The Ordinary Retinal 0.2% Emulsion – for whom? | Doctor Review



It wasn’t that long ago that I stated on here that Retinaldehyde formulas at a drugstore price were lacking. Well, today I present you The Ordinary Retinal 0.2% Emulsion, released in March 2024 and faithfully tested by my husband as I use Tretinoin on my face.


A tube of The Ordinary Retinal 0.2% Emulsion standing in front of a dark background with white flowers
The Ordinary Retinal 0.2% Emulsion


Just as short recap, Retinaldehyde is one step closer to the active form of retinoids than Retinol is and is in most countries the strongest non-prescription available, although strong of course depends on concentration and formulation more than on one individual ingredient.

So after three months of thorough testing, what do I think of The Ordinarys addition to the affordable Retinal products?



What The Ordinary Retinal 0.2% Emulsion claims

Our highest-strength retinoid formula with stabilized retinaldehyde for advanced age support, optimal for nighttime use.


Facts about The Ordinary Retinal 0.2% Emulsion

Prize and size

One bottle contains 5 ml and is available for 17,90 € on the website here. 15 ml isn‘t that much, the other formulas I have seen contain twice as much and are more affordable, which makes this one seem less of a drugstore option.


Texture and smell

There is no noticeable scent, but a bright yellow color that is so intense it might give your face a light yellow hue after application, especially if you use more than the recommended amount and that some people online claim stains their white bedding. We don‘t have white bedding, but lighter colored fabrics and didn’t notice any staining, so that might depend on the amount you use and how long you give it time to absorb.


Close up of The Ordinary 2% Retinal Emulsion on a mirrored surface. The product is intensely yellow
The yellow color is quite intense


How to use The Ordinary Retinal 0.2% Emulsion

On the website a pea sized amount is recommended, which equals one pump of product. Speaking of the pump, it didn‘t work properly for me at the start, meaning no matter how many times I pumped, no product would come out. In this case you are advised to turn the bottle upside down and firmly tap the top against a hard surface before you try again, and with this and a little patience I managed to get it to work.

My husband has been using Retinaldehyde daily for over six months now, so despite this being the highest concentration he proceeded with nightly use and did not experience any irritation. (More info: Minimalistic yet effective skincare routine) He doesn‘t use other potentially irritating ingredients though and has pretty sturdy skin, so it might still be a good idea to follow website instructions and introduce it slowly over the course of a few weeks. (More info: How to introduce retinoids with minimal irritation)

It spread with ease and did not leave any tackiness behind. Just like other retinoids, this is supposed to be used at night and after cleansing. Depending on your skin you might want to pair it with a moisturizer, but normal to oily skin should be fine with using just that as well.


Ingredients of The Ordinary Retinal 0.2% Emulsion

Aqua (Water) solv, Coco-Caprylate/Caprate emo, Propanediol solv|h, Pentylene Glycol solv|h, Hydroxyapatite abrasive/scrub, Retinal cci, Cetylhydroxyproline Palmitamide emo, 4-T-Butylcyclohexanol so|cci, Hydroxyphenyl Propamidobenzoic Acid so, Ergothioneine aox, Biosaccharide Gum-1 so|h, Bisabolol so, Brassica Campestris Sterols emo, Zingiber Officinale Root Extract aox|so, Butylene Glycol h|solv 0 1, Isohexadecane emo|solv, Hexyldecanol emo, Maltodextrin, Caesalpinia Spinosa Gum vc, Polyacrylate Crosspolymer-6 vc, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer vc, Stearic Acid emo|vc 0 23, Isoceteth-20 emu|surf, Polysorbate 60 emu|surf, Ascorbyl Palmitate aox 0 2, Tocopherol aox 03 03, Lactic Acid exf|h|buff, Sodium Lactate buff|h, Sodium Hydroxide buff, Ethylhexylglycerin pres, Phenoxyethanol pres, Chlorphenesin pres|amic

Hover the mouse over an ingredient for short explanation. Read more on INCIDecoder.

First things first, the Retinaldehyde concentration. Retinal is hard to stabilize, which is why in most formulas I have seen it is it has been used encapsulated in Cyclodextrin. That isn‘t the case here, but they surely do use some form of encapsulation. Still 0.2% is twice the amount I have seen otherwise, making this not a beginners product. (More info: Your comprehensive guide to retinoids)

Other than that it contains a few humectants and emollients and then ingredients with a focus on counteracting irritation like Bisabolol, 4-T-Butylcyclohexanol, a soothing peptide and Hydroxyphenyl Propamidobenzoic Acid, a synthetic molecule copying the effects of Aventhramides, the active ingredients colloidal oat meal. (More info: The benefits of Colloidal Oatmeal in skincare explained) There is also Cetylhydroxyproline Palmitamide, a pseudo ceramide aiming to support a healthy skin barrier. (More info: The benefits of Ceramides in skincare explained and The 5 steps you need to take to repair your damaged skin barrier)

The Lactic Acid also present is most likely used as pH adjuster and not for additional exfoliating effects. (More info: The benefits of exfoliating acids in skincare explained)

More info: How to read the ingredient list in your skincare products


Does it live up to its claims?


It surely is the highest strength they have and will help with well-aging.


How does it compare to…


Geek and Gorgeous A Game 10 Review
Geek and Gorgeous A Game 10


Geek and Gorgeous A-Game 10

This is what I put my husband on when I build him his routine, the only drugstore Retinaldehyde I was aware of at that point. It has a 0.1% concentration, so isn’t as strong,  and contains twice the amount, 30 ml, for almost the same price. If a higher concentration is what you prefer (and tolerate), then The Ordinary is your best bet. But higher concentrations won’t always give better results, especially if your skin is more on the sensitive side, so see what fits your needs best. I – and my husband – like both.

You can read my full review of the Geek and Gorgeous A-Game 10 here.


Would I repurchase and which skin types do I recommend it to?

The Ordinary Retinal 0.2% Emulsion is a great option for those that want to use a stronger retinoid that doesn‘t need a prescription. It is on the stronger side, so I wouldn‘t recommend beginners to go straight in with this one, and as it only contains 15 ml it is also less affordable than I would have expected. Still, it gets my recommendation and my husband enjoys it a lot.


The Ordinary Retinal 0.2% Emulsion Review
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