulation of retinol, it is not advised to use them with other active ingredients like AHAs.

If you want to use other actives, you have to use them on alternate nights.

This is because retinol with AHAs or other active ingredients can cause over-exfoliation — which can further irritate or damage your skin.

Meanwhile, granactive retinoid has a gentler formulation, so you can combine it with other actives such as Vitamin C or alpha arbutin.

If you have sensitive skin or want to be cautious, it’s still best to build tolerance for granactive retinoid or retinol before incorporating other actives into your skincare routine.

a young girl wearing white robe is applying cream and serum in the bathroom

Granactive Retinoid vs Retinol Strength

The results of granactive retinoid and retinol will also depend on the strength of their formulation.

If you are new to retinoids, starting with a low concentration such as 0.2% retinol or 2% granactive retinoid is recommended. This is to give your skin time to adapt to retinoids.

In addition, the mild formulation of retinol and retinoid products won’t cause irritation.

In general, the higher the strength of the retinoid, the more effective and faster the results.

However, this also means you have a higher chance of experiencing some side effects. 

Granactive Retinoid vs Retinol for Acne

If you have acne-prone skin that is easily irritated, you might want to use granactive retinoid.

Granactive retinoid can bring about the same benefits as retinol but with fewer side effects. You can avoid irritating your skin, which might lead to more breakouts or skin damage.

That said, retinol products can also effectively target your acne concerns.

If you have tried granactive retinoid and retinol without success, consider consulting your dermatologist about prescription-level retinoids like tretinoin.

Your Guide to The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid and Retinol Products

a woman with hair wrapped in white towel is applying anti-aging serum from the ordinary

If you’re looking for an anti-aging serum to incorporate into your skincare regimen, The Ordinary is a good place to start.

The Ordinary offers a wide range of retinol and retinoid products, so you can easily find a formulation that suits your skin.  

If you still can’t decide between granactive retinoid and retinol, here are additional points that can help you make a choice.

Granactive Retinoid vs Retinol in Squalane

The Ordinary’s retinol and retinoid serums have a squalene base.

Squalane strengthens your moisture barrier to keep your skin hydrated. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that can soothe the skin.

When combined with retinoids, squalane can help combat some known side effects of retinoids. As such, the squalane base allows you to enjoy the benefits without the irritation.

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid vs Retinol

Here are the granactive retinoid and retinol serums offered by The Ordinary.

1. The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane

This lightweight oil serum has the highest concentration of granactive retinoid. However, it has a gentle formula that won’t cause any irritation.

It’s still advised to wear sunscreen because retinoids can cause sun sensitivity.

This formulation is also recommended for those with prior experience with retinoids.

2. The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane

This oil serum features a lower granactive retinoid concentration. However, it still has moderate strength to provide you with the anti-aging benefits you desire.  

This is suited for beginners. With a hydrating squalane base, it is also ideal for those with dry or sensitive skin.

3. The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion (Previously Advanced Retinoid 2%), 30ml
  • This product has NO safety seal
  • Country Of Origin: United States
  • Model Number: 3052784

This creamy emulsion features both granactive retinoid and retinol. It is medium strength.

Instead of squalane, it has Tasmannia lanceolata fruit/leaf extract — which is rich in antioxidants and provides relief against skin itching and redness. 

4. The Ordinary Retinol 0.2% in Squalane

This is a mild retinol serum that helps reduce fine lines and wrinkles, as well as improve skin tone and texture.

Since it has the lowest concentration, it’s ideal for beginners. It’s suited for all skin types — except for those with dry and sensitive skin.

5. The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% in Squalane

This serum has moderate-strength retinol. Once your skin has adapted to retinol, the added strength can help you achieve faster results. 

6. The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane

[amazon box=B0779YGB2G

This has the highest concentration of retinol among all the serums.

To combat any potential irritation or side effects, make sure that you have a hydrating lotion or moisturizer as part of your skincare routine.

Frequently Asked Questions 

a middle-aged man applying granactive retinoid serum at face while smiling

Is Granactive Retinoid the Same as Retinoid?

Granactive retinoid is part of the retinoid family, which includes retinol.

However, it is a new generation type of retinoid that delivers the same benefits but with a gentler, non-irritating formula. 

Which Is More Effective Retinol or Granactive Retinoid?

Granactive retinoid can be just as effective as retinol. You need to increase the concentration to achieve similar results.

Thankfully, granactive retinoid is gentler and less likely to cause irritation, even with higher concentrations.

Do I Need to Refrigerate Granactive Retinoid?

Granactive retinoid is more stable than retinol.

However, we still recommend refrigerating it to lengthen its shelf life. You also prevent it from losing some potency.

Which Percentage of Granactive Retinoid Should I Use?

If you’re new to retinoids, the lowest concentration is always the best. Even with a gentler formulation, your skin will still need to build a tolerance to retinoids. You can also try a 0.2% retinol product.

With any new product, it’s also important to perform a patch test before applying it to the whole face.  

Does Granactive Retinoid Cause Purging?

Retinoids are known to cause purging. This is because increased cell turnover helps loosen all the oil, debris, and dead skin cells trapped underneath your skin. They may cause a purging effect as they come to the surface.

As such, you may experience skin purging with granactive retinoid. It can last anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks. After that, you may start to see the skin benefits.  

Granactive Retinoid vs Retinol: Which Is the Best For Your Skin?

In the end, it’s not a battle between granactive retinoid and retinol.

You now understand that retinol and granactive retinoid effectively deliver skin benefits. They can both target signs of aging, reduce acne breakouts, and improve tone and texture.

As such, you can’t really go wrong with either choice.

Since The Ordinary offers a wide range of retinol and granactive retinoid skincare products, you can choose the best formulation for your skin type and skincare goals.

Those who tolerate retinol can go with higher concentrations to see faster results. Meanwhile, sensitive skin types won’t have to miss out. They can use granactive retinoid to get the same benefits but without the side effects. 

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  • Ashley Pena

    Ashley Pena brings over 13 years of seasoned writing and editing expertise, fortified by her Bachelor of Science in Management. Esteemed in the beauty domain, her content captivates readers with its depth and authenticity. While she navigates a broad spectrum of beauty trends, Ashley shines particularly as our resident K-beauty guru. Her articles are a harmonious blend of passion and profound knowledge, inspiring readers on their unique beauty journeys.

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