Strengths: All of the moisturizers are packaged to protect the effectiveness of their air-sensitive ingredients; the serums and moisturizers are rich sources of plant-based antioxidants; the sunscreen provides broad-spectrum protection; good body-care products.
Weaknesses: Many highly fragrant products, and fragrance is a strong source of irritation for the skin; very expensive; disappointing cleansers; only one SPF product; limited products for oily or combination skin; lack of products for blemish-prone skin; questionable claims.
Sunday Riley is a brand that has captured the attention of women with its seductive mix of high-priced, luxury-positioned skin-care products and its ties to today’s top fashion designers. This coupling, plus the brand’s cult-like status among beauty editors, has led many of our readers to ask us whether Sunday Riley products are deserving of the hype and worth the cost. The answer: yes and no, but mostly no, because skin care doesn’t have to be this expensive.
Sunday Riley is a real person, born and raised in Houston, Texas. She used her own money to buy her first wrinkle cream at age 12 (she’s now in her mid-30s), stating recently in an article in The Wall Street Journal, “I was interested in makeup and beauty at a young age.”
That article went on to note that Riley studied chemistry at the University of Texas, and, after college, found work in cosmetics labs, although the article doesn’t say exactly what she did in those labs, and it’s not explained on her own website either. Nonetheless, her work apparently involved helping communications between cosmetics chemists and cosmetics company marketing teams. It was during this time that the seeds were planted for Riley to begin her own line, using only top-quality ingredients. (After all, who’d want to start a skin-care line using inferior ingredients, right?)
The product assortment Riley devised for her line consists of skin care and a growing collection of makeup. In this set of reviews, we review only the skin-care products because we get many more questions about them than we do about the makeup products.
A big marketing draw for Riley’s products is the NV-5 Ageless Complex. Despite the number “5” in this trade name, the complex contains a mix of seven plant ingredients: prickly pear extract, blue agave, lady’s slipper orchid extract, opuntia tuna fruit, cactus extract, aloe, and a type of yeast extract (Saccharomyces cerevisiae).
We explored the research on each of the ingredients in the NV-5 Ageless Complex, and we can state up front that this isn’t going to make anyone look ageless! While all of them have some benefit for skin, they’re not miracles in any way, they’re not expensive to include in formulas, and there’s no compelling reason to seek out products that contain them; they’re just some of the dozens of beneficial plant extracts. To repeat: These are not the ultimate answer by any means; it’s a sucker punch to believe otherwise, and it’ll hit you in your pocketbook.
Breaking them down, we found that the research shows prickly pear extract (also listed on the labels as Opuntia fruit and cactus extract) is the most beneficial ingredient in the NV-5 Ageless Complex because it has antioxidant properties and can also stimulate collagen production on sun-damaged skin, thanks to its ferulic acid content.
The lady’s slipper orchid and blue agave extracts have zero research pertaining to any benefit for the skin, but, like all plant extracts (even the fragrant ones), each likely functions as an antioxidant. The cactus extract has documented antioxidant ability when consumed orally, but there’s no research regarding topical application.
Aloe is a decent water-binding agent and a minor source of numerous beneficial compounds for the skin, but it’s certainly not unique to Sunday Riley. Finally, the form of yeast (Latin name Saccharomyces cerevisiae) isn’t all that exciting for skin either, as we discuss in our Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary.
Obtaining accurate ingredient lists for Sunday Riley products proved more challenging than for most products. Not only were we dealing with ingredient lists on their packaging statements that did not fully comply with FDA regulations for ingredient disclosure (for example, “NV5 Ageless Complex” is a trade mix, not an individual ingredient), but also many of the sites that sell this brand do not include accurate ingredient lists. Very frustrating for us, as well as for consumers, who are entitled to the truth about what a product contains, no matter where they shop.
Another wall we ran into: Just when we thought we had stumbled upon accurate lists on a reputable website that retails the brand, we found another trusted online retailer that had completely different lists! Adding all those issues up, and as you might expect, we were thoroughly confused. Emails to the company were ignored when we inquired about the ingredients, but, not surprisingly, we got near-instant replies when we asked about product prices. Despite all this, we’re reasonably confident that the ingredient lists we have assembled (and on which we base our reviews) are as accurate as they can be based on what Sunday Riley has divulged and what is printed on the products themselves.
The bottom line: This brand has some intriguing products and many of them contain beneficial ingredients that are packaged to maintain their effectiveness, but in no way is this the must-have, end-all anti-aging line to invest in. Even the highly rated products are on the pricey side for what you get, but at least if you choose to indulge you’ll know which products are worth buying!
For more information about Sunday Riley, visit www.sundayriley.com. The company currently does not provide a Customer Service phone number.