A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum: Sunday Riley

I have an off-and-on relationship with retinol.  I’ve used a number of them from a number of different brands, and I haven’t found one that I’ve been willing to commit to yet. I spent quite a bit of time subscribed to Curology, but a couple months ago I decided that it just wasn’t for me.  So when an e-mail popped up in my inbox that Sunday Riley had announced their A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum, and that I could get a deluxe sample with a purchase, I jumped on it.

Now obviously, retinoids take a long time to work, and it has not been a long time since I started using the A+ serum by any metric. It’s actually only been about two weeks, and I haven’t used it every day.  But since I’ve stopped using it (and I’ll get to the reasons why later in the post), it’s not like I will have more information about its efficacy later on.

Sunday Riley claims that the A+ serum “fights the signs of aging and improves the look of congested and UV-damaged skin.”  It’s marked as suitable for people with all skin types.

Packaging and Ingredients


As I said above, I got deluxe samples, so I can’t speak to how the actual product is packaged or how the packaging functions.  I got little squeezy tubes. It works pretty well.

The tube did not come with an ingredients list.  Luckily for me (and anyone else who shops by deluxe sample), the ingredients are available on Sephora and on Sunday Riley’s website.


Water, Propanediol, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Triheptanoin, Dimethicone, Glycerin, Pentylene Glycol, Hexyldecanol, Disiloxane, Cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 Dimethicone, Diheptyl Succinate, Propylene Carbonate, Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate, PPG-24-Glycereth-24, Phenyl Trimethicone, Retinol, Ubiquinone (CoQ10), Honey Extract, Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer, Algae Extract, Zingiber Officinale (Ginger) Extract, Opuntia Ficus-indica Fruit Extract, Bisabolol, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Phospholipids, Saccharomyces Cerevisiae Extract, Lecithin, Sodium Acrylates Copolymer, Hydrogenated Polyisobutene, 1,2-Hexanediol, 4-t- Butylcyclohexanol, Polyglyceryl-10 Stearate, Caprylyl Glycol, Helianthus Annuss (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Sorbitol, Cetylhydroxyproline Palmitamide, Polysilicone-11, Benzoic Acid, Dehydroacetic Acid, Sodium Phytate, Glyceryl Polyacrylate, Polysorbate, Hydroxyphenyl Propamidobenzoic Acid, Stearic Acid, Brassica Campestris Sterols, PVP, Capryloyl Glycerin/Sebacic Acid Copolymer, Sodium Benzoate, Alcohol, Potassium Phosphate, Decyl Glucoside, Phenoxyethanol, Hexylene Glycol, Potassium Sorbate, Tocopherol.

On CosDNA, dimethicone received an acne warning rating of 1 (out of 5). Benzoic acid received an acne warning of 2 and an irritation warning rating of 3. Stearic acid has an acne warning rating of 2. Hexylene glycol has ratings of 2 and 1 in the acne and irritation categories respectively, and tocopherol got a 2 ranking in both categories.

Use and Experience

The Product Itself

I was a little surprised when I used the A+ serum for the first time.  It’s more watery than I was expecting.  I’m not sure why, other than most of the retinoids I’ve tinkered with in the past having a thicker consistency.  That’s not a good or bad thing, just a note for people who are texture-sensitive.

It’s fairly yellow, which isn’t a problem, but if your skin doesn’t absorb product right away it might leave a bit of a yellow cast to your skin. Sunday Riley recommends that you apply the serum at night, so it’s not a problem unless you apply your products at any other time of the day, or someone lives with you and you don’t want them to see you and be alarmed. I found the application itself to be fine other than that.  It smoothed over my skin evenly and sank in pretty well. I apply right before I go to bed, so I couldn’t tell you if or when the yellow tint disappears. I will say that I noticed it when I applied the serum on very dry skin. Skin in other conditions may not have that issue.

The Product On My Face

I like to think that I have fairly tough skin.  It’s hard to really piss my face off. Not that it hasn’t happened – but it only tends to happen in very few, predictable circumstances. This product managed it, and it was unexpected.

The first thing I noticed was an increase in clogged pores. Then I also noticed that if I injured my skin (for example, by popping a zit. Not that I would do that.) the injury both was worse than it normally would have been and took longer to heal. I also saw more peeling than I usually see with a retinoid. Those three things in combination led to some real frustration on my part.

I expected this to dry out my skin, and it did not disappoint me. But I wasn’t prepared for exactly how dry and how sensitive my face would become.  I participate in a group exercise class three times a week.  Halfway through my first class after starting the A+ serum, the instructor came over and asked if I was okay. I was a little perplexed by the question.  Then I looked in the mirror.  The combination of the exercise and the little bit of sweat had caused my face to become red and irritated. I went to wipe the moisture off my face with my shirt, which is pretty soft, and it felt like I was rubbing sandpaper over it. It was an incredibly unpleasant experience.  It happened every time I went to exercise, and that tipped me over the edge to stop using this product.

Sephora claims that the A+ serum is an exclusive product. You can also buy it on Sunday Riley’s site. Either way, it’ll run you $85.  For that price, I expect a lot more from a product.  I won’t be picking up a full size.  I wouldn’t have for that price even if it hadn’t set my face basically on fire.

Have you tried this product? What did you think? Did it work better for you than for me?

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