The Sunday Riley products I use are by far the products I get the most questions about, and understandably so. The entire Sunday Riley brand has a cult following and hype galore, but it also comes with a high price tag and a bit of controversy regarding some of the ingredients such as dyes and fragrant plant oils. Today, I’ll be giving you my take on these two products and their ingredients, and my personal experiences with them. Keep in mind, I’m not a skincare expert, a cosmetic chemist, or anything in that realm, I’m a Communication Sciences major who just happens to enjoy getting nerdy (nah nah nah nah nah nah-nah gettin’ nerdy wit’ it) with cosmetics. The information provided in this review is a combination of my personal experiences with these products, and information from trusted sources such as skincare professionals and academic research.
Just a quick little disclaimer before we get into it: I don’t think you need to buy expensive products to have good skin, nor do I think expensive products work better than less expensive ones. Good skincare isn’t about money, it’s about finding products and ingredients that work for you. Don’t feel like you need to buy expensive products, or like you’re doing something wrong if you can’t afford to buy whatever product happens to be trendy at the moment. Just focus on finding what works for you. Alright, PSA over.
Disclosure: These products were purchased by me with my own money.
My Skin Type and A Word of Caution for Sensitive Skin
What’s it supposed to do?
What’s the scent, texture, etc.?
How do I use it?
I use 1 to 2 pumps of this as the last step of my nighttime skincare routine, and I usually skip moisturizer on the nights I use this (approx 1-2 times per week because $$$). Ideally you would use moisturizer over top of this, but for me personally, unless my skin is quite dry that night, using a lotion on top just feels too heavy. Plus, if I get impatient and don’t wait for Good Genes to absorb all the way, it starts to pill. The brand says you could use this in the AM, but I wouldn’t due to the texture/finish, unless I was planning to use it as a mask and wipe it off. That’s another way you can use this product, or you can combine it with the brand’s cleanser, Ceramic Slip, for what they refer to as a “flash facial.” Ceramic Slip is a clay-based non-foaming cleanser, so when you combine it with Good Genes, you’re essentially creating a clay-based mask to exfoliate and brighten the skin. I’ve never tried it this way, nor have I ever used Ceramic Slip, so I can’t give you guys any idea of how this might work or what your results might be, unfortunately.
On nights when I use Good Genes and Luna, I apply Luna first, wait for it to fully absorb (10-15 mins), then apply Good Genes on top. If you were wondering why I use an acid at the end of my routine rather than at the beginning (which is what’s typically done since AHAs are pH-dependent, meaning they operate best when your skin is at a certain pH) it’s because of the texture and the strength of this acid. Since the texture is more like a lotion and not the clear watery or slightly oily serums typical of chemical exfoliants, I like to save this for the end of my routine, after all of my thinner products have been applied. The pH of this product is so low that it still has plenty of acidic availability to penetrate the skin even when it has to work through a couple layers of other products first.
Ingredients and Other Nerdy Bits
Opuntia Tuna Fruit (Prickly Pear) Extract, Agave Tequilana Leaf (Blue Agave) Extract, Cypripedium Pubescens (Lady’s Slipper Orchid) Extract, Opuntia Vulgaris (Cactus) Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract & Saccharomyses Cerevisiae (Yeast) Extract, Lactic Acid, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Butylene Glycol, Squalane, Cyclomethicone, Dimethicone, Ppg-12/Smdi Copolymer, Stearic Acid, Cetearyl Alcohol And Ceteareth20, Glyceryl Stearate And Peg-100 Stearate, Arnica Montana (Flower) Extract, Peg-75 Meadowfoam Oil, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Cymbopogon Schoenanthus (Lemongrass) Oil, Triethanolamine, Xantham Gum, Phenoxyethanol, Steareth-20, Dmdm Hydantoin.
A couple of notable ingredients:
Prickly Pear extract: hydrating, amino acids, fatty acids, great for protecting the moisture barrier
Blue Agave extract: moisture
Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride: a coconut derivative that may cause breakouts for some people. Many people are able to use coconut products without issue, others are sensitive to it. Unless you know or suspect that you have a coconut sensitivity, I wouldn’t worry too much about this.
Squalane: can be sourced from olives or sharks, since this product is cruelty-free and vegan, that would mean the Squalane in Good Genes is from olives. Squalane helps the skin to retain moisture, and may also help to fade dark spots.
Arnica: reduces skin flaking, however according to Paula Begoun’s ingredient dictionary it may cause skin sensitivity. I did a brief search and couldn’t find scientific studies to support either claim, but if any of you are interested, I can dig deeper and do a separate blog post on it.
Lemongrass oil: This is one of the controversial ingredients I mentioned at the beginning of this post. This ingredient is one of the reasons that Beautypedia (formerly run by Paula’s Choice/Paula Begoun, but now operating as a separate entity to avoid conflicts of interest [tbh I’m still low-key side-eyeing them due to some of the reviews they’ve written in the past, but that’s a discussion for another time]) gives Good Genes a poor rating, explaining that the oil may cause the skin to become more sensitive because it’s a fragrant plant extract. According to Beautypedia, “It’s well known from extensive research that fragrance, whether natural or synthetic, is a common sensitizing ingredient for all skin types.” Whether or not fragrant plant extracts cause sensitivity is another blog post entirely, and since it’s something I haven’t researched in-depth, I can’t say one way or the other whether or not Beautypedia’s claim is true. For the purposes of this review, I’ll be focusing solely on lemongrass oil. Although lemongrass smells and can sometimes taste like lemon, it’s not actually citrus, so you don’t need to worry that lemongrass in your skincare will be as acidic as putting straight lemon juice on your face (which please, for the love of pizza, do not do that). It does, however, contain a compound called citral, which, according to EWG’s Skin Deep initiative, is “associated with allergies and contact dermatitis.” Conversely, the benefits include being anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal, as well as being an antioxidant. I can see why Sunday Riley included this ingredient, but I can also see why some people may not be a fan of this ingredient. My totally unprofessional opinion is that you probably shouldn’t use this ingredient or this product if you have very sensitive skin, but again, I’d love to hear from anyone with sensitive skin who’s used this.
Finally, on to the star ingredient: lactic acid. Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that is found in milk or created synthetically. In general, AHAs help the dead skin cells to loosen and detach from the living cells in the uppermost layer of the skin. Different AHAs have different properties, which means that some AHAs are better for different needs. Lactic acid is great for helping to soften skin and stimulate collagen production, which helps your skin to look younger. Lactic acid is also one of the gentler AHAs, so it’s typically better for sensitive skin, or as a starter acid to get your skin used to chemical exfoliation. But Cristine, didn’t you say this product probably isn’t a good option for sensitive skin? Yep, but the reason for that isn’t due to the AHA used, it’s because of the pH of the product, which is 2.6, AKA crazy low. The ideal pH for an effective AHA is anywhere between 3-4. At 2.6, Good Genes is more acidic than necessary for AHAs to exfoliate the skin, and at this level it’s more likely to irritate the skin than a product with a higher pH. However, this lower pH is also part of what produces such an awe-inspiring overnight effect. Sensitive skin is already prone to irritation, so as tempting as it can be, there’s really no reason to risk causing yourself undue suffering. (Don’t understand why I’m talking about pH or want a better explanation? Check out the links in the next paragraph.)
Just one more little bit of nerdage before we move on to my experience with Good Genes. I’ve been looking for an excuse to use LabMuffin’s Free Acid Value calculator for basically forever now, and this is totally the perfect moment to use it. So, what’s Free Acid Value, you say? Simply put, it’s the amount of acid that actually gets into the skin and does the awesome things that acids do for the skin, like promoting cell turnover and collagen production. Free acid is related to the type of acid (lactic, glycolic, etc), the concentration of the acid (how much of the acidic substance is in the product, total) and the pH (level of acidity or basicness* [no, not pumpkin spice lattes and leggings, the other kind of basic]) which is determined by the amount of hydrogen ions that are present, where more hydrogen ions equals a lower (more acidic) pH.** For a more detailed explanation of pH and why it matters for skincare, check out these posts: LabMuffin, SnowWhiteAndTheAsianPear, SkinAndTonics. Michelle of LabMuffin also created a free-acid value calculator, which you can check out here. Using Michelle’s calculator, with an acid concentration of 5% and a pH of 2.6, a lactic acid serum such as this has a FAV of 4.74%. The brand claims that the acid in Good Genes is unbuffered, which causes it to act like 40% lactic acid rather than 5%. Assuming that this was true, that would make the FAV of this product 37.92% which seems a little (ok, a lot) absurd in my opinion. There’s no reason for a chemical exfoliator to have such an insane FAV, and at that level it would actually be dangerous to use. I think this is really just a marketing claim to make Good Genes seem more special to justify the cost in the mind of the consumer. What we do know is that the FAV is 4.74% at least, which is a bit higher than your typical acid exfoliator, and more than enough to be an effective exfoliator. Ok, ok nerdy tangent over.
I love this stuff. Like, would probably sell my soul for an endless supply. However, one thing that I’ve noticed is that it tends to work better on skin that isn’t already accustomed to chemical exfoliants. What I mean by this isn’t that it loses effectiveness over time, just that the visible results aren’t so dramatic when your skin is already in pretty good condition. For that reason, I don’t love this product quite as much as I used to, so I’ll probably hold off on buying another bottle while I test some other things. That being said, I do still wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who thinks it might be suitable to their skin type and has the funds to purchase a luxury product like this.
For me, it helps to even out texture, and makes my skin noticeably brighter and softer. Did it sting? Um, yeah, sometimes. This is one of the few products that produces a mild stinging sensation that I feel ok about using, since stinging typically means the skin is being damaged. Your AHA doesn’t need to sting to be effective, nor does it need to be anywhere near as intense as this is in terms of pH and acid availability. The higher FAV means it can produce some pretty amazing results in a much shorter amount of time, but it also means it’s that much easier to damage your skin if you over-use it or don’t take steps to protect your skin, like using sunscreen, gentle cleansers, and a good moisturizer. As someone who has had a damaged moisture barrier, I can tell you that it takes a hell of a lot longer to repair the damage than it does to do the damage, so please be careful. This didn’t produce any other signs of irritation for me, just a bit of mild stinging on occasion.
I can still remember the first time I ever used Good Genes. I had received a little packet of it as a free sample with a Sephora order, and not knowing how expensive it was, I decided to apply the whole packet as a wipe-off face mask, as the packet indicated I could. Whoa, were those some great results. In the morning my skin looked better than it ever had before, super bright and glowy. After searching for the product online, I immediately started trying to convince myself that the results hadn’t been that great because there was no way in hell I could afford such an expensive serum at that point in my life. Then, a few months later I got another packet sample and had the same dilemma. Finally, there was a deluxe sample of it available as a freebie code at Sephora, and after using that sample for about 2 weeks, I knew it wasn’t just in my head, Good Genes really did make that much of a difference in my skin. Like I mentioned before, now that I use chemical exfoliants on a regular basis, there just isn’t as much for Good Genes to do for my skin, but I still love it. I use it for a night or two before any special occasions to make sure my skin is clear and bright, and once or twice a week when I feel like my skin needs a little something extra. I finished off the last of my bottle the night before my friends’ wedding, so I’ve been without Good Genes since the end of September. Do I miss it? Yep. Will I purchase it again in the future? Yeah. At the moment, I’m working through my queue of AHAs, but Good Genes is just one of those “how do I love thee, let me count the ways” type of products for me.
So, raise your hand if you were hoping I would tell you this product totally wasn’t worth it and to save your money? Yeah, me too. Unfortunately, to my knowledge there aren’t really any other serums that compare to Good Genes. It has such a high free acid value, that the only way you’re going to get comparable results is with a chemical peel, which can be a bit intimidating, and in some cases can actually damage the skin if you don’t follow the instructions. I plan on testing some chemical peels from MUAC in the future, but until then, I do at least have a few other recommendations for you, though keep in mind that they’re not dupes.
Interested in getting started with chemical exfoliants or need something suitable for sensitive skin? try the CosRx Whitehead Power Liquid if you’re looking for an AHA. Amazon $13.65 | Memebox $15 | Bisou Beauty Bar $18.76 US/ $25 CAD
Looking for an AHA that packs a punch? My favorite is the 14% Intensive Rejuvenating Serum from Alpha Skincare. This is what I’m using at the moment, and is a repurchase, which gives you an idea of how much I like this stuff. Review forthcoming, but what you need to know now is that it’s strong and affordable. Amazon $15.08 | Ulta $18.99
Luna Sleeping Night Oil
What’s it supposed to do?
What’s the scent, texture, etc.?
How do I use it?
Ingredients and other nerdy bits
Persea Gratissima (Extra Virgin, Cold Pressed Avocado) Oil, Vitis Vinifera (Organic, Cold Pressed Concord Grape) Seed Oil, Rubus Fruticosus (Cold Pressed Blackberry) Seed Oil, Salvia Hispanica (Cold Pressed Chia) Oil, Dimethyl Isosorbide (and) Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Oil, Tanecetum annuum (Blue Tansy) oil, Anthemis nobilis (English Chamomile) oil, Eriocephalus punctulatus (Cape Chamomile) oil, Citrus Aurantium Amara (Neroli) Oil, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Blood Orange) oil, Cananga Odorata Flower (Ylang Ylang) Oil, Vetivera zizanoides (Vetiver) oil, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil (and) Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, CI 61565 (Green 6), CI 60725 (Violet 2). -from Sephora.com
There are several fragrant essential oils in here, each of which has a benefit (antioxidants, etc), but can also produce an allergic reaction/skin dermatitis for some people. It’s not as clear-cut as “these will irritate sensitive skin,” it’s more like how some people are allergic to some nuts, some people are allergic to all nuts, and some people aren’t allergic to any nuts at all. If you find that your skin typically has a negative reaction to products with a lot of scent to them, I wouldn’t advise using Luna. However, the reason that Luna is still typically recommended for sensitive skin despite the possible side effects of the essential oils is because the form of retinol in Luna is a gentler form than what’s typically used in most retinol products.
Retinol and its derivatives, generally called retinoids, have been scientifically proven to reduce visible signs of aging, such as fine lines and mild pigmentation. They’ve also been shown to be effective for treating acne and improving skin texture. The form of retinol in Luna, Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate, AKA trans-retinol esther is a relatively new ingredient. As such, there aren’t many studies available on it yet (at least not many that I was able to find and access through my university), but the idea behind this form of retinol is that it doesn’t produce as many side-effects as retinol does. The oil formula of Luna helps to reduce the most common side effects of a retinol-such as flaking, dryness, and irritation-even more because it contains hydrating and soothing ingredients.
You’ll also notice some artificial colors at the end of the ingredients list. This has been another source of controversy for Sunday Riley’s products because many people feel that there’s no need to have these artificial colors in the product. They’re there to make the oil look more aesthetically pleasing, but they don’t actually serve a purpose. However, they’re not harmful either. Green 6 and Violet 2 are both certified as safe for topical use by the FDA. The fact that they’re artificial isn’t a cause for concern either. I’ll eventually be doing a post on artificial vs. natural ingredients, but it’s a big topic and I want to make sure I have plenty of research to back it up. What you need to know right now is that natural isn’t always better, and in many cases artificial ingredients are actually safer due to the strict lab conditions and the ability to create a more pure product synthetically than its natural counterpart.
I started using this because Claire (one of my favorite beauty bloggers/vloggers!) mentioned it was working really well to fade her hyperpigmentation, which was a problem I was also having at the time. I’ve nearly finished a half-ounce bottle at this point, so I’ve definitely been using it long enough to see results. I used it very consistently at first, and I definitely feel like it was able to lighten some of my hyperpigmentation, as well as improve my skin texture a bit. Because my skin is so prone to clogs, it tends to be quite bumpy, and I feel like some of that lessened when I was using it on a consistent basis. Now, I use it as more of a maintenance product when I feel like I need it, maybe every other day for about a week or two, then backing off of it a bit. The reason I do that is because some of my other products don’t layer well with oils, so I tend to alternate what I use depending on how my skin is looking that day and what I’m testing at the moment. The results from Luna are definitely not as dramatic and quick as Good Genes, I think it took about two weeks of using Luna to really see a difference in my skin.
Another reason I don’t use this as often as I use to is because my skin has become more tolerant of retinols. When I first starting using this, I had a damaged moisture barrier and I had had a bad reaction to a retinol product in the past, so I wanted to be cautious about what I was using. Other than looking slightly blue-green, I’ve never had any negative reactions from this product. With my skin in the condition that it was in, I feel like this was the only retinol product I could have used, anything else would have just made everything worse due to my damaged barrier. Because of the price, I generally recommend this as a sort of “last resort retinol.” If you love luxury beauty products or just want to try it out of curiosity, then I think you’ll be pretty happy if you purchase Luna. However, if you feel taken aback by the price tag or you’re wondering if this would be a good retinol product to purchase, then here’s my advice to you: only buy this if you’ve had a bad reaction to retinol in the past and are looking for a gentler option. If you’re worried about the cost, but you know you’re able to use most retinol products and you’re not looking to #treatyoself then you might as well go with a cheaper option, right? It might be worth the splurge if you feel like your skin would really benefit from a retinol product, but you’ve tried to use retinol in the past and found that your skin couldn’t take it. As for me, I’ll definitely continue to use it. Since a little bit goes a long way, I still have plenty of Luna in my stash, I’ll decide whether or not to repurchase it when I get near the end of my backup bottle (I bought 2 of the Power Couple sets during a sale, with the discount it was cheaper to buy 2 of the sets than it was to buy 1 full-size bottle of either, score!). I’ve been happy with Luna, but I want to try some of the other Sunday Riley oils too.
Whew, that was a looong post! I wanted to review these together though since that’s how I used them, and how many other people use them. If there’s anything I didn’t cover, feel free to ask questions in the comments down below or on Instagram @hey_itscristine. I’ll do my best to answer them, but like I said, I’m not a professional. I hope this blog post helped you decide whether or not these products might fit your needs!