Luna Sleeping Oil, from the Sunday Riley brand, has received a lot of buzz in beauty magazines, but it's important not to be caught up in such accolades and instead look to the formula to decide its value. With that in mind, we were very disappointed by the major degree of fragrant essential oils this contains—pointless in a skincare product at best, seriously irritating for skin at worst. It's unfortunate, as this would have been an excellent anti-aging facial oil without them, but as it stands, it's just not worth the risk to skin (nor its price tag).
Housed in a gorgeous glass bottle with a dropper dispenser, this is an oil-based treatment whose emollient finish is best for normal to dry skin.
In terms of beneficial ingredients, Sunday Riley included multiple excellent non-fragrance plant oils that have moisturizing, antioxidant and anti-irritant benefit for skin—avocado, grape seed, blackberry and chia. One of the main attractions of this product, however, is the inclusion of trans-retinol ester that Sunday Riley describes as an advanced retinol complex "to correct damage caused by sun, time and pollution."
The trans-retinol ester is an interesting ingredient. Listed on the ingredient list as hydroxypinacolone retinoate, it has promise but there isn't a compelling amount of data evaluating its effectiveness, or comparing it to other forms of retinol (like retinol or retinaldehyde). The study that does exist was conducted by the brand that manufacturers hydroxypinacolone retinoate, and was conducted on just five people (GrantIndustries.com, 2015).
Other studies that do exist study the ingredient in combination with retinol—that means you just don't know whether hydroxypinacolone retinoate would have been effective on its own, as it is in Luna Sleeping Oil (Actas Dermo-Sifiliograficas, 2015). With that in mind, we wish the Sunday Riley brand didn't chose to rely on this ingredient over the more proven forms of retinol on the market.
Aside from trans-retinol ester, chamomile plays a major role in the claimed benefits of Luna Sleeping Oil, with four varieties included here as ingredients to lower the potential for irritation of potent retinol treatments. Each of these is in oil form, and that would typically mean for most flowering species that the oil also contain potent, volatile fragrance extracts. However, with chamomile varieties, the amount of fragrance compounds, even in the oil derivatives, is almost insignificant and retains potent anti-inflammatory substances (Molecular Medicine Reports, 2010). We should note that as chamomile is member of the daisy family, those with allergies to these plants would want to exercise caution in terms of products rich in this ingredient (Contact Dermatitis, 2002).
The deep blue-green color of Luna Sleeping Oil is attributed to the fact it contains blue tansy and German chamomile oils, both of which naturally have a blue-greenish hue. While it does contain blue tansy oil, the reality is that this formula's color is due to its inclusion of the artificial coloring agents CI 61565 (green 6) and CI 60725 (violet 2). A marketing liberty, but it's the first crack in the façade of this facial oil.
Despite the fact that the Sunday Riley brand claims that this product is fragrance free (right on the box), they included multiple fragrance citrus essential oils in its formula. Neroli, blood orange, ylang ylang and vetiver, each with a blend of compounds that can provoke inflammation and a host of other issues over the long term with repeated application (see More Info for additional details).
For a product that claims to be gentle on skin as well as fragrance free, Luna Sleeping Oil was a true disappointment to our team given that its inclusion of potent citrus essential oils makes both claims inaccurate. That aside, their reliance on a largely unproven derivative of retinol makes this product one that cannot justify its cost—but does justify the rating it earned—especially when it is so easily outperformed by products that are a fraction of the cost. Check out our list of Best Retinol Products instead.
Irritation from High Amounts of Fragrance: Daily use of products that contain a high amount of fragrance, whether the fragrant ingredients are synthetic or natural, causes chronic irritation that can damage healthy collagen production, lead to or worsen dryness, and impair your skin's ability to heal. Fragrance-free is the best way for all skin types to go for all skin types (Food and Chemical Toxicology, 2008 & American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, 2003).
The sneaky part about irritation is that research has demonstrated that you don't always need to see it or feel it for your skin to suffer damage, and that damage may remain hidden for a long time (Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, 2008).
In fact, the effect of inflammation in the skin is cumulative, and repeated exposure to irritants contributes to a weakened skin barrier, slower healing (including of red marks from breakouts), and a dull, uneven complexion (Aging, 2012 & Chemical Immunology and Allergy, 2012).
With an advance retinol complex, Luna helps reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles while simultaneously correcting damage caused by the sun, time, and pollution. Use this oil before bed to notice firmer, clearer skin by morning. Trans-retinol ester fights the look of fine lines, wrinkles, and loss of skin elasticity while an essential oil complex calms and soothes skin. Cold pressed avocado, chia, and Concord grape seed oils sink into skin for quick absorption of actives while boosting radiance.
Persea Gratissima (Extra Virgin, Cold Pressed Avocado) Oil, Vitis Vinifera (Organic, Cold Pressed Concord Grape) Seed Oil, Rubus Fruticosus (Cold Pressed Blackberry) Seed Oil, Salvia Hispanica (Cold Pressed Chia) Oil, Dimethyl Isosorbide (and) Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate, Chamomila Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Oil, Tanacetum annuum (Blue Tansy) oil, Anthemis nobilis (English Chamomile) oil, Eriocephalus punctualatus (Cape Chamomile) oil, Citrus Aurantium Amara (Neroli) Oil, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Blood Orange) oil, Cananga Odorata Flower (Ylang Ylang) Oil, Vetivera zizanoides (Vetiver) oil, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil (and) Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, CI 61565 (Green 6), CI 60725 (Violet 2).
Sunday Riley is a brand that has captured the attention of many with its mix of luxury-positioned skincare 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. The answer: Yes and no.
Often noted in Sunday 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. While all of them have some benefit for skin, they’re not ingredients that have comparative benefit to long established ingredients such as retinol, vitamin C, and niacinamide, for example.
This brand has some intriguing products and many of them contain beneficial ingredients that are packaged to maintain their effectiveness, but there are a few missteps in terms of highly fragrant formulas. 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.
Sunday Riley products are available at several online retailers, as well as at Sephora stores.
The Beautypedia and Paula’s Choice Research teams have one mission: To help you find the best products for your skin, whether they’re from Paula’s Choice or another brand. By combining efforts, we’re able to share scientific research and remain committed to the highest standards based on our decades of experience objectively reviewing thousands upon thousands of skincare and makeup formularies in all price ranges.
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