Review: The Ordinary – Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion + What is Granactive Retinoid + Does it replace Retinol?

Where to purchase: Available at Beauty Bay HERE / Sephora HERE / Ulta HERE / Skin Store HERE

Price: £8

Made in: Canada

Volume: 30ml

What is it?: An Anti-ageing Emulsion of 2% Retinoid Complex (I.e. Contains Granactive Retinoid AND Retinol). This emulsion is meant to provide anti-ageing benefits without the irritation that Tretinoin / High % Retinol produces.

Brand Description: The 2% Concentration of Granactive Retinoid™ (Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate (HPR) + Pure Retinol in a capsule system which delivers both ingredients into the skin. HPR is supposedly (although needs to be proven in human trials – more on that down below) better at providing anti-ageing results than retinol + retinyl palmitate. But I like how Retinol is still included in here (I’m guessing just to be able to state that this emulsion is anti-ageing).

Supposedly Good for: All Skin Types (Including Sensitive Skins)

What I think: I would agree! This didn’t irritate my skin so I do think Sensitive Skins could use this (my skin is quite reactive and easily stings when it comes to using retinol). I do think Dry Skins would prefer this over oily skins due to the Emulsion (Almost Oily) texture of this product. I have Combo skin and preferred to use this as a moisturiser or right under a watery gel to add lightweight emollients to the skin, but it was hard to reach for this in hot weather due to the greasier nature of this product.


Vegan?: Yes

Cruelty Free?: Yes

Packaging: Glass bottle with a dropper (The pump pictures is from Niod). The brown glass bottles from Deciem are UV protective.

pH: 5-6 (Doesn’t sting)

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Directions: ”Apply a small amount to face in the PM as part of your skincare regimen, after water-based serums but before heavier treatments. Do not use with other retinoid treatments. Avoid unprotected solar exposure. If irritation occurs, cease use and consult a physician. Use only as directed on unbroken skin. Patch testing prior to use is advised. Keep out of reach of children. Refrigerate after opening.” (From the Deciem Website).

How I use it: I used this in the PM. Due to my Oily-Combo Skin, I used this as a Moisturiser when the weather was hot (Still not the most comfortable to use during the hot/humid months due to the emollient texture of this), and as a step before my Moisturiser during colder evenings. Of course I always used an SPF in the morning.


  • Granactive Retinoid is ”HPR” (Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate) – It is part of the Retinoid Family.
  • Retinoic Acid i.e. Tretinoin is the Gold-standard/Gold Star Ingredient.
  • This is a Derivative – it’s a gentler ingredient but also less effective/strong + requires a higher % to get good results. The good news is, even at higher %, this doesn’t seem to irritate the skin nearly as badly.
  • This contains 2% Granactive Retinoid = 0.2%
  • HPR binds with Retinoid Receptors in the skin cells and does not need to be converted in the cells in order to be used (unlike retinol).
  • Unlike Retinoic Acid (Tretinoin), this doesn’t have irritation.
  • The manufacturer tested their product, stating that after 14 days of applying HPR around the eyes twice a day, fine lines and wrinkles were visibly reduced. However Manufacturers always want to publish good results in terms of their product, so more independent tests are needed to prove HPRs efficacy.
  • Estee Lauder did a study (testing the collagen-boosting potential of retinoids in skin cells) and found that HPR seemed to be as effective as Retinol and Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A Derivatives) and showed the same gene transcriptions in cells, however, Granactive Retinoid did not match Tretinoin UNLESS a much higher dose of HPR was used, but thankfully the skin could tolerate the higher % without irritation. However this was done in-vitro (not on actual human volunteers). So, more of these tests need to be done on real human volunteers.
  • Therefore HPR isn’t as proven as an anti-ageing superstar the same way retinol is.
  • Therefore I think this is a good supplement to an anti-ageing routine but should not replace Retinol/Tretinoin if you are already using it (But I do recommend as a start to get into retinoids, especially if you have reactive skin like me!) The better upgrades are Tretinoin, Retinol and possibly Retinyl Propionate (so far).

Papers + Info Here: LINK / LINK / LINK


Key Ingredients: Granactive Retinoid (HPR), Retinol (Pure Vitamin A which gets converted to retinoic acid in the skin and makes the skin look firmer, tighter and less wrinkles. May also encourage the pores to make less sebum). Rosemary Leaf Extract + Tasmanian Pepper Extract (Antioxidant + Soothing + Antimicrobial). Bisabolol (Soothing).

This also has a lot of emollient ingredients (gives that creamy/milky look and texture): Caprylic/​Capric Triglyceride, Ethyl Linoleate, Cetearyl Isononanoate, Glyceryl Stearate, Cetearyl Alcohol, Cetyl Palmitate, Sucrose Laurate.

Full Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Glycerin, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Ethyl Linoleate, Propanediol, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Cetearyl Isononanoate, Bisabolol, Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate, Retinol, Tasmannia Lanceolata Fruit/Leaf Extract, Inulin Lauryl Carbamate, Glyceryl Stearate, Ceteareth-12, Ceteareth-20, Cetearyl Alcohol, Carrageenan, Xanthan Gum, Acacia Senegal Gum, Cetyl Palmitate, Sucrose Laurate, Polysorbate 20, Isoceteth-20, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, Hydroxymethoxyphenyl Decanone, Behentrimonium Chloride, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Disodium EDTA, Dehydroacetic Acid, Benzoic Acid, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Chlorphenesin.

NOTE: Skincarisma have a full ingredient breakdown HERE and the Incidecoder HERE

Texture: Lightweight and moisturising! This emulsion is milky, not sticky or tacky and layers fine without balling up! I do think oilier skins may find this a bit too greasy however (especially during the warmer/more humid months!). That’s why I like to use this as a moisturiser or just under a lightweight, watery moisturiser to provide some emollients to the skin.

The Ordinary state this to be a creamy, hydrating emulsion and I would agree.


Video Face Swatch:

Hopefully you can see how lightweight this is! But it definitely is emollient / Moisturising!


Fragrance?: No added Fragrance and/or Essential Oils

Winter or Summer Months?: In the summer this can be used as a mosituriser (for my Combo Skin), and in the Winter, right before a moisturiser / watery, gel moisturiser so as not to be too greasy.

Good Under Makeup?: I wouldn’t wear a Retinol Under Makeup

How long have I been using this?: Used until completion and this is my second bottle (fyi this product does go off / expire in 3 months).

The Effect?: Helped the Texture + Tone of my skin. didn’t sting or irritate my skin.

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What I like:

  • No added Fragrance and/or Essential Oils
  • Gentle
  • Didn’t Irritate / Sting my Skin
  • Helped my Skin (Made it Glowy and evened out the texture)
  • Doesn’t just depend on Granactive Retinoid which isn’t entirely clinically proven, by including Retinol in here which is proven, too!
  • Lightweight
  • Moisturising
  • Spreadable
  • My skin can breathe

What I don’t like:

  • Almost an Oily Texture (Not very pleasant to use on my Combo Skin during hotter/ more humid weather)

Overall Rating and Conclusion: 4/5 – I really enjoyed this product! I think it definitely helped my skin in terms of improve the texture and look of my pores! It didn’t sting or irritate either. I like that it doesn’t just have Granactive Retinoid but ALSO contains the clinically proven Retinol to go alongside the more experimental Granactive Retinoid. I find this lightweight and moisturising so I’ve enjoyed using this as an anti-ageing moisturiser with little irritation.

Would I repurchase?: Yes I would! So pleased it didn’t sting or irritate my skin. In fact this bottle is/was my second (Now moving onto the Ordinary retinol 0.2% in Squalane – but if I find it too irritating, I will go back to this product as it contains Retinol as well as Granactive Retinoid!

Dupe?: The Ordinary Retinol 0.2% Squalane – Ulta LINK / Cult Beauty LINK / Beauty Bay LINK / Skin Store LINK / Look Fantastic LINK

My Skin Type: I am acne prone and have slightly dehydrated combo skin. My skin is usually tight where the cheeks and eye area is and the outer parts of my face. My T zone is oily. My skin isn’t a fan of thick/heavy formulas so I opt for lightweight formulas to prevent it from clogging up. My skin doesn’t like essential oils either and I try to avoid fragrance when I can.

Disclaimer: I am a skincare enthusiast and not a skin expert. I am not qualified to give out dermatological advice. This type of advice should only be given by a medical practitioner. Upon trying / using any of the reviewed products on the blog, please follow the manufacturer’s instructions and warnings and please seek medical advice if needed.

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8 thoughts on “Review: The Ordinary – Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion + What is Granactive Retinoid + Does it replace Retinol?

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