Granactive Retinoid, The Next Generation Retinol, Explained

What is Granactive Retinoid in Skin Care

We independently select and review the products we recommend. We may earn a small commission on purchases made through our affiliate links below. Learn more about how we review products and our sources of information.

As consumers of beauty products, it’s not uncommon for us to associate a certain skincare ingredient with a certain skincare brand. Call it branding or marketing, but this situation leads us to follow the claims of the brand and makes us blind to the claims of the actual maker. In the case of Granactive Retinoid, what we have mostly comes from The Ordinary. But when you think about it, the truest information comes from the people who make the ingredient, test it out, and define the extent of its potential and drawbacks.

For this purpose, I want you to forget about The Ordinary and focus on Granactive Retinoid as a standalone ingredient. Trust me, this way, you can verify the claims of all brands who use Granactive Retinoid in their products yourself.

In the quest for youthful skin, retinoids have been the most helpful companion. With extensive research behind them, retinoids have been proven to work on wrinkles and fine lines and improve the overall skin texture and tone (1).

And because almost all forms of retinoids have drawbacks like irritation and dryness, people are always on the lookout for better and gentler alternatives. Granactive Retinoid is a result of one of these attempts.

It’s been loved by some but brutally disregarded by others. Data on its effects are limited. Well, duh? It’s new! But the fact that we have limited information is not a good enough excuse to dismiss it.

For the purpose of this article, the information I provide is also limited. But I did reach out to Grant Industries, the company behind the ingredient, and they were kind enough to respond.

I’ll link out to all sources, some of which are free for all whereas some papers require registration for full access. Think of this article as a summary of all that information, because it painfully is!

Keep reading to learn about Granactive Retinoid, its benefits, and the best Granactive Retinoid serums and creams to get started.

What Is Granactive Retinoid?

Granactive Retinoid is a retinoic acid ester used in anti-aging and anti-acne skincare products. And in terms of structure, Granactive Retinoid is made up of 10% hydroxypinacolone retinoate (HPR) and 90% dimethyl isosorbide (DMI). So it’s a combination of a retinoic acid ester and a solvent (2). More on the ester in a bit.

This combination is the trademark of Grant Industries, which is a company based in the USA that researches and develops personal care products.

Basically, this complex is 10% active and 90% delivery. The presence of DMI is for increasing skin penetration to effectively deliver the ingredient.

What Is a Retinoic Acid Ester?

To better understand what a retinoic acid ester is and what HPR does, here’s a recap on retinoids. Retinoids refer to a whole family of vitamin A derivatives, both prescription and non-prescription ones.

Retinoic acid is the pure form of vitamin A and it’s available by prescription only. As a safer and available-for-all alternative, we have retinol and its derivatives like retinyl palmitate.

But whatever over-the-counter form of vitamin A you’re using, it needs to be transformed into retinoic acid to do its job.

Retinol, for example, needs to convert into retinaldehyde first and then to retinoic acid. A retinol ester, like retinyl palmitate, needs to be converted into retinol, then retinaldehyde, and retinoic acid.

So the more you go down the list of esters, the more steps the ingredient needs to be converted into retinoic acid. During these steps, the ingredient usually loses potency.

So when you apply a retinol cream or serum, the enzymes in the skin start working on it to turn the ingredient into something it can use.

Even though there are many retinol esters on the market, there aren’t many retinoic acid esters. As you can imagine, a retinoic acid ester, in this case, Granactive Retinoid, is much closer to the pure form of vitamin A.

How Does Granactive Retinoid Work?

Granactive Retinoid, much like the pure form of vitamin A, retinoic acid, directly binds to the retinoic acid receptors in the skin (3). It does not need any conversion. But usually, conversion means less irritation for the skin.

So when there’s no conversion, we expect irritation. But according to Grant Industries, that’s not the case with Granactive Retinoid.

It binds to the retinoic acid receptors and starts doing what we expect a retinoid to do with a significantly lower irritation potential.

It stimulates collagen production, and cell renewal, which helps with anything from wrinkles to hyperpigmentation without major irritation (4).

Granactive Retinoid vs Retinol

Even though both retinol and Granactive retinoid do the same thing, they work differently on the skin.

First of all, retinol needs a 2-step conversion to become retinoic acid, whereas Granactive Retinoid bypasses the process and binds to the receptors without converting into anything. This makes it bio-available.

This is why Grant Industries claims that “This source of vitamin A may be the most bioavailable, non-prescription form sold to the cosmetic industry” (5).

Secondly, Granactive Retinoid shows less irritation potential compared to retinol. This means that it’s less likely to cause redness, sensitivity, and irritation on the skin.

Thirdly, we know how unstable retinol is, which makes it challenging to formulate it into products without compromising efficacy. Granactive Retinoid is 10 times more stable than retinol (6).

And lastly, because of low irritation potential, HPR is better tolerated. This way, you can incorporate it into your routine more easily than you’d do retinol.

Is Granactive Retinoid Strong?

Strength is relative. But there’s one thing you should know, which is often overlooked, that I think will give you a better idea of Granactive Retinoid concentrations used in products. That way, you can decide which concentration to go for.

Granactive Retinoid, as we’ve established, is 10% HPR, the ester of retinoic acid, and 90% solvent. So actually, the active ingredient is 10%percent.

With this in mind, let’s say you have a 5% Granactive Retinoid serum. The actual vitamin A (HPR) you’re getting is 0.5%. Put a pin on that.

Over-the-counter retinol ranges between 0.25% and 1%. Prescription retinoids are between 0.025% and 1%. In this scenario, 0.5% Granactive Retinoid is actually a good amount of active.

When comparing strength, compare it with retinol. And a 0.5% retinol or HPR can be high for a beginner but should be enough for someone who has used it before.

What Are The Benefits of Granactive Retinoid?

As with all things retinoic acid, Granactive Retinoid or HPR is an anti-aging ingredient that stimulates cell generation.

By increasing skin turnover, it boosts collagen production. As a result, Granactive retinoid reduces roughness and dark spots on the skin. And it increases the firmness, radiance, and elasticity of the skin.

Does Granactive Retinoid Help With Acne?

According to Grant Industries, Granactive Retinoid has to be formulated together with a known anti-acne ingredient for it to help with acne (7). Grant Ind. doesn’t disclose which ones, but we are all familiar with some of them.

What this means is that when you’re buying a Granactive Retinoid cream or serum to tackle acne, you need to look for salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or other anti-acne active in the ingredient list.

This confused me at first. Because the retinol we know also helps with acne. And if HPR works like retinol, it should also help with acne too.

I couldn’t find anything about this. But I assume it may have to do with certain types of acne that are related to bacteria.

If you don’t have major acne concerns like cystic bumps, I don’t see why HPR wouldn’t work to improve skin texture as it speeds up skin turnover as well.

What Are The Side Effects of Granactive Retinoid?

It’s important to reiterate something here. Grant Ind. does not claim that HPR is completely irritation-safe. They just claim that it has low irritation potential. So you shouldn’t expect any picnic when you’re using HPR or any other form of retinoid for that matter.

With that in mind, even though the chances are low, you can still experience redness or dryness. But these side effects are minimized greatly even with retinol with the help of some workarounds.

Start slow and use very little and apply your product after you apply your moisturizer. Also, do not mix Granactive Retinoid with other actives like retinol and hydroxy acids.

Another reminder, HPR or Granactive Retinoid is not pregnancy safe. And similar to retinol, it can make your skin prone to sunburn too.

The Best Granactive Retinoid Skincare Products

If you didn’t know, there are other brands that use Granactive Retinoids in their serums and creams too. So it’s not exclusive to The Ordinary. Keep scrolling for the best skincare products made with Granactive Retinoid.

1. The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane

This product is one of the gentle retinoids by the brand. But let me give you an example from my experience. Normally, you can’t use retinoids days in a row as it’ll increase sensitivity. But this is exactly what I do when I test retinols to see how gentle they are.

My face started to burn after using this serum 3 days in a row. To give you something to compare, the oil below took 10 days of consistent use until my face got sensitive. My point is that even though this one is a gentle HPR, you should still start slow and build tolerance.

Another thing you need to know is even though the product doesn’t claim to help acne, I’ve experienced a reduction in blackheads and whiteheads in addition to an improvement in fine lines. Whether you need it for acne or wrinkles, this one is an effective and affordable Granactive Retinoid serum.

Key Ingredients: Granactive Retinoid, squalane
Skin Type: Normal, combination, dry, oily
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free, alcohol-free

2. Sunday Riley Luna Retinol Sleeping Night Oil

Sunday Riley Luna Retinol Sleeping Night Oil - Best Skincare Products with Granactive Retinoid

In my opinion, this is one of the gentlest retinol products and it’s great even for sensitive skin. It’s an anti-aging night oil formulated with HPR to target signs of aging. I reached out to Sunday Riley (twice) to learn the exact concentration.

They don’t tell me for “propriety reasons”, which I think is complete BS in this day and age. However, HPR is pretty high on the list, which is what you’re left with when you don’t know the strength. The oil is incredibly nourishing as it packs a bunch of nutrient-rich oils to reverse sun-induced skin damage.

It boosts radiance and helps you wake up to better, and softer skin. If you have roughness and texture irregularities, this is one of the best products for uneven skin texture. It’s blue and it has a scent from the oils, which is not uncomfortable at all.

Key Ingredients: Granactive Retinoid, chamomile oil, grape seed oil
Skin Type: All
Size: 1.18 oz/35 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free

3. The Inkey List Retinol Anti-Aging Serum

The Inkey List Retinol Anti-Aging Serum - Best Products with Granactive Retinoid

This one utilizes 1% pure retinol in encapsulated form. This makes the product more tolerable as retinol releases slowly over time. 0.5% Granactive Retinoid is added into the mix to maximize the effects without maximizing irritation.

Given the fact that the formulation also contains stabilizing antioxidants, as suggested by Grant Ind, this one is an effective and budget-friendly Granactive Retinoid serum you can use to target wrinkles, dark spots, texture irregularities, and other signs of aging.

Key Ingredients: Granactive Retinoid, encapsulated retinol, squalane
Skin Type: Normal, combination, dry, oily
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free, fragrance-free

4. Peter Thomas Roth PRO Strength Vitamin A/C/E Retinoid Treatment

Peter Thomas Roth PRO Strength Vitamin A C E Retinoid Treatment - Best Granactive Retinoid Products

Contrary to others, this one is a pretty high-strength Granactive Retinoid product. PTR had something similar to this in serum form before but I’ve no idea why they dropped it. This retinol cream is 10% Granactive Retinoid, which translates to 1% of retinoic acid ester. So it’s intense. It also contains a stable form of pure vitamin C with a concentration of 10% as well as 5% vitamin E.

So overall, this is a great option if you want to kick things up a notch with your anti-aging routine. Because the cream contains vitamin E in a high concentration, this is better for people with dry skin to enhance moisture while minimizing the look of wrinkles and dark spots.

Key Ingredients: Granactive Retinoid, vitamin C, vitamin E
Skin Type: All
Size: 1 oz/30 ml

5. Alpha-H Liquid Gold Midnight Reboot Serum

Alpha-H Liquid Gold Midnight Reboot Serum - Best Granactive Retinoid Products

This one works by exfoliating the skin. It’s actually an exfoliating serum made with 14% glycolic acid. And it has 1% Granactive Retinoid. So the skin benefits are two-fold. Because of exfoliation, you’re likely to achieve cumulative benefits as exfoliation accelerates skin turnover and helps with surface impurities like fine lines, dehydration, and dullness.

In addition, it has antioxidants like ferulic acid and coenzyme Q10. And like all other Alpha-H serums, this one is also super replenishing for the skin because of its lightweight emollients. With Granactive Retinoid, antioxidants, and exfoliants, the night serum hits the anti-aging trifecta.

Key Ingredients: Granactive Retinoid, glycolic acid, ferulic acid, peptides
Skin Type: Normal, combination, dry, oily
Size: 1.69 oz/50 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free

6. Lancer Younger Pure Youth Serum

Lancer Younger Pure Youth Serum - Best Granactive Retinoid Serum

And speaking of anti-aging goals, this is such a rich anti-aging serum that you get all the skin benefits without the hassle that comes with irritating and peeling skincare products. This is a glycolic acid serum that stimulates skin turnover, brightens skin, and smooths skin texture.

But it also has bakuchiol and Granactive retinoid and it has a blend of antioxidants to maximize benefits. It’s got vitamin C and vitamin E to guard the skin against free radicals and reverse sun damage. The price is pretty up there for a 30 ml serum. But again, the night serum plumps skin and boosts radiance like no other.

Key Ingredients: Granactive Retinoid, glycolic acid, bakuchiol, vitamin C
Skin Type: Normal, combination, dry, oily
Size: 1 oz/30 ml

7. Kate Somerville Retinol Firming Eye Cream

Kate Somerville Retinol Firming Eye Cream

This is an anti-aging eye cream formulated to minimize signs of aging around the eyes in the gentlest possible way. It combines retinol with Granactive retinoid and bakuchiol to improve the look of crow’s feet and fine lines.

It also helps minimize dark circles under the eyes and even reduces puffiness all thanks to its elegant, cooling applicator tip.

Key Ingredients: Granactive Retinoid, retinol, bakuchiol
Skin Type: Normal, combination, dry, oily
Size: 0.5 oz/15 ml
Good To Know: Cruelty-free

8. Allies of Skin Multi Acids & Retinoid Brightening Sleeping Facial

Allies of Skin Multi Acids & Retinoid Brightening Sleeping Facial - Best Products with Granactive Retinoid

We’ve mentioned that Granactive Retinoid works better for acne when it’s formulated together with an anti-acne ingredient. With that in mind, this overnight peel utilizes salicylic acid, which helps with clogged pores and acne. It also has glycolic and lactic acids on top of 1% Granactive Retinoid.

And it’s got niacinamide to help with the appearance of pores and skin discolorations as well. This is not a daily treatment, but a weekly treatment. And it’s especially great for oily, acne-prone skin. You can use it to reduce the look of enlarged pores, acne, and hyperpigmentation. In the meantime, as the exfoliants and HPR are encapsulated, you don’t need to worry much about irritation either.

Key Ingredients: Granactive Retinoid, salicylic acid, glycolic acid, niacinamide
Skin Type: All
Size: 1.7 oz/50 ml
Good To Know: Cruelty-free

So this is how Granactive Retinoid works, its benefits, and the best Granactive Retinoid products. I think this is a promising ingredient. And if you feel good about it, definitely go for Sunday Riley’s Night Oil. And if budget is a concern, The Ordinary Retinoid Serum is amazing for a variety of skin issues.

Read Next: The Best Retinol Pads


  1. Mukherjee, S., Date, A., Patravale, V., Korting, H. C., Roeder, A., & Weindl, G. (2006). Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. Clinical interventions in aging1(4), 327–348.
  2. Retinoid Vitamin A Delivery Archives. (n.d.). Grant Industries. Retrieved March 17, 2023.
  3. Industries, G. (2015, February 18). Granactive Retinoid: The Power of Retinol without the Irritation. Cosmetics & Toiletries.
  4. Antiaging effects of retinoid hydroxypinacolone retinoate on skin models. (2018). Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology Volume 79, Issue 3, Supplement 1. Published.
  5. Granactive Retinoid by Grant Industries, Inc. – Personal Care & Cosmetics: Granactive retinoid datasheet. (n.d.). Prospector. Retrieved March 17, 2023.
  6. The Power of Retinol: Moving Beyond the Irritation Legacy. (2015). The International Magazine for Cosmetics and Fragrances, VOL 23 N 10. Published.
  7. Grant Industries, Inc. (2008). Active Series For Skin Care.
Scroll to Top