If by now you haven’t heard of Sunday Riley, you’re missing out. The eponymous brand was founded by Texas native Sunday Riley in 2009 and has since garnered a cult global following worldwide.
Among their highly coveted roundup is the TikTok viral Luna Night Sleeping Oil and Good Genes Lactic Acid Treatment, as well as the newly launched C.E.O. Afterglow moisturiser, all of which are Sephora best-sellers worldwide.
Ahead, we spoke to the founder herself to glean more details on the brand’s rise to cult fame, the makeup line that once was (and may be once again!), and what to look forward to from the brand.
Could you walk us through the brand story of Sunday Riley? You are a cosmetic chemist-turned-beauty entrepreneur—what inspired you to make this change?
“I’ve always had a passion for skincare. I’ve loved skincare since childhood. I remember my grandma cutting aloe in her backyard for things like abrasions and saying how good it was for your skin. I remember my mother applying blue eyeshadow when I was young, looking like the most beautiful woman in the world. When I was 12, I read that Marilyn Monroe had started using anti-wrinkle cream at the same age. I remember thinking, oh my gosh, have I waited too long to start? So I hopped on my bike (against my parent’s wishes) and rode to the pharmacy and bought a $10 jar of pink face cream. I cherished every drop and was instantly mesmerised by skincare. As a teenager, I became a “resident expert” on skincare, then went on to study chemistry. In 2009, I founded Sunday Riley Skincare, so it’s something that I’ve always naturally gravitated towards my whole life.
“I’m a big believer that you’ve got to put the best product out. That’s why you see brands that have been around for less time than us that have 100 products, but we still have a very small assortment. We don’t have 10 moisturisers; we don’t have five sister lines. Everyone wants to have clean beauty, but that does cost more. The quality of the ingredient that you put in the product really does matter. It matters to the world, it matters to the environment, but it also matters to your skin. So we’ve always decided to have fewer products— but it’s all products that we can stand behind.
“Something that truly drew me to create a skincare company is that I love problem-solving, and I love formulating. Really being a part of other people’s journey towards self-love and self-care is what inspires me, and what gets me up in the morning. I’ve never really considered myself an entrepreneur. The brand, the formula and skincare itself is more than just a business to me; I live and breathe skincare and I am just glad that I can share all of that with others.”
You lend your own name to the Sunday Riley brand—why did you choose to make the brand eponymous?
“My dad actually gave me my name ‘Sunday Riley’. It was Austin, Texas and it was the hippie era. He said he wanted to give me a name that would be great for business if I wanted to go into business someday, which I think is quite funny now but I’m glad for it and I really love it.”
What does the process of product development look like in the Sunday Riley labs?
“It’s a lengthy process, from sourcing the ingredients to naming the products but I love the fact that I’m able to create what I love and make real changes in people’s lives.
“I will quite literally start with a blank notepad where I write out every formula we produce. It differs from product to product, but I always start with the skin and a problem to solve. I also really focus on texture and where it fits into someone’s routine. From there I look at the ingredients. I have a database that’s broken down by botanicals and actives, and what they can do for the skin. From this point, I’ll start pulling everything together to suit the skin concern we’re working with. I’m a big believer that all our products have to be a blend of biotechnology, science and botanicals. I take a 360-degree approach when looking at skin health.
“We have great relationships with our suppliers, we always make sure we’re sourcing the absolute highest quality. That’s our point of difference—I don’t even look at the price when I’m formulating, it’s about the quality of the ingredient. It’s incredibly important that as a brand we’re constantly evolving and offering the absolute best available to our customers. It takes a long time to get a formula right, sometimes it can take hundreds of iterations to get it perfect!”
How would you describe the brand philosophy of Sunday Riley?
“As a brand, our philosophy is ‘powered by science, balanced by botanicals’—fusing scientifically-proven ingredients with balancing botanicals to deliver instant and long-lasting results without the downtime. I believe there are three key ingredients that everyone should incorporate into their skincare routine for optimal skin health— AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids), Vitamin C and retinol.
“Sunday Riley as a company is built on the power of ‘YES’ and the power of positivity. We believe in curiosity, doing things differently and we believe in making the impossible possible. Ultimately we are a yes brand! Sunday Riley’s ethos and core are built on active ingredients, science-based formulations, creating the highest quality products, being an advocate for human rights, being a female-owned and founder-owned brand, being cruelty-free, sustainable and being an advocate for giving back. Everything we do from start to finish encompasses these values and is important to the functioning of every aspect of the brand.
“Skincare is a very honest experience and skin has a profound effect on how we feel about ourselves. To have a chance to help people feel like they can be better, more confident versions of themselves and that they can make great choices in life, that’s really an honour.”
What sets Sunday Riley apart from the rest of the beauty scene?
“I started a skincare company because I believe that I have the ability to listen to what people want and craft formulas that can actually make a change in the way people look and feel. When we launched in 2009, there was a definite gap in the market for what we called ‘green technology’, which is balancing science-based active ingredients with botanicals. It’s not just about active ingredients and transformation (whilst they are essential for optimum skin health) it’s also about nurturing and nourishing your skin and making sure that you’re naturally taking care of inflammation and irritation too, which is where botanicals come in. At the time, there wasn’t a real mix of that. I wanted to formulate products that achieved instant results without the downtime, which is what I did combining these two elements.
“In general, what I’m interested in are really effective products that work right away. I always say great skin can be a journey but you should still be able to look great and see instant results along that journey. I think people have faith in us that if we make something, it’s going to do what it says it’s going to do. Our ingredients are of the highest possible quality, I always make sure we are using the absolute best suppliers. I knew if I focused on fast-acting formulas, results and clinically proven ingredients, the skin transformation would speak for itself.
“As CEO and product formulator, I am very hands-on throughout the entire development process—from formulating, to packaging, and to marketing—it is important to me to be involved in every step when launching a new product. This helps to ensure it translates to what the customer wants and needs and sets us apart from competitors.”
How did the concept for the new C.E.O. Afterglow Brightening Vitamin C Gel Cream come about? What inspired the launch?
“I really wanted to create a lightweight humectant moisturiser to add the line that would work for all skin types, including acne-prone skin. Vitamin C is also a key part of our ‘power of three’ philosophy—CEO Afterglow Brightening Vitamin C Gel Cream is an extension of our best-selling CEO Collection in Sephora. For me, the process focused on creating a lightweight texture that sinks in quickly for all skin types, but still hydrates the skin for 24 hours. Vitamin C can be very tricky to formulate so it took hundreds of iterations to get it right.”
What are some of the star ingredients in the new product and how did you settle on them during product development?
“There are a number of different ingredients that work together to make up this product. The core ingredient is a Vitamin C called THD ascorbate which is the absolute gold standard of vitamin C. We incorporate this in our CEO collection because it’s a powerful, stable, and highly targeted to diminish the visible signs of premature ageing, while being significantly less irritating than other forms of vitamin C. Clinically proven to brighten the appearance of the skin, provide antioxidant support, and fight the look of premature ageing caused by UV-B exposure, the THD ascorbate we use is from Japan. You can get it from cheaper places but in my opinion, and I’ve evaluated it, the quality is significantly reduced and the antioxidant impact isn’t as good. It’s not only about purity, it’s about the strength.
“CEO Afterglow also includes ergothioneine, an amino acid with antioxidant properties, which helps to stabilize vitamin C and reduce signs of ageing skin. Sodium Hyaluronate: A powerful humectant blend that attracts and binds water, for increased skin hydration.
“It is then balanced by a series of botanicals including Lutein (from marigolds), a deep yellow antioxidant derived from marigolds for a boost of antioxidants. My favourite part of the product, besides the scent, is the bright yellow pop of colour from the antioxidants! Allantoin is derived from aloe to keep skin moisturized. And a neroli blend of uplifting essential oils.
“C.E.O. Afterglow is clinically proven to improve skin brightness and texture and provide 24 hours of continuous hydration.”
How would you recommend we incorporate the new product into our routines, especially in relation to the rest of the C.E.O. range and the entire Sunday Riley lineup as a whole?
“I use C.E.O. Afterglow twice a day! At night, during cold ordry weather periods, I even layer it under another moisturiser like Ice Ceramide Moisturising Cream. C.E.O. Afterglow sinks in so quickly and makes my skin glow in seconds, so I put it on every morning under makeup—if I wear any—to give my skin a burst of radiance. I feel like this little jar of magic is my secret weapon.
“In terms of regime and layering with our other products, at the moment I keep our new C.E.O. Afterglow Vitamin C Brightening Cream on my bedside table, and I use it a little differently to most. I wake up in the morning and I wash my face with Ceramic Slip, then I’ll spritz my face with Pink Drink which helps to support the microbiome—I take my probiotics and I use my Pink Drink! I then apply Afterglow first basically as a thick water-based serum—this is an extreme hack but I really believe it has brightened the appearance of my skin. Then I mix around two to three pumps of CEO 15 per cent Vitamin C Serum, with about two to three drops of CEO Glow and mix them together in my hand then I apply it. I’m pretty diligent about the application— I’ll apply it all over my face, under the eye, over the eye, and I make sure I apply it around the mouth, face, neck and chest.
“From here, I might go do some emails, do my thing around the house. I’ll come back and apply Good Genes. If I need a moisturiser, I’ll use ICE Ceramide Moisturising Cream. Finally, I’ll apply Auto Correct Eye Contour Cream around my eyes. I also reapply Auto Correct throughout the day because I have to look awake cause I don’t really sleep.
“Plus I always have products at my desk throughout the day. I’ll always apply CEO Serum and (at the moment) the C.E.O. Afterglow Vitamin C Brightening Cream throughout the day at least once—and I apply a tonne of sunscreen. Even if I’m indoors I apply a tonne of sunscreen.
“But always have fun with your skincare and listen to your skin—you know it best!”
The new C.E.O. Afterglow Cream is manufactured according to Sunday Riley’s B Corp certified standards—what exactly does this mean?
“We are proud to be a B Corp Certified brand, which means we’re recognised for our conscious efforts to use business as a force of good and commitment to minimising our impact on the environment. It also means, in our ongoing commitment to the environment and communities, C.E.O. Afterglow Brightening Vitamin C Gel Cream is vegan and cruelty-free. Being manufactured in adherence to Sunday Riley’s B Corp certified standards includes ensuring we’re the best we can be in all aspects of business, from product performance right through to giving back to the community and sustainability. It was important to me to ensure we’re influencing positive change wherever we have a corporate presence.
“We use the absolute highest standard of ingredients. CEO Afterglow is sulfate-free, paraben-free, gluten-free, soy-free, phthalate-free, fragrance-free, and vegan. I’m a huge animal lover so it was a non-negotiable for our skincare to be cruelty-free and it always has been from the very beginning. We’re double-certified by Leaping Bunny and PETA. We are also proud to be plastic-neutral.
“Our pledge to our customers is that we only want the absolute best available to people, that’s our mission. You can feel good about the products you are putting on your skin because you trust that they are made to the highest quality and with the highest ethical standards in mind.”
What are three must-have products you would recommend to new customers from the line?
The power of three—AHAs, Retinol and Vitamin C! Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment for all-over instant glow and radiance. Luna Sleeping Night Oil to improve the appearance of wrinkles, redness, and pores for visibly younger-looking skin. And CEO Afterglow Brightening Vitamin C Gel Cream to brighten, even texture and tone and provide 24 hours of continuous hydration.”
There was once a makeup line within the Sunday Riley brand—do you have any plans to reintroduce it?
“Yes, we had a huge makeup line and it was probably a little too soon for us and a little too ambitious. We had only been around as a skin-care brand for a year and a half so we didn’t have a strong reputation in the industry yet. The makeup line was also huge—We had 12 liquid foundations, 12 cream foundations, three mascaras, 25 eye shadows, 25 lipsticks and more. It was a lot. There weren’t a lot of tools lined up to really help spread the word so, financially, it just wasn’t viable for us at the time. Now that we’re more established, who knows? A makeup line could definitely be something we explore again!”
What’s next for the Sunday Riley brand? Can you divulge any information on any upcoming launches or the future direction of the brand?
“There is a lot I’m interested in at the moment, so many areas that I’m interested in expanding into so watch this space. I just bought a farm in Italy and I’ve been experimenting with a lot of the botanicals from the land, especially for body products, so stay tuned…”
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