I Tried Sunday Riley's New High Dose Retinoid Serum & It Totally Changed My View On Retinoids

Courtesy of Daley Quinn // Courtesy of Sunday Riley

It’s not every day that you find a strong, over-the-counter retinoid product that effectively fights against signs of aging. However, that very product landed on my desk, in a beautiful, deep blue bottle with promises of healthy skin written all over it. If you’re looking for an honest Sunday Riley A+ Serum review, you’ve hit the jackpot, because my skin couldn’t be more sensitive, and I couldn’t be more critical of retinoids.

I have the palest, weakest, most sensitive Irish skin, and I battle all sorts of skin conditions (including eczema, acne, and melasma) regularly. The winters are especially tough — freezing temps are not my skin’s friend — and I usually end up battling bouts of extremely flaky, itchy, dry skin on my face (and along my hairline) throughout the winter and into early spring. Because of my finicky skin, I’ve oftentimes avoided retinol products in fear that they’ll exacerbate my condition. My dermatologist once prescribed me Retin-A, a vitamin A derivative known for treating many a skin condition. While I’ve used it on and off for a couple of years, I always tend to hide it in my vanity again once I notice how flaky it makes my skin after using for a few days. However, when I tried the new Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum ($85, Sunday Riley), all my negativity toward retinoids went straight into the trash.

The new serum is said to be the stronger version of Sunday Riley's popular retinol oil, Luna Sleeping Night Oil ($105,, which contains 2 percent trans-retinoic acid ester (retinol) complex and is housed in chia seed oil, rather than a thick serum. The A+ Serum, on the other hand, contains a 6.5 percent blend of retinoid and retinoid-like botanical extracts, including retinoid ester complex (5 percent), a stabilized retinol blend (1 percent), and a blue-green algae with retinoid-like activity (0.5 percent). More than double the retinol dose of the Luna Night Oil, the A+ Serum is strong AF and beats out many over-the-counter retinoid products, which usually contain around a 0.5 to a 2 percent concentration of retinol.

Photo Courtesy of Daley Quinn

What I think differentiates the A+ Serum from other retinol products is just how moisturizing the ingredients and formula actually are. With 5 percent Healing Hive Honey, Bisabolol, Ginger, and Prickly Pear Cactus, the formula has enough moisturizing properties to balance out the dry retinol ones, helping to reduce the regular retinol side effects like flaking, redness, and irritation.

The A+ Serum promises to reduce signs of lines and wrinkles, improve skin clarity, and accelerate surface skin cell turnover. Although I haven’t used it long enough to notice major changes, I can say that this product doesn’t dry out my skin, which is something I haven’t found in a retinol product thus far. I like to use it every other night (so my skin can get used to retinol again), and I always layer a moisturizer after applying this product to make sure dryness doesn't become an issue. It’s been advised by professionals to avoid applying retinols alongside acne products with benzoyl peroxide, because mixing the two will basically cancel out the effectiveness of each product. So always make sure you steer clear of benzoyl peroxide when applying a this product, or other retinoids in general.

Ideally, you should apply this product at night (wearing retinol in the sunshine could make your skin more susceptible to sunburn) and always wear a sunscreen when using a retinol product. Well, you should really be using a sunscreen at all times, every single day! Additionally, if you have super sensitive skin, try using this product once a week, see how your skin reacts, and build up your skin’s tolerance by using it a few times a week, then every other night, then every night. Here's hoping this new Sunday Riley serum pleases your skin as much as it did mine.