Review: The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane

I’ve had this serum for a while, but I never used it on my face. I was just using it on my body to finish it up. Well, that all changed when I decided to use it on my face instead and see if my skin would benefit from it. I’m not blown away with the results I’m getting from my other acne skin care products, so I thought I would give this serum a try before I eliminate it from my life. This is the Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane from The Ordinary. The purpose of this serum is to target textural irregularities and signs of aging. It helps to improve the appearance of fine lines and dynamic lines that arise from loss of collagen and elastin while evening out the skin texture and skin tone. It’s suited for dry skin and comes in an anhydrous formula. The key ingredients in this product are Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate and Squalane. Now on to my experience!

My Experience with The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane:

Texture & Application

The texture of the serum is oily. The first ingredient in this product is squalane. It also contains jojoba seed oil. I was aware that the serum would be oily on the skin, but I wanted to try it out anyways. With this serum, I used only a few drops for the whole face including the neck and chest area. It’s not necessary to use that much product. The serum is easy to spread across the skin due to the oils in the product. The serum made my skin feel moisturized, but it left my skin feeling greasy. My skin appeared shiny after application. I didn’t like the way it felt or looked on my skin. It seems like it didn’t fully absorb into my skin. The product just sat on top of my skin. Sleeping with this serum on my face at night was uncomfortable. I dreaded every single second of it. On the bright side, my skin didn’t feel dry using this serum at all even when it contains 5% granactive retinoid. I didn’t have to moisturize my skin with another product afterwards. This serum alone provided my skin with enough moisture.


I only used this product for 1 night. I tried using it the next night, but I had to rinse it off my face (more on this in the breakouts section). This serum is very gentle on the skin. I didn’t have any type of irritation or even redness. My skin tolerated the active ingredient in this product. No itchiness or burning. Nothing. And that’s a good thing. As for results, I noticed an immediate brightening effect in my skin after applying it. My skin glowed. It looked more even. Am I just seeing things? No, it’s really this serum. My skin appeared brighter instantly. I wasn’t able to use it for too long, so it’s very difficult for me to say if it helped with fine lines or other wrinkles. I wished I was able to use it, but let’s move on to why I stopped using it.


After using it the first night, my skin was more even and bright. I was so surprised how good my skin looked. By the second night, I applied the serum as usual. But, I noticed my skin felt like it was clogging up. I had hard sebum plugs in my skin. I was able to pick them out easily. That’s when I knew I was breaking out from this serum. *sigh* It’s not a purge. I’m actually breaking out from this product. I think it’s the oily texture of the product that’s damaging my skin. Squalane? Jojoba seed oil? Possibly other ingredients clogging my pores? Yep, loved how it brightened up my skin instantly and moisturized my skin, but this serum triggered my acne. Acne is what caused me to drop this serum. Here goes another The Ordinary serum that doesn’t work on my face. It’s the last from what I have.

Final Thoughts

I was so excited to try this serum out. It’s a gentle, non-irritating form of retinoid. It’s available over the counter. It’s always sold out! I just purchased it because I wanted to try different formulations of retinol/retinoid out. It was a gamble. I loved how it brightened my skin. My skin appeared smoother and glowy. But once again, another serum that my skin dislikes. Acne, acne, and more acne when I used it. Maybe my skin just doesn’t like squalane and oily skin care products. I really thought this could be different, but I guess not. What to do with it now? Use the rest of it on my body. It’s not a terrible product. It just didn’t work for my skin type (oily). I think this would work better for someone with sensitive, dry skin. If you have oily skin, it just adds on top of the oils that the skin naturally produces. Oh, well. It’s time to move on…

Here are the ingredients in this product if you’re interested:

Squalane, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Bisabolol, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate, Solanum Lycopersicum (Tomato) Fruit Extract, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, Hydroxymethoxyphenyl Decanone.

My Experience with Retinoids & How To Use Tips


Differin Adapalene Acne Treatment 0.3% Gel

Differin Adapalene Acne Treatment 0.3% Gel

Let’s talk about retinoids (based on the ones I have experience with Tazorac and Differin). I’m going to talk about what to expect and the results. What to do if your skin becomes red and irritated. How to maintain and so forth. Some facts on retinoids here and there. Lots of information! I’m going to go about doing this as a questionnaire. I think it’ll be easier for people to glance through if they have a question!


#1. How much product do you need and when to use?

A pea-size is enough for the whole face. You don’t need any more than that. It’s best to use at night. Natural retinoids tend to break down when exposed to sunlight. Synthetic retinoids (like Differin) can be used in the morning, but it’s not recommended. You’re just asking for a sunburn if you do. Over-treating the skin will not lead to faster results anyways.

#2. What’s the difference between natural and synthetic retinoids?

Of course, natural retinoids come from natural origins of Vitamin A. Synthetic retinoids act very similar to natural retinoids. Yet, they are different on how they behave when applied to the skin. So Retinoids activate RAR’s (retinoic acid receptors). Natural and synthetic retinoids activate different RAR’s in the skin. Natural retinoids tend to activate all RAR’s while synthetic retinoids are selective. That doesn’t mean natural retinoids are more superior than synthetic retinoids and vice versa! Here’s a short list of natural and synthetic retinoids!

Natural: Retinyl palmitate, Retinol, Retinaldehyde, Tretinoin
Synthetic: Adapalene, Tazarotene, Isotretinoin

I’ve dipped my toes in natural and synthetics. If it works, it works. So don’t think natural is better than synthetic. I’m currently using a synthetic retinoid (Tazorac). Before that, another synthetic (Differin). I’ve also tried natural retinoids like retinyl palmitate, retinol, and retinaldehyde. And I also have Tretinoin (Maxi-Peel, Retin-A Micro) sitting on my desk.

#3. What skin care products should I use along with the retinoid?

Face Wash: A gentle, non-medicated face cleanser. If you’re a first-time user, your face will burn/sting if you use a medicated face cleanser. I remember the first time I used a harsh cleanser while on Differin, my face was beet red and on fire! My doctor didn’t tell me how to use Differin, so I learned everything on my own.

Toner: If you have to use a toner, wait until your skin calms down and gets used to the retinoid. Try to avoid alcohol-based toners. Some people don’t need a toner when they’re using a retinoid.

Moisturizer: Make sure to keep your skin hydrated. I noticed that dead skin cells come off easier when you keep your skin moist. Haha, moist! Sorry guys, I had to say that. 😉

Sunblock/Sunscreen: This is one of the most important steps. Wear a sunblock/sunscreen to protect your sensitive skin from UVA/UVB rays! With sun protection, wear a hat or protective clothing. Retinoids make the skin sun-sensitive. I don’t believe sunblock/sunscreen is enough! My skin looks sunburnt even when I do all of the above! Staying out of the sun is key!

Acne Treatments: It’s OK to use benzoyl peroxide in the morning and a retinoid at night. If you’re using a retinoid for acne, BP will help fight acne while the retinoid will help increase the cell turnover rate. As for using a retinoid and BP at the same time, Differin is the only one that can be combined with BP (that’s why Epiduo exists). With Tazorac, no. BP in the morning and a retinoid should be enough. There’s no need to over-treat the skin.

#4 What does the initial breakout look like?

I’ve been asked this many times. The answer is complex. If you’re prone to clogged pores or have very acneic skin (like me), the initial breakout looks like your regular breakouts, but the breakouts can be random too. They can range from whiteheads, papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts. I’ve encountered more pustules because I have inflammatory acne. While you’re breaking out, your skin will become flaky, which is a good thing. The amount of breakouts you get will depend on the severity of your current acne. The more severe, the more breakouts. The less, of course, you’ll breakout less. If you don’t have acne, you might not even breakout! Everyone’s skin is different! Location of breakouts matter too. If you breakout along the jawline more, you’ll experience longer breakouts along that area. For my skin, I’m getting more breakouts around the mouth and jawline area while my forehead, nose, and cheeks…I get a pimple here and there. Nothing too bad. I also noticed that the breakouts go away faster, and they do leave marks behind, but retinoids will help with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation with continued usage.

#5. Why is my skin breaking out?

In my opinion, skin purging is a myth. I don’t believe in ‘releasing of toxins’, ‘removing of impurities’, or ‘skin detoxing’. So what’s going on with your skin? Well, the outer layers of the skin (epidermal layer) is being sloughed off. When there’s an overproduction of cells, the follicle becomes blocked. Sebum (oil) gets trapped and an infection occurs. Initial breakouts usually occurs when you’re using skin care products like retinoids, alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids, and other skin care exfoliants. They help to reveal new skin underneath. If you’re breaking out from skin care products that don’t contain these ingredients, check the ingredients. It could be an allergic reaction or from comedogenic ingredient(s).

#6. How long to see results?

Majority of people will see results within 3 months, some longer. I was a Differin user for many years. The first time I used Differin, my acne was terrible. I had acne on my forehead, nose, cheeks, chin, everywhere! It was soooo bad that my self-esteem went down. I felt ugly. It took 3 months for my skin to become clear and smooth! All of my acne marks were gone. The second time (I’ll explain why I went on it the second time soon), it took 2 months for me to clear up! My acne wasn’t as bad as the first time that’s why.

#7. Can I stop using the retinoid after I’m clear?

I would recommend staying on the retinoid. Why? Your skin isn’t clear because you’ve grown out of acne. It’s clear because the retinoid is doing its job. I learned this after I stopped using Differin. My acne came back, less severe. But the point is that it came back. That is why I went on Differin the second time. Stick to the treatment. Why not? It has anti-aging and anti-wrinkle properties too!

#8. Can I extract pimples while on treatment?

It might be hard not to squeeze the pimples. This is debatable. I personally have to extract my pimples, especially when the pimple looks like it’s going to burst any second. If I left them alone, they would grow bigger and last for weeks. Either way, it’ll leave a mark behind. I rather have them heal faster. The only way to do that is to extract them.

#9. How to buffer the retinoid when it’s too strong for the skin?

I don’t do this, but I’ll answer this question for people who are curious. There are several ways to buffer. Buffer means to make the retinoid more tolerable on the skin. You can apply moisturizer before applying the retinoid. You can mix the retinoid with a moisturizer. I usually take the retinoid like a champ. Full on, lol.

#10. How do I remove the dead skin cells?

You can move your fingers in circular motions to remove them or use a washcloth. You can use a gentle exfoliant. You can use the Clarisonic. Make sure not to force the dead skin cells to come off. They will eventually loosen and come off on it’s own. Note: I have tough skin, so I can tolerate an exfoliant and the Clarisonic. If you have sensitive skin, just leave your skin alone.

#11. How to ease in when you have sensitive skin?

This is called short term therapy. Take the retinoid and apply it to your skin and leave it on for a few minutes. Wash it off. Increase time application each time. Wash it off. Keep doing this until your skin gets used to the retinoid.

#12. What to do if skin becomes irritated?

You can stop using the retinoid for a few days until your skin becomes less irritated. Once your skin is back to normal, you can continue to use it again. I did this at the beginning of using Tazorac.

#13. What are the side effects?

I’ve experienced dry skin, peeling, redness, burning, stinging, breakouts. The side effects usually subsides when the skin gets used to the retinoid.

#14. How do I maintain my skin after being clear?

Use the retinoid less often or continue to use it every night. It’s up to you, but it’s not necessary to use it every night.

#15. Do retinoids thin out the skin?

It thins out the outer layer of the skin, hence, the reason why the skin becomes highly sun-sensitive. But it thickens, plumps up the inner layer of the skin (the dermis).

#16. Retinoids, pregnancy, and breast feeding?

I decided to cover this too. It is not advisable to use retinoids when pregnant or breast feeding. Retinoids can be absorbed into the body through the skin. If you have to go through this, I’m sorry. It’s better to keep your baby safe.

#17. Product packaging?

Retinoids and antioxidants in general should come in closed, air-tight packaging. Antioxidants breakdown when exposed to sunlight and air. So, no jar packaging.


If you have a question that isn’t listed above, comment below. I will add it to the list!

I wrote this in 2013. See the original here:

More on Acne Skin Care:

My Skin Care Routine for Acne Skin

My Skin Care Routine (Oily, Acne-Prone Skin)

My New Face Wash & Hair Care Products (Tea Tree, Natural, Cruelty-Free, Oily, Blemished Skin)

2 Weeks Results: Trader Joe’s Spa Face Wash with Tea Tree Oil

Maxi-Peel Exfoliant Solution

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