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I’ve never been much of a fan of the Ordinary’s retinoids. Mostly because I’ve never been much of a fan of retinol, which all their retinoids were until recently. After trying a number of retinol products that either didn’t work or caused my skin irritation and peeling, however I discovered retinal in 2020 and have never looked back; I use it daily and have seen incredible results with minimal irritation. It’s not a cheap ingredient but in the past year or so, a number of more-affordable options have come to market. Today, we’re reviewing the Ordinary’s formula...

The product is: Retinal 0.2% Emulsion* | £15.20. I had 2 initial thoughts on this when the product details: 1. That’s actually a really great price, and 2. This seems like kind of a high concentration! For context, the other more affordable retinal products I’ve tried are typically priced between £18 and £22 for lower concentrations than this, though I would highlight that there’s only 15ml of product in here (half that of a standard serum size). However, as good of a deal as this is, I would also say that I would probably would’ve preferred it if they’d launched a 0.05% concentration first and then followed with this a few months later. Whilst 0.2% won’t  sound like a lot for retinOl users, retinAl is a much stronger ingredients and - for context - most products on the market are 0.05% or 0.1%. One high-end brand I use actually require you to go into one of their clinics and have a little consultation before they’ll sell you their 0.2% formulation. The Ordinary sell some amazing, powerful actives, but they do also have a lot of young fans and the price-point is accessible to most, so I am a little concerned that people are going to pick this up thinking it’s just another active to add to their extensive routine without realising how strong of a product this is and that it’s really only suitable for advanced / experienced skincare users.

Let’s rewind: what are retinoids, how does retinal fit into this family and who might want to use a product like this? Retinoids are the gold standard in well-ageing skincare with decades of studies to prove their efficacy. They don’t only boost collagen production to keep your skin young and bouncy for longer but they also help reduce existing signs of photo-ageing like fine lines and discolouration. Plus they speed up skin cell turnover, which naturally slows as we age. You do not need retinoids before 25 (unless you’ve been recommended or prescribed it by a dermatologist as an acne treatment) and under 18 they can be actively harmful to the skin, additionally if you are pregnant, you should not use any form of retinoids. You’ve probably heard of retinol before, which is then converted by your skin into retinal and then to retinoic acid, which is bioavailable to your skin. With each conversion, the potency of the ingredient  is reduced, so retinal cuts out the middle man and is the strongest / most direct stuff you can get without a prescription. For me, I actually found retinal less drying and more irritating than retinol (possibly because retinal is almost always encapsulated for slow release) and it delivers much faster, far more visible results in my skin.

Ok, so let’s get into the Ordinary’s product in particular. As I mentioned, this is an advanced 0.2% formula so it has a noticeable bright yellow hue. The texture is very simple and I’ll work as a serum on just about any skin type because it melts right in without residue or pilling. It’s a pretty minimalist formula, which is what I expected for the price, but to does also contain Bisabolol, which is the soothing component of chamomile, Vitamin E as a fatty antioxidant, lactic acid as a natural moisturising factor and oat analogues to help calm and moisturise the skin. It’s basic but I really have no complaints about the formula in terms of texture, application or added ingredients. 

I’ve been using this product for around 6 weeks now and I’m really enjoying it. I use one pump for my face and one for my neck (which you will definitely have to build up to if your neck skin isn’t used to retinoids) every night and haven’t experienced any irritation, dryness or peeling. My skin is really used to retinoids by now, so I’d expect a little of that for the first few weeks of use if this is a jump up for you in terms of retinoid intensity. Again, this is an ‘advanced’ skincare choice, but I’ve even used this after a very gentle PHA exfoliant and still didn’t experience any irritation. My skin is looking great and I’m honestly not missing my more expensive retinoids whilst using this product; it’s no-frills but it works and it delivers the results you expect from this kind of formula. My skin is smooth, glowing, healthy, bouncy and even; what more could you wish for for £15?!

If you’re in the market for a retinal but the current options on the market are a bit too pricey for you: absolutely give this a price. Likewise, if you’re currently using a more premium retinal product and you’re feeling the pinch in your budget: check this out for your next repurchase. My only wish is that they’d release a lower concentration to bridge the gap between their current range of retinoids (which, to me, aren’t that efficacious) and this product that’s only suitable for very experienced skincare users.

Have you tried this product yet or any of the other retinoids the Ordinary does?

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