Even though my job title has the words “skin care” in it (officially, I’m Allure‘s digital skin-care editor), I don’t necessary try every moisturizer, serum, or treatment that comes across my desk. That’s not because I’m super picky, but over the years, my skin has become the one to put its foot down in this relationship. After testing every product in sight, my skin has become sensitized to just about every powerhouse ingredient mentioned in our Allure Skin-Care Glossary. Obviously, this is very much of a personal problem (I did this to myself!), but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make my life (and well, quite obviously, my job) more difficult.
That being said, when testing skin-care products now, I’m pretty selective. I’ve even come up with my own little protocol: Moisturizers are OK, but they can’t have added fragrance. Serums are good to go, but they can’t be formulated with essential oils. Peels? Considering the fact that I flare up whenever I’m even around acids, I tend to skip this step. Oh, and as for retinols? Oof. But for some reason, when I heard Sunday Riley was launching an over-the-counter retinol, my interest piqued, and I decided to temporarily put my checklist aside.
Launching in January 2019, the Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum isn’t necessarily the skin-care brand’s first try at retinol (the Luna Sleeping Night Oil has been around for years), but it is its first concentrated retinol treatment. What I mean is, Riley and her team worked hard on formulating what they call an “advanced-strength retinoid serum,” which is made with a whopping 6.5 percent retinol blend (5 percent retinoid ester, 1 percent liposomal-encapsulated retinol, and .5 percent blue-green algae). Like all retinols, over time, the creamy, yellow-tinted serum smooths fine lines, uneven texture, and tackles pore congestion. A+ is also made with Hawaiian white honey, cactus extract, and ginger to balance out the powerhouse retinol blend and soothe skin.
Knowing all of this, I had to try it. Luckily, even though I have sensitive skin, there’s still a retinol workaround, called the “sandwich technique.” Recommended by dermatologists, the “hack,” if you will, involves applying a layer of moisturizer to the skin, topping it off with retinol, and then sealing it all in with another glob of moisturizer. See, sandwich? Despite the added layer of hydration, the technique is actually quite effective and doesn’t weaken the retinol. “Studies have shown that this base layer of moisturizer does not dilute or reduce the efficacy of the retinoid, but instead helps with tolerability,” says Shari Marchbein, a New York City-based dermatologist.
That’s probably why my cranky skin had no (and I truly mean zero!) issues — no redness or irritation — after using the Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum. I simply followed the sandwich technique — moisturizer (sometimes subbed out for a hyaluronic acid serum), retinol, then moisturizer again — every other night since I first received my preview bottle of A+ in October. Since then, the texture on my cheeks from acne scars has diminished in appearance, and most importantly (for me), my skin can finally tolerate the powerful ingredient, which is definitely a win in my book.
You’ll find this serum, along with 5 other products, in our January 2019 Allure Beauty Box for just $10.