Holy Grails: Retinoids

Yesterday I did another Q&A on my Instagram (@MaximumSkin) and I received so many questions about what retinoid is “best”, what retinoid works for their skin type, their skin concern, differences between each one, my favourites, and the list goes on. There were so many questions about retinoids that I thought I’d make my next holy grails all about retinoids and post a skin chart with all the retinoids I can think of, how they differentiate from each other, and information about conversion rates. If you’re interested in learning more about them as a whole, what they do, why they're a staple in everyone's routine, etc head to my Instagram page (@MaximumSkin) and you’ll see the post. Alternatively, if you are seeing this way in the future, you can click here to go to my post directory for a list of all my posts; the retinoid one will be titled “A Guide To Retinoid Conversions”. Now, with all that being said, let’s get into the holy grails.

The Ordinary Retinol 1% In Squalane

Why I love it: there's a lot of retinoid serums and oils on the market, however some can be more irritating than others. I find oils to be the less irritating on the skin. In the USA, UK, Australia, and some other countries where hydroxypinacolone retinoate (aka granactive retinoid) is available OTC, that is sold instead of this one. See below for more info.

Key Ingredient(s): 1% Retinol

Shopping Links

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2%

Fair warning: I have never tried this out before, however from opinions from people that I trust, I've been told this is amazing. Granactive (aka hydroxypinacolone retinoate; HPR) is a retinoic acid ester. It works very similarly to tretinoin (which is pure retinoic acid), but with less irritation. This is also micro-encapsulated which means it will slowly release onto the skin, hence why it is more gentle. There is also a 2% HPR in squalane and a 5% HPR in squalane. I would start with the lower concentration.

Key Ingredient(s): 2% HPR

Shopping Links

The Inkey List Retinol Serum

Why I Love It: it's another great retinol product + contains HPR, and it's inexpensive. I don't find this causes much irritation (that is if you use it properly). The HPR is an added bonus at 0.5% and I'm surprised this is available in Canada because HPR is considered a drug here...

Key Ingredient(s): 1% Retinol, 0.5% HPR

Shopping Links

Why I Love It: one of my favourite retinol serums for beginners that are very scared to use a retinoid. This contains so many amazing ingredients like allantoin, magesium ascorbyl phosphate, colloidal oatmeal, ceramides, peptides, humectants, and more. It's a packed serum and should have the least amount of irritation, while still showing great results. I know the price is high, but if that's in your budget try it out!

Key Ingredient(s): 0.25% Retinol

Shopping Links

Obagi Clinical Retinol 0.5% Cream

Why I Love It: this is what I call the next level up from the FAB one mentioned above. It's double the strength, contains similar-ish ingredients like humectants and vitamin C (ascorbic acid), but it's going to be obviously stronger. You definitely could also start here if you wanted to, but for those who are scared of retinoids, I always suggest the FAB one.

Key Ingredient(s): 0.5% Retinol

Shopping Links

Differin Gel Adapalene 0.1%

Why I Love It: adapalene is a synthetic retinoid that was developed to specifically treat acne vulgaris. It's an amazing product and ingredient for people who suffer from acne. It's less irritating than tretinoin, but will still get the job done. Differin is available in the USA without a prescription. This is prescription only in other areas of the world. This is not a substitute for medical advice. Please contact your prescriber (GP, derm, etc) for more information.

Key Ingredient(s): 0.1% Adapalene

Retin-A 0.05% Tretinoin Cream

Why I Love It: retin-A is the OG of retinoids and it truly is phenomenal. The issue is that tretinoin is pure retinoic acid, meaning that it works instantly and with that comes irritation. Lots of people go through the crummy stages of starting out on retin-A and stop using it without ever seeing the beautiful results it can achieve. There are many brand names out there besides Retin-A, as well as micro-encapsulated formulations as well. This is prescription only. This is not a substitute for medical advice. Please contact your prescriber (GP, derm, etc) for more information.

Key Ingredient(s): 0.05% Tretinoin

DISCLAIMER: some links are affiliate links which means if you choose to shop through them I will make a small commission. I appreciate everyone who does shop through my links as it's a way to keep my content free for all of you, while you're able to contribute to me without actually doing anything you weren't already going to do.


Maximize Your Skincare


Looking For Something?

Connect With Me

The Gram


This website may contain some affiliate links, which means I will make a small commission on sales of the products you may wish to purchase through the link. My content is not influenced by advertisers, affiliate partnerships or brands. All opinions are my own, forever and always, since day 1. Thanks.

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • TikTok
  • Twitter
  • YouTube