13 Days of Sunday Riley: Is it Worth the Hype and the Price?


I’m not one to drop big bucks on skincare products, mostly because my skin is so sensitive and there’s a chance I could have a bad reaction to anything, no matter how clean the formulation — which is why I’m a little late to the Sunday Riley party. But right around the time I received a bottle of Sunday Riley C.E.O. Rapid Flash Brightening Serum in my Allure Beauty Box, Sunday Riley started selling trial sizes! I scooped up samples of Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment, Sunday Riley Ceramic Slip Clay Cleanser, and Sunday Riley Tidal Brightening Enzyme Water Cream and set out to test the brand for a full two weeks to see if it was worth the hype (and the full size prices).

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I was so strict about a clean diet, exercise routine, and supplement regimen before my wedding, and my skin LOVED it. But when I loosened the reins a bit post-wedding (with pizza and alcohol and lazy weekends in bed instead of on the mat), I saw the difference: deep, under-the-skin pimples along my jawline and hairline, whiteheads on my cheeks, and a general dullness. Sunday Riley, save me!

The brand champions “botanical skin care powered by science,” meaning that their products feature mostly natural ingredients that have been “enhanced” by feats of engineering. Example: their CEO Rapid Flash Brightening Serum uses Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, a lipid-soluble form of Vitamin C, since pure Vitamin C can’t effectively absorb deep into the skin. I do like this approach; while I’d love to find a way to keep my skincare routine all-natural, I’m down for some man-made goodness every once in a while.

As you can see from my before-and-after Sunday Riley pictures, I saw some improvements in my skin after two weeks of use (although I have to credit some of that to cleaning up my diet, as well). There was one stand-out Sunday Riley product that literally I fell in love with — seriously, I would leave my husband for this product — and one that I ended up giving away after two uses. Here are my honest thoughts about which Sunday Riley products you need to try, and which you can do without.

Sunday Riley Tidal Brightening Enzyme Water Cream
This product has the kind of name that just confused me from the get-go. Like, what’s a “Water Cream?” How do I use it? I literally had to research where this product fit into a normal skincare routine before realizing it was basically a moisturizer. Normally, I use moisturizers after toners and serums and before oils — but even though that’s technically where Tidal should belong, it just didn’t work for me. I found the texture to be really tacky; it never fully sunk into the skin and it left my face feeling almost sticky. I couldn’t layer an oil on top of it, but I didn’t like how it felt as the last step in my routine, either. I attempted to use this twice — once at night and once in the morning — and just hated the feel so much. I stopped using it pretty much immediately.
Would I buy the full size? Nope. 

Sunday Riley C.E.O. Rapid Flash Brightening Serum
C.E.O. Serum from Sunday Riley is supposedly the holy grail of Vitamin C skincare. With 15% THD Ascorbate (the aforementioned stable, lipid-soluble form of Vitamin C), its goal is to brighten dark spots, even out skin tone and texture, and give you overall plumper skin (thanks to an infusion of hyaluronic acid). 

I liked the texture of this product right off the bat, even though it’s a little thicker than a typical serum. However, I was scared to take C.E.O. full-throttle. Vitamin C serums are notoriously tough for sensitive skin, and the 15% concentration in this formula gave me pause. Over two weeks, I ended up using it about five times (so, a little less than every other day). I didn’t notice a ton of improvement in tone, texture, or brightness — but hey, at least I didn’t have a dermatitis outbreak!

The other reason I held off on using this regularly is that Vitamin C makes skin more susceptible to sun damage. I might work my way up to using this every other day and see what happens — but for me, the risks of Vitamin C outweigh the benefits. If you do want to try this product or something similar, just note that you need to be extra careful about sun protection when using Vitamin C topically.
Should you buy the full size? If your skin isn’t uber-sensitive, yes!

Sunday Riley Ceramic Slip Clay Cleanser
Sunday Riley’s Ceramic Slip took me by surprise, because I don’t really have strong reactions to cleansers. I have a few on rotation that I like (Osmia Organics Black Clay Soap, One Love Organics Vitamin B Oil Cleanser), but none that I love — that was, until, I found this. Ceramic Slip is made with mixture of French green clay, neroli oil, and Vitamin C, so it really hits all the bases: The clay draws out impurities like a magnet, the Neroli keeps moisture levels in tact, and the Vitamin C brightens. (It’s important to note that the Vitamin C in Ceramic Slip is a much lower concentration and a different form than in C.E.O., and since it’s part of a cleanser that washes off the skin versus a serum that soaks in, you mitigate the risks of Vitamin C exposure in a way that still lets you reap the brightening benefits.) 

Everything about this product is a win for me: the clean, earthy scent; the slightly-foaming gel texture (be warned: it’s a little runny); the texture of my skin after using it (clean but not tight; moisturized but not oily). I’ve gotten in the habit of using it twice a day: once in the morning, and once at night after using jojoba oil to remove my makeup.
Would I buy the full size? YES YES YES.

Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment
Oh, Good Genes. My hopes were so high. I wouldn’t say I was disappointed by this one, but I wasn’t wowed like a lot of people are. But let’s back up: Good Genes is a lactic acid treatment aimed at the anti-aging market and arguably Sunday Riley’s most popular product. Lactic acid (which occurs naturally in the body and in fermented dairy) acts as an exfoliator that clears away dead skin cells to reveal the new, bright layer of skin underneath. However, as with most acids, there are some risks.

Lactic acid makes skin extremely sensitive to sun exposure — and not just when it’s on, but for a full two weeks after use. That means that if you use this serum every day as suggested, you should not go out in the sun ever. Besides the risk of sunburn, increased sensitivity to sun exposure can lead to long-term skin damage (in effect, making your skin worse over time) and of course, skin cancer. As a sensitive-skinned California resident, I don’t really love those odds.

I used Good Genes as my nighttime serum every other night, and didn’t notice much of a difference — maybe because I regularly use a low concentration of lactic acid on my skin in the form of yogurt masks every week (more on this in a future post!). However, my good friend and ILLUUM subject Monique Aquino of @mobettalashes swears by the stuff and saw a visible difference in her skin tone and texture after just a day of using Good Genes. I think it all depends on your skin type and skin needs. 
Would I buy the full size? No, but I think you should try the trial size and see how your skin reacts.


As of now, I’m going to incorporate Ceramic Slip into my everyday lineup and leave the rest behind. What about you — have you tried any Sunday Riley products? Which are your favorites?