Good news: US-based cult beauty brand Sunday Riley has hit our shores! The eponymous skincare brand believes in delivering fast and visible results with products made from the highest quality, formulated by the founder herself. Powered with green technology, all its skin-transforming products (that are highly-Instagrammable to boot) are made from advanced, clinically-proven ingredients blended with balancing botanicals that address troubled skin conditions such as ageing, dryness, acne and dehydration.
Founder and cosmetic chemist, Sunday Riley, gave us an exclusive interview when she was in Singapore for the launch of her namesake brand. Read on to find out more.
We’ve been waiting for Sunday Riley to come to the Asian market for a while. Was there a reason why it took so long? Was there a logistical situation?
SR: No, I think we were waiting to make sure we had the right partner to enter with. We wanted to go with Sephora though there are many great retailers here. We had to coordinate with their timing, too, so this is when we had the first opportunity to go in somewhere.
Many people already know about Sunday Riley, but for the uninitiated, tell us more about how Sunday Riley came to be and what made you want to release a skincare line.
SR: It’s been 10 years, but it started very small. When we started, it was only available in three stores in America through Barney’s. It was in Chicago, Beverly Hills and New York. During the recession they basically said, “We will give you three stores. We won’t give you all of our stores, we don’t think it’s going to make it.” Or, “We’ll throw you out.” I was like, “Well, hold on. What if I do make it? How do I get into all the stores?” They said, “Well, you have to hit these sales targets.” It seemed impossible because we launched in September, October, and that was when they put up all the Christmas trees. They put our brand behind that. You couldn’t see the brand! How were we going to hit these sales targets?
We had those obstacles but we worked through them and it ended up selling really well. Within six months, we got into all the stores. We learned how to sell, what people wanted and we branched out into other products. We were a smaller skincare line, and then we launched makeup, which was great. It sold well—we were a little young for makeup at the time. With makeup, you have to have so much inventory and a huge team. Let’s press pause for a second. Let’s focus on skincare, one of my great loves. We did that, we built it out and we we are doing well. We’ll do it organically and make incremental additions.
It’s your makeup launch. Are you planning to expand it?
So, we know that you started out really small, but over the decade, Sunday Riley has achieved this cult status. Do you see yourself as a cult brand?
SR: That’s a great question. On one hand, I want to answer yes—that sounds beautiful and amazing. On the other hand, I think big. I’m a more is more person. I don’t want to stay cult or niche because I like having something that is used by every single person. I love the idea of being all these different people’s bathroom counters and having products there that are helping them change their lives and their skin, make them feel better. I like the idea of being cult. At the end of the day, it touches many people.
Let’s talk about your wonderful products – Good Genes is one of the first huge massive hits and everyone’s talking about it. What made you want to launch Good Genes first? Tell us how your developed it.
SR: Good Genes is one of the only products that’s been around since the beginning. When we launched, it was the least popular product in our lineup. I was really passionate about having it in our lineup. People didn’t understand it and were like, “What do you do with this?” Instead of scrubbing your skin, you put it on once a day. It depends on your skin. It tingles, but it’s ok!
That’s what makes your skin beautiful. It was our absolute first cult product and no one in America was used to their skin tingling. It was off-putting to them. As people started trying, they saw results. It became this word of mouth that grew and grew, and we put less money in advertising than any product. It was surprising to watch it grow over the years and take off.
What are the benefits of chemical exfoliation and what are your top tips for exfoliation here specifically in the tropics?
SR: I understand this weather 100 percent. It’s not dissimilar to where I come from. I’m from Houston and it’s extremely humid and extremely warm. When I landed here, it felt like I was literally at home. We have a love of the sun where we come from and humidity. I love the weather; I love humidity. I feel it’s so good for the skin and it makes you look younger.
If someone’s new to chemical exfoliation and they’re nervous about it, which is fine, I would say take baby steps. There’re two types of baby steps: you can either do it once a week and get used to it, and as they do, they will see amazing results. If they are a little nervous, they can also apply it as a mask—leave it on for 10 to 30 minutes, rinse it off with a wet washcloth and remove it. The benefits of chemical exfoliation are that it actually provides a perfectly-even exfoliation as the acid dissolves all the old sebum and the glue that bonds dead skin cells together. When you do that, it lifts all the debris on the surface of your skin. If you have oily skin and you are prone to acne, that’s the stuff that goes into your pores and it makes them bigger. You have larger pores and you feel dirty all the time because you have this old stuff on the surface of your skin. If you have drier skin, no matter how much moisturizer you put on, you are just moisturizing dead skin cells.
Old dead skin cells don’t reflect light well. Your skin doesn’t have radiance and luminosity. It’s dull and it lacks translucency, so there’s this very flat look on your skin, which of course, looks even worse if you have any sort of fine lines. Getting rid of that, you end up looking much younger with clearer, lighter-feeling skin. All the stuff that you put on top of it—all the treatments and serums go in deeper because they’re not sitting on the surface. It’s also smoother for putting makeup on.
Physical exfoliation can be a lot of fun. It can be satisfying to scrub—I think it’s a wonderful sensation and there’s definitely a place for it. But one of the benefits that chemical exfoliation has over physical exfoliation is that it’s clinically proven to go into deeper layers of the skin and help with collagen production. Glycolic, lactic and all these acids actually do amazing things to your skin besides exfoliation. Physical exfoliants only really scrub.
Related article: The Best Products To Effectively Clear Out Congested Skin
But the reason why Good Genes is so great is that lactic acid is also more moisturizing. Is that right?
SR: Yes, it is. Lactic acid is a larger molecule and it doesn’t go in deeply as much and it doesn’t irritate the skin as much. It’s actually very hydrating.
You can increase your tolerance to acids. It’s the same with retinoids. If you have extremely sensitive skin, you don’t have to put 20 pumps all your face. You could use one pump or half a pump—spread it out. You can blend it with your moisturizer and dilute it a bit. The one thing we also do is a flash fix facial – we take a bit of Good Genes, a bit of our cleanser Ceramic Slip and you blend it together with the palm of your hand and you apply it like a mask. So the clay in Ceramic Slip pulls the impurities out and the Good Genes helps exfoliate. You rinse this right off because it’s got a cleanser in it.
How long would you leave that on for?
SR: I leave it on for 10 minutes, I’d say you can leave it up to 30 minutes. We have people who sleep with it!
Is there anything you can’t use if you’re using Good Genes? Are there any kind of ingredients to avoid?
SR: No, but if you are using it in the morning, use sunscreen with it.
Let’s talk about your facial oils. What makes Sunday Riley’s facial oils so special and so coveted? Which is your personal favourite?
SR: Aha! That’s a great question. I like them all and I use them in different ways. One of the things that makes them so special is that we cold press all of our oils. If we use heat to extract the oils, it kills the nutrients.
It’s the same with cooking oil. We pay a lot for high quality olive oil and cold pressed extra virgin olive oil. It’s the exact same way with face oils. A lot of the times, people make cosmetic oils, they’re pressed in different regions and then they come in large drums. They’re shipped by sea and they get very hot. We make them cold pressed, fresh, and we make them in very small batches. We constantly produce oils to keep them fresh, active and very nutrient dense. Juno is our most nurturing oil. It’s amazing that even my daughter, who’s got eczema, loves it. I’ve been using Juno for almost 10 years. You can put it on your nails and you hair just to keep it hydrated. Any excess, I apply it to my nails and the ends of my hair and it’s just great. I don’t use that much hair conditioner because it’s phenomenal. I use Luna everyday.
UFO is amazing and there are people who say that it’s the only one that clears up their skin. Salicylic acid can be aggressive and irritating, but UFO is not. It’s aggressive, but not irritating. They get all the benefits of salicylic. Because the thing with salicylic acid is that it’s phenomenal, but it can extremely dehydrate the skin. Salicylic acid breaks down oil. It’s great for your pores, but what can happen is that it can dehydrate and remove the oil from your skin. So, your skin is getting dry, crappy and flaking. By putting salicylic acid in an oil blend, it prevents the salicylic acid from destroying the skin’s natural moisture barrier.
Is it the same for Luna? We heard that retinols can be quite drying and aggressive. The fact that it’s in an oil is pretty much game-changing.
SR: It is. The other thing about Luna is that it’s a retinol ester. The benefit of that versus traditional retinol is that it’s just as strong as 100 percent retinol, but 90 percent less irritating. You get the benefits of retinol without the irritating side effects. Because retinol can cause your skin to flake and peel. You’re not going to get that with Luna. The people who have tried retinol in the past say, “I can’t use it”—they’re not going to have that problem with this product.
It’s beginner-friendly then. A lot of times, people are scared to use retinols and go, “Oh, am I going to go through that purging phase with all the peeling skin?”
SR: If you are using a retinoid, I recommend that you use Good Genes with it. What retinol does is that it brings the skin cells and cellular turnover. You get healthy skin cells and younger, more beautiful skin. When it does that, that’s what the flaking and peeling does—the old skin is on top. Good Genes exfoliates that, so you have this beautiful, smooth canvas. I call it a power couple.
Related article: 10 Balancing Facial Oils That Are Specifically Made For Oily Skin
We get nervous about putting more oil on our faces as we’re producing it all the time. Any tips on using oil-based skincare in hot and humid Singapore?
SR: Sure, the right formula for an oil shouldn’t make your skin oily. There are cosmetic oils that you can buy that leave your skin oily, but ours won’t do that. They sink in and leave skin really fresh and dewy-looking. You should never use too much of a layer with the oil surface on your skin.
Sometimes people over-put or they don’t rub it in enough. They should put enough. If you got dry skin, it will absorb more. If you got oily skin, it absorbs a little bit less. Adjust for your skin type and massage it into your skin. Massaging your skin will also increase blood circulation, which will help the products to absorb better and sink in in deeper. You shouldn’t be left with a ton of oil surfacing on your skin. I put it on at night and when I wake up, I don’t have any oil on my face. It just sinks in throughout your sleep.
I recommend to put treatment oils like Luna first and not put it on last. Other brands teach you to put oil on as the last step, but I like it put it on as the first step. So, particularly Luna and UFO, the active ingredients can get into your skin. Again, you are not putting a teaspoon all over your face. I rub it in and go about a few other things like taking out my contacts, then put my other stuff on top of it.
We heard that if you have a slightly moist face, the oils sink in faster.
SR: Absolutely. Not if you’re soaking wet though (laughs). When the water evaporates at the surface of your skin, the oil sinks in really nicely. So, slightly damp, not wet. No tout of the shower—it won’t go in.
Your product names seem to be space-inspired. Are you particularly inspired by sci-fi and outer space?
SR: I do love sci-fi. Sci-fi is my favourite genre. I could talk to you forever about Star Trek vs Star Wars.
The green light is all the acne products that are space-named. When we first launched, the first one I developed was Martian. It was a green toner and it’s like, “It would be cool if we call it ‘Martian’”. Once we named that, the other ones just came out.
What are your top recommendations for those targeting in anti-ageing? What do you think is the Sunday Riley routine for it?
SR: I would say that everyone, no matter what their issue is, needs to have Good Genes. It’s great for all skin types. It’s great for anti-acne and anti-ageing. You need to remove all the gunk on the surface of the skin and it helps to support more beautiful skin. Luna too, because I think it’s important to have retinol. For a vitamin C product, I’d probably recommend CEO serum, for which we won the Reader’s Choice from Allure in the US. We keep winning back-to-back awards. Our products, it’s great, but it’s also got 15 percent of a type of vitamin C we call THD ascorbate, which is lipid-soluble and a quasi-dragon in Japan and Korea. It is a very strong type of vitamin C that is stable. You can have CEO serum for a year, it stays completely white and doesn’t oxidise at all. It stays fresh in the jar and becomes an active form when applied. Once it’s on your skin, it converts into ascorbic acid with the enzymes on your skin. Because it’s a lipid soluble, it’s able to sink in deeper into your skin.
Moisturizer, we have vitamin C for the serum, we have Luna for the oil and Good Genes. I would recommend Tidal to balance it out because again, it has papaya enzymes. It goes in gently and it has brightening ingredients to help with the side effects of hyper-pigmentation. It has two forms of hyaluronic acid to bring water in. We have CEO moisturizer if we want a vitamin C cream. It’s got some great anti-pollution ingredients in it too—I know that pollution is a big trend here as well.
How you cleanse your skin is important. The chemical exfoliation is gonna help remove all that surface of your skin. The pollution micro-particles are fine and they’re almost sticky, and they basically stick to your skin and to all the debris on your skin. All the oil and whatever, the pollution velcros to it. So, you have to remove the pollution and it’s not easy.
Related article: 7 Anti-Pollution Beauty Products To Protect And Energise Your Skin
Are you planning to expand further? Are you planning to do a whole Asia takeover?
SR: I would want to expand to all of it, not just parts of it.
Sunday Riley is one of the first few brands that actually combine science and green beauty. What do you feel about the future of sustainable beauty products and where do you think Sunday Riley will fit now and into the future?
SR: Hopefully, we continue to lead the category. My thought on green technology and beauty is that if you want to really transform your skin, you have to use biotechnology. You have to use amazing active ingredients. By the way, some of those are derived from natural ingredients. Lactic acid, for example, is all over our body, and some of them are naturally-occurring. Active ingredients are irritating, so we put the botanicals in there to counterbalance that. You thus have this great soothing action with our botanicals that can be great for brightening, soothing and nurturing. We make sure that by having green technology, we are taking care of the skin – 360, not just parts of the skin. It’s like looking at the whole health of the skin, which is really critical.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Sunday Riley is now available at Sephora stores and online.