Review: Sunday Riley A+ High Dose Retinoid Serum

I once proclaimed, after using Luna, that I wouldn’t use any other product from Sunday Riley.

Well, look who’s eating crow 😛 Whatever I thought about Luna and the rather sneaky marketing tactics of Sunday Riley, I have to admit that they manage to intrigue me enough to try their products time after time (see the CEO face oil and Vitamin C serum). And I usually hate to admit it, but I do like what I try, for the most part.

The Sunday Riley A+ High Dose Retinoid Serum is highly raved, and it was one I had purchased as part of a value set. I did enjoy using the Luna oil, and this is supposed to be even better. I also had a few people tell me that they loved this one to bits, so I was high on my to-try list!

Sunday Riley A+ High Dose Retinoid Serum – what’s the percentage?

The thing about using a retinol or retinoid serum is that people always want to know what the percentage of retinol is in there. The higher the better of course, although it’s a known fact that 1{44affb6c5789133b77de981cb308c1480316fee51f5fd5f1575b130f48379a33} retinol is considered a very high percentage for over the counter products. The higher the percentage of retinol in a serum, the more effective, but the higher the chance of skin irritation.

Well, colour me surprised when I saw that the Sunday Riley A+ High Dose Retinoid Serum said they have 5{44affb6c5789133b77de981cb308c1480316fee51f5fd5f1575b130f48379a33} retinoid ester blend, 1{44affb6c5789133b77de981cb308c1480316fee51f5fd5f1575b130f48379a33} liposomal-encapsulated retinol blend, and 0.5{44affb6c5789133b77de981cb308c1480316fee51f5fd5f1575b130f48379a33} blue-green algae with natural, retinoid-alternative activity, which many sources put at 6.5{44affb6c5789133b77de981cb308c1480316fee51f5fd5f1575b130f48379a33}, and call it a stablized retinoid blends. Wow, was my face going to fall off?!

But I read further, and realised that it’s a ‘retinoid ester blend’ and a ‘retinol blend’, which means that there are extra steps of conversion, before it becomes retinoic acid, that is the ingredient that is truly beneficial for the skin (You can read more about these retinoid/retinol conversions here and here)

Skincare expert Caroline Hirons pegs the Sunday Riley A+ Retinoid Serum at about 0.5-0.6{44affb6c5789133b77de981cb308c1480316fee51f5fd5f1575b130f48379a33} on skin (here). Now, that’s a more reasonable figure in my books 😛

For reference, I have used the Paula’s Choice Clinical 1{44affb6c5789133b77de981cb308c1480316fee51f5fd5f1575b130f48379a33} Retinol Serum and the Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream 1{44affb6c5789133b77de981cb308c1480316fee51f5fd5f1575b130f48379a33} retinol serum with very good results. This tells you I’m no stranger to using strong retinol serums on my skin, and I know how my skin performs and handles it.

That said, the Sunday Riley A+ serum is considered as a high percentage retinol product, so I wouldn’t dive right into it, unless you’re already no stranger to using retinol on your skin, or are prepared to be very patient.

Why use a retinol/retinoid serum?

Briefly, retinol is the gold standard ingredient for anti-aging (alongside using a good strong sunscreen). It increases skin cell and collagen production, and improves wrinkles and fine lines, makes skin thicker, helps fade sun damage and pigmentation. It makes skin smoother, clearer and more plumped, helping you look younger for longer.

With the many different products and varieties of retinol serums in the market, you can find one for every budget, at varying levels of efficacy.

My personal preference is to go with a chemical retinol/retinoid serum. While I have tried a natural derivative that I personally found quite effective, I find it works a little more slowly than I prefer. At my age, I just prefer something a little ‘stronger’ 😛

How to use the Sunday Riley A+ Retinoid serum

As with all retinol and retinoid serums, going slow is key, to ensure your skin isn’t overly sensitized.

Always start a new retinol/retinoid serum by using it 1-2 times a week for a few weeks, before increasing its frequency slowly every other week, until you are comfortable using it every night, or every other night.

As you can tell therefore, this review has been a long one coming 😛

When using a retinol serum, I always make sure my skin is well moisturised and I always keep a facial oil at hand, because I find that it helps prevent my skin from drying out. You can mix it into your moisturiser as well, if you feel it’s too harsh on the skin.

You must (and I mean MUST!) wear a good sunscreen in the day when using retinol serums. It can make your skin more sensitive, and you don’t want to damage it further.

Fairly gentle formula

What I noticed first of all, was that the formula felt fairly gentle on my skin. It was quite unlike the Drunk Elephant A-Passioni serum that seemed to deliver a more noticeable ‘hit’ to the skin.

I was able to quickly level up to nightly use without too much trouble, as my skin did not seem to feel overly sensitized or dry when using the A+ Retinoid serum.

The texture is quite runny and more like a lotion, and has a slight yellow tone.

My skin is quite used to stronger ingredients like this so I cannot say how someone with more sensitive skin may fare with it. I have read that it’s suitable for people with even the most sensitive of skin, provided you break it in slowly and carefully.

Skin is noticeably smoother

I go through bouts of using retinol products, and when I run out of one, I sometimes take a few months before I jump onto another. I jumped onto this Sunday Riley A+ Retinoid Serum after one of these bouts.

The most noticeable benefit for me, was my skin feeling noticeably smoother after a few weeks. It is one of the most noticeable benefits of using a retinol product, so it boggles my mind why I’m so tardy about it 😛

Despite my advanced age (48 at time of writing) I don’t have very deep lines or wrinkles, so I cannot vouch for any reduction or improvement in that department. I do however, have hyperpigmentation and sun damage, which I try my best to keep at bay.

What I can say, very honestly without looking at it under a microscope, is that my skin is not looking worse, and may in fact, be looking better, coupled also with copious amounts of sunscreen, Vitamin C serums and keeping skin well moisturised – it takes a village, folks!

Do I like it?

Yes I do. It feels nice and light, it feels ‘gentle’ and it does a good enough job. But if I wanted something a little ‘stronger’ (without going prescription), I’d go with Drunk Elephant or Paula’s Choice Clinical 1{44affb6c5789133b77de981cb308c1480316fee51f5fd5f1575b130f48379a33}. Understandably, those carry a higher percentage, and are expected to be more effective.

A stumbling block however, is the price tag, which like all Sunday Riley products, are high (and even more so for us here in Malaysia, with our weak currency). I’ll finish this, but I may not repurchase, unless I can get it at a good price during a sale.


The Sunday Riley A+ High Dose Retinoid Serum does have a fairly high percentage of conversion of retinol on skin of between 0.5-0.6{44affb6c5789133b77de981cb308c1480316fee51f5fd5f1575b130f48379a33} and not the 6.5{44affb6c5789133b77de981cb308c1480316fee51f5fd5f1575b130f48379a33} they (and others) have you believe. It does feel gentle on skin, and does not dry my skin out nor cause it to feel irritated and sensitized. Used regularly (every other night), I do notice visibly smoother skin. I do like the formula and the effect on my skin. But the price is too rich for my blood, so repurchasing this is only likely if I see it go on sale at a good price.

Gentle formula
Skin is noticeably smoother
Does not irritate skin

Slightly misleading information on percentage

WHO WILL LIKE THIS: Anyone who is already using a retinol, Anyone who wants a fairly gentle but high percentage retinol product

PRICE: RM399 | US$85 | £70 for 30ml

WHERE TO BUY: Sephora, Cult Beauty, SpaceNK, Ulta

For those interested, this is the ingredients list for the Sunday Riley A+ High Dose Retinoid Serum:

 Water/Eau/Aqua, 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

Have you tried this retinoid serum? What’s your favourite retinol/retinoid serum?

For long term use, I might go back to Paula’s Choice Clinical 1{44affb6c5789133b77de981cb308c1480316fee51f5fd5f1575b130f48379a33} retinol serum. That said however, I am always trying new ones, so it might take me a while to circle back, but I always have a retinol/retinoid product in my skincare routine 🙂

Paris B