the more you know the less you need

the more you know the less you need

Retinol Review

Retinol Review

There’s an IMPRESSIVE new line of retinoids at The Ordinary.

Seven to be exact. From mild to moderate to full-strength, they’ve been reformulated and are receiving rave reviews from ordinary and extra-ordinary girls alike, including she-who-shall-not-be-named. (Why)

I purchased three from the line that contains retinol. Considered the gold-standard for anti-ageing, retinols really work and have decades of science to prove it.

The Ordinary retinols are in a base of squalane, a super hydrating, stable oil. And thanks to The Abnormal Beauty Company’s business philosophy, they are also super affordable—prices range from $5 to $14 (Canadian).


I thought about getting a prescription for Tretinoin (aka Retinoic Acid / Retin-A). However, I decided against it and concluded that continuing a non-medical OTC solution is fine for my skin since I don’t have acne or severe sun damage. It bears noting that Tretinoin is a drug, not a cosmetic. I also discovered two paradoxical facts:

  1. Tretinoin works by irritating the skin which causes increased cell trunover
  2. Inflammation of the skin is linked to premature ageing

Anyway, I was eager to try the new-generation alternatives which mitigate the negative side-effects and—albeit more slowly—lead to the same outcome: an improvement in fine lines, wrinkles, skin tone and texture. In other words, brighter, smoother, better skin.



Retinol must be converted by the body  in order for the skin to use it. It is metabolised into retinaldehyde, and then into retinoic acid (active vitamin A).  This conversion process means that retinol is typically about 20 times weaker than retinoic acid (prescription Retin A) . This is not necessarily a bad thing. The Deciem products are highly-stable, water-free solutions of pure retinol with a 12-month shelf life.


Low and slow. Only at night.  Your skin has to acclimatise to retinols. Building up tolerance and seeing results is a long-tern commitment, not an overnight miracle. To reap the benefits requires consistency (working up slowly to more frequent application), patience (4-6 months to see results), and a devotion to sunscreen (retinols make skin more sun-sensitive; plus it’s pointless to try to undo photo-ageing whilst inflicting more.)

The researchers worked out what they call a ‘sun damage percentage’ and calculated that the sun is responsible for 80.3 per cent of skin ageing.

Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology study, Daily Mail


I keep it ultra-simple:

Cleanse (Double Cleanse if wearing makeup) ~ Retinol ~ Moisturiser

Retinol 0.2% in Squalane

If you have never used retinols before and are nervous about redness, irritation, peeling, itchy skin, then this is a perfect place to start. The chance of irritation is low (I didn’t experience any). This is mild: 0.2 % retinol = 0.01 % retinoic acid. Consider this your gateway retinol.


I will continue to use this low dose formula under my eyes because it doesn’t make the thin, delicate skin dry and crepey, as some others do.


A natural and highly-effective emollient and antioxidant. An exceptional hydrator for skin and hair. I love it because it is completely odourless. It is a brilliant vehicle for the retinol.

…a natural hydrocarbon that is present in the skin, helping to prevent loss of hydration and to improve suppleness. Unlike plant oils, Squalane is completely non-greasy, is exceptionally pure and stays stable in varying UV, temperature and oxidative conditions. Its non-comedogenic emollience hydrates while improving visible elasticity and texture. If you use it on your hair, it offers heat protection, stops moisture loss and prevents breakage. 

~ Deciem, Squalane


This gives the retinol products an oil texture without being greasy. Deciem also offers a 100% Plant-Derived Squalane for healthy hydration.

Retinol 0.5% in Squalane

A moderate-strength retinol: 0.5% retinol = 0.025 % retinoic acid. This is the one you move up to after your skin is accustomed to retinols, or begin with if you’ve used retinols before. Has very visible results. Expect smoother, firmer, plumper skin.


Retinol 1% in Squalane

The squalane base makes this well-tolerated despite being 1% retinol = 0.05% retinoic acid. This level has enough oomph to address sun-damage and enhance collagen formation.


Ease into it with once a week and work your way up.

I’ve been using retinoil for a couple of years, so my skin accepted this new formula very well. I had a bit of dryness initially, but nothing drastic.


  • Do not use with other retinoid treatments. Don’t mix retinoids.
  • Don’t over-do it. Don’t try to use every product in The Ordinary range—as tempting as it is. Cherry-pick the ones specific for your skin concerns. Find what works for YOU.
  • Don’t get impatient. This sets you back not gets you ahead. It’s your skin—be nice!
  • More is not better. You only need a small amount per application: a few drops is enough for your entire face.
  • Spread it around: neck, chest, and the top of hands age, too. It’s so cheap you can afford to stock-pile.
  • You can feel good about what you’re putting on your skin. These formulations have super-clean ingredients and are silicone- and alcohol-free.
  • Try it! Hands-down the most affordable retinols on the market.
  • Take a” before” picture. Track your progress: your skin will be transformed.


Retinols are a journey. It’s never too late to begin.

Once you do, you’re on your way to the best skin of your life.

THE ORDINARY RETINOLS AVAILABLE AT: Deciem; Sephora; The Bay; Deciem Vancouver, 408 Howe Street

See My Other Posts: Retinol Reform; Making the Most; Simple Skincare

5 thoughts on “Retinol Review”

    • Try buffering your retinol—wash your face, moisturise, wait until absorbed, then apply your retinol. Doesn’t decrease the effectiveness, but will lessen irritation and dryness.

  • When you say “don’t mix retinol”: Can i use the 5% retinol 2 nights a week, and the 2% granactive retinoid the other 5 nights a week?

    I’ve been using the granactive retinoid for 2 years, but I want to start to step things up a bit. Skin is dehydrated, prone to dryness, 33y/o

  • Love how simple & eloquent you described “Retinoids”-Thank you.
    What kind of moisturizer do you use after the retinoids? I tried using the ordinary Rosehip oil (smells rancid) but it feels like it just sits there on top & doesn’t absorbed.

    Thank you,

    • Hi Liz,
      Here is what I do in the evening routine:
      I cleanse, apply my moisturiser (currently CeraVe in the tub), tuck into bed & read my book (the waiting period), then apply my A313. I have it on my night table and apply it without a mirror.Sleep. Wake up with better skin. Hope that helps. Don’t hesitate to ask any other questions you may have. I highly recommend watching Dr Dray on YouTube for fantastic skin care advice. Note: MOISTURISE FIRST.

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