Retinoids are an anti-aging powerhouse with a multitude of skin benefits. And that’s a scientific fact.

But with a wide range of different retinoids out there, varying percentages, and formulations, finding the right one for yourself is a time-consuming task. Not to mention the side effects, both on your skin and off your wallet, of testing different ones.

In this article, I’ll go into depth on the granactive retinoid vs retinol debate. In the following sections, I cover:

  • What is retinol – its benefits and potential side effects;
  • What is granactive retinoid – its benefits and side effects;
  • A comparison between the two from different perspectives;
  • The best products with retinol;
  • The best products with granactive retinoid;
  • Answers to some of the most popular questions on the topic.

All of this will help you decide where to invest your money and effort when it comes to these two popular retinoids.

Let’s dive right in!

What is retinol?

Retinol benefits for the skin

Retinol is a type of retinoid or a natural form of Vitamin A that is mostly known for its anti-aging properties. It’s sold over the counter and can help with skin concerns like acne, hyperpigmentation, texture imperfections, and all signs of aging.

Retinol is transformed in our skin into its final form – retinoic acid – and it takes two conversion steps. First, it’s transformed into retinaldehyde, then into retinoic acid.

What this means is that this retinoid type takes longer to work due to the fact it has to convert but is also gentler than the stronger retinoids (adapalene, for example).

Another interesting fact is that if you apply more retinol than needed, the skin can actually store it in the form of retinol esters. These esters can later be reconverted into retinol which the skin can use again.

Retinol is among the most researched and actually proven to work compounds in skincare treatments. There are many studies and anecdotal evidence of the actual effects that retinol has on reducing the signs of aging on our skin.

Benefits for the skin:
As a retinoid, retinol has all the invaluable benefits that we’ve come to learn and love. In detail, it can:

  • Speeds up cell turnover – therefore it helps unclog pores and keep the skin free from acne. This also helps retinol to be efficient for fading pigmentation and minimizing sun spots and acne scars as it quickly promotes the resurfacing of new, healthy skin cells. A faster cell turnover also encourages a better skin texture.
  • Stimulates collagen production – this helps reduce scars like icepick scars (atrophic scarring) left from picking your pimples, for example. Retinol also helps the skin retain its elasticity and prevents skin sagging, wrinkles, and fine lines.
  • Pore size reduction – by helping unclog pores, retinol also helps keep pore size small and tight, preventing enlarged pores.

Potential side effects:
Although retinol can help with a range of different skin conditions and concerns, there are also some side effects and drawbacks that you should know about.

Retinol is relatively irritating as opposed to weaker forms of retinoids.

The stronger the percentage of retinol that you use, the higher the chance of side effects will be:

  • Irritation – although considered a weaker form of retinoid as it has to go through conversions, retinol is on the more irritating side of the equation. This means that new users can often experience irritations, redness, itching, dryness, peeling, and other side effects.
  • Shorter shelf life – retinol is less stable, with a shorter shelf life. If you’re not using your retinol products regularly, chances are that they’ll become ineffective or even go bad before you use up the whole bottle.
  • Works more slowly – as I mentioned, it takes some time for retinol to start working on the skin.

Overall, we can conclude that retinol works more slowly than other, more potent retinoid forms and is somewhere in the middle when it comes to irritation – it’s less irritating than the strong retinoid forms but more irritating than gentler forms.

What is granactive retinoid?

Granactive retinoid benefits for the skin

Granactive retinoid (or hydroxypinacolone retinoate (HPR) if you’re interested in the scientific terminology) is a form of Vitamin A that falls under the category of retinoic acid esters.

Granactive retinoid is a rather new, synthetically-made ingredient.

It has a very interesting way of working as it can convert into both – retinol and retinoic acid. It starts to work immediately on the skin as it doesn’t have to go through any form of conversion to be effective. At the same time, it also offers delayed benefits due to its conversion to retinol.

Benefits for the skin:
Granactive retinoid benefits are identical to those of retinol. It can stimulate cell turnover, clear the skin, prevent acne breakouts, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and minimize scarring.

However, several properties make granactive retinoid much more preferable to retinol in some cases:

  • Better stability – granactive retinoid is much more stable and has longer shelf life than retinol. You will be able to enjoy the potency and benefits of your product containing granactive retinoid for longer.
  • Instant effect – as I mentioned, granactive retinoid doesn’t have to convert in your skin and starts working immediately. This means you can expect faster results with granactive retinoids.
  • Strength – granactive retinoid is also a much stronger retinoid than retinol, meaning its effects will be potent. In the granactive retinoid vs retinol strength debate, granactive retinoid wins.
  • Fewer side effects – with granactive retinoid, you can enjoy peace of mind knowing that there are fewer risks of dryness, irritation, itchiness, flaking, and other side effects. I’ve been using one specific product for months and haven’t noticed any adverse effects besides an initial purging phase that came to pass fast.

Potential side effects:
Granactive retinoid is considered to offer the power of retinol but without unwelcome irritation. Having this in mind, it’s safe to say that the gentle ingredient won’t cause any side effects in most cases. However, for people with extremely sensitive skin, there are minimum chances of some irritation.

Retinol vs retinoid – what’s the difference

In short, there is none. Retinol is simply a type of retinoid, just like granactive retinoid, tretinoin, tazarotene, adapalene, and others. Similarly how apples are a type of fruit.

What’s the difference between retinol and granactive retinoid

There are several important distinctions between granactive retinoid and retinol:

  • Origins – retinol is a natural form of Vitamin A, while granactive retinoid is synthetically made.
  • Conversion – retinol must convert in the skin into retinoic acid to work, while granactive retinoid is directly recognized by the skin cells and works instantly.
  • Shelf-life – retinol-based products have a shorter shelf life than granactive retinoids. Although all retinoids degrade due to factors like light, temperature, and air, granactive retinoid is considered the most stable retinoid out there and comes with a shelf life that’s double that of retinol.
  • Side effects – retinol has higher risks of side effects than granactive retinoids. Even in higher concentrations, granactive retinoid has a low likelihood of causing irritation, redness, itching, flaking, and other consequences.

Granactive retinoid vs retinol – which is better?

Overall, I’d say that granactive retinoid takes the majority of points in the debate, simply because it offers nearly identical benefits to retinol, but stands out as a more stable molecule with a longer shelf life, less irritation, and instant work in the skin.

However, I’d also add that since granactive retinoid is a newer creation when compared to retinol, there are much fewer studies and findings that support the effectiveness of the ingredient.

Granactive retinoid vs retinol for acne

When it comes to retinol and granactive retinoid for breakouts, it’s best to start with a granactive retinoid product due to its stability and fewer risks or irritation. This will help with pimples without risking any additional irritation.

Don’t forget that even if a granactive retinoid is gentler, it’s still a retinoid. It’s important to start slow with any type of retinoid, especially on acne-prone or sensitive skin. Allow the skin to adjust and to get used to the ingredient and choose a product with a low concentration of granactive retinoid or retinol, to begin with, and increase frequency and percentages further down the line.

Best products with retinol

When it comes to the best products with retinol, there’s a quick note I’d like to make regarding my selection process. As retinol is not FDA-approved but is instead a cosmetic product, you can get different retinol-based products that vary dramatically in quality and capabilities. Due to the limited regulations, it’s essential to dig deeper into the retinol products that you use.

To play on the safe side, I usually prefer to stick to the bigger and proven companies that I know work according to rules and regulations when it comes to manufacturing. I also like to see a proven track record of individuals with different skin types who have used the product and can vouch for its effectiveness.

Having this in mind, here are my top picks for the best retinol products.

CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum

CeraVe is known for its non-irritating and safe approach to skincare. This specific formula contains niacinamide, licorice root extract, and 0.3% encapsulated retinol, which are great for oily skin and acne-prone individuals in addition to helping with anti-aging.

Encapsulation means that the retinol will be released into the skin gradually, which in itself minimizes irritation and other side effects.

The product has anti-inflammatory capabilities and fights hyperpigmentation not only by directly dealing with it but by minimizing irritation in the first place.

This is a good entry to retinol because it’s reliable and relatively cheap.

CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum ➤ Available on Amazon and Dermstore

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Moisturizer

This is a strong retinol with a concentration of 0.13% of pure retinol. I’d say it’s more suitable for people who look for effective anti-aging cream and already have had some experience with retinol.

Mature skin will drink this up.

It’s rich, moisturizing, and has great user experience – the cream has a cult following, and for a good reason – it works and it’s not that expensive for a retinol moisturizer.

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Moisturizer ➤ Available on Amazon

The Ordinary Retinol 0.2% in Squalane

The Ordinary Retinol 0.2% in Squalane is one of the brand’s best sellers and definitely a top choice for beginners who are just getting started with retinoids.

This is the weakest form of retinol you can find from this brand which is known for its no-frills, cheap, yet effective products.

I would say it’s best for beginners who look for the overall benefits of retinol.

As the concentration of retinol is very low, keep in mind that it will take some time for the product to show results. A course of at least 6 months of using this product will be most effective. Once you open a bottle, it has a 6-month expiration mark, however, I recommend swapping it with a new one at the third or fourth month due to the degradation I’ve mentioned at the beginning of this article.

On a positive note, this serum plays well with most routines and it hydrates well.

The Ordinary Retinol 0.2% in Squalane ➤ Available on Amazon, Feelunique and Skinstore.

Best products with granactive retinoid

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion

Here’s our chance to look at the granactive retinoid vs retinol by The Ordinary debate.

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion is one of the brand’s best retinoid products and a personal favorite of mine.

This has a lower percentage of granactive retinoid and it’s ideal for newbies, and people with oily or sensitive skin. I love the intelligent mix of ingredients in the formula, featuring retinol, hydroxypinacolone retinoate, and tasmannia lanceolata fruit extract.

This serum feels lightweight on the skin, soaks in quickly, and lasts a long time. I would recommend it to people with breakouts because it doesn’t clog the pores and is effective.

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion ➤ Available on Amazon and Feelunique.

Pacifica Clean Shot Granactive Retinoid 5% In Seawater

If you want to up your game and introduce a more powerful granactive retinoid into your routine, then Pacifica’s product is a great option.

I would recommend this to people who already have some experience with retinoids or know that their skin doesn’t get sensitized that easily. Although very safe, it can still cause some dryness and mild irritation in people with overly sensitive skin. It’s scented too although it’s not overpowering whatsoever, it smells pleasant.

Pacifica Clean Shot Granactive Retinoid 5% In Seawater ➤ Available on Amazon


Still have some questions about retinol and granactive retinoid? Here are the most common ones that I often hear get asked.

Which is more effective – retinol or granactive retinoid?

Granactive retinoid is more effective than retinol. Retinol must convert into the skin before the skin can recognize it and use it for the capabilities it has to offer. Granactive retinoid, on the other hand, is a retinoic acid ester and as such it doesn’t have to go through any transformations for the skin to recognize it. It can start working its magic immediately, offering faster results.

Is granactive retinoid the same as retinol?

No, granactive retinoid and retinol are not the same. They both fall under the category of retinoids but are two different types of retinoids with their own, individual properties and characteristics.

Which is better granactive retinoid or tretinoin?

Granactive retinoid is better than tretinoin for skincare folks who are just getting started with retinoids. It’s also much better for people with sensitive skin. This is because granactive retinoid is less irritating than tretinoin and is likely to cause fewer side effects. In addition, you can only get tretinoin with a prescription, while granactive retinoid is available over the counter.

At the same time, tretinoin is recommended when you’re after a faster and stronger effect, or if you have a specific skin problem that can only be dealt with with a prescription level of retinoid. If you have some experience with retinoids, you won’t have any struggles when it comes to tolerating the more aggressive form of tretinoin.

When should I use granactive retinoid?

It’s recommended to use granactive retinoids in your evening routine. It’s best to apply it after cleansing and water-based serums and before oils, suspensions, or heavier creams. Ideally, stay away from extensive sun exposure without any sun protection as retinoids make the skin more sensitive to UV rays.

How strong is granactive retinoid?

Overall, granactive retinoid is weaker than retinal, while tretinoin is the strongest when compared to both granactive retinoid and retinal.
It all comes down to the concentration of granactive retinoids in a product. For example, The Ordinary has a few versions of granactive retinoid – you can find products with 2% strength and 5% strength.

Does granactive retinoid do anything?

Yes, granactive retinoid is effective at speeding up cell turnover, promoting collagen production, and reducing fine lines and wrinkles, therefore, offering anti-aging effects, correcting the skin texture, fighting acne, and unclogging the pores.

Can I use granactive retinoid as a beginner?

Yes, you can use granactive retinoids as a beginner. However, keep in mind that newbie users should start with a lower percentage of granactive retinoid and introduce it gradually into a routine. Although considered the safest and less irritating type of retinoid, it’s still a retinoid.

What is the strongest granactive retinoid?

The strongest granactive retinoid is offered by The Ordinary in their Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane product.

What is the strongest form of retinoid?

The strongest form of retinoid is retinoic acid. It is the endpoint molecule that is biologically active on the skin. All other forms of retinoids must go through transformations or conversions before they can be recognized by the skin and therefore work.

When it comes to prescription-based options, retinoic acid is the most potent type of retinoid and is considered the most effective in promoting cellular renewal and repair on the skin. Being biologically active on the skin, it does not need to be converted, allowing it to work immediately upon application. However, due to its strength, it often comes with stronger side effects such as dryness, peeling, and irritation.

Retinoic acid treatments are only available through a prescription because of their potency. Typically, they are prescribed when gentler over-the-counter treatments have not yielded successful results.

At the same time, the strongest over-the-counter form of retinoid is retinaldehyde, also known as retinal. It should not be confused with retinol, as it is more potent than retinyl esters and retinol. Retinal only requires one step to convert and become active, making it more effective in promoting cell turnover to improve skin tone and texture, reduce wrinkles and fine lines, and prevent acne.

However, like retinol, retinaldehyde may cause irritation and dryness when used. Nevertheless, it is still considered gentler than pure retinoic acid. Despite being gentler than pure retinoic acid, retinaldehyde is still effective in improving skin texture and reducing signs of aging.

Do you have any experience using retinoids and retinol or granactive retinoids in particular? Or perhaps you’ve tested some of the products I’ve mentioned in this article?

If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Let me know what you think about the topic and share some of your stories with me and my readers via the comments sections below.