To celebrate International Women’s Month, we sat down with Sunday Riley, the inspiring entrepreneur to discuss her journey to growing a skincare business, her beauty philosophy, and the meaningful causes she champions through her brand

When Sunday Riley started her company in 2009, the concept of science skincare was just starting to surface. The industry was saturated with brands promoting unrealistic beauty ideals, where people tended to put marketing rather than sciences on their faces. Only a small part of the community acknowledged the importance of choosing the right and safe products for better skin health.

“There was a gaping hole of ‘green technology’ in the beauty space I was looking to fill,” Riley says. “I’m a believer in the power of science and botanicals, and the benefits they carry for optimal skin health," she says. To Riley, the cutting-edge approach of fusing science with botanicals to create sustainable solutions is more than bringing real positive changes to the skin. It’s also about affecting people’s self-perception, empowering people to feel more confident in their skin.

In the spirit of International Women’s Day, Sunday Riley shares the story and philosophy behind her skincare business, why beauty is all about empowerment, and her best advice for aspiring beauty entrepreneurs.  

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Above Photo: Courtesy of Sunday Riley

What inspired you to create Sunday Riley? 

Sunday Riley was born out of my desire to deliver results-driven beauty formulas to people who have been struggling for answers to their skincare concerns. Listening to my customers’ needs and helping them to find the right products is not an easy task, but it’s always rewarding. I really want to craft formulas that can make a change in the way people look and feel.

At the time, there weren’t many people who knew that science-based active ingredients can be mixed with botanicals to achieve transformative results. And that’s what I did—combining these two elements and building sustainable, cruelty-free skincare solutions that guarantee a positive effect on the user. 

Something that truly drew me to create a skincare company is that I'm obsessed with problem-solving, and I love formulating. Seeing my products being a part of people’s skincare routines that fosters self-love is what inspires me and motivates me every day, to do what I want to do.

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Beauty means being comfortable with yourself and feeling empowered enough to overcome challenges. Practising skincare involves having an honest conversation with yourself, that you need to learn to truly embrace your individuality and “flaws” even if society doesn’t.

- Sunday Riley -

How did you discover your passion for beauty and skincare?

I’ve loved skincare since childhood. It’s hard to pinpoint but it was a flurry of memories: 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 a kid, my mother and I would watch old movies together, and we were fascinated by the glowy presence of the on-screen female characters. I was infatuated with the idea of “feeling pretty”, how beauty rituals can be practised as a form of self-care that will make an individual feel happy and confident.

What does beauty mean to you? How do you think the definition is evolving?

I define beauty as people feeling their very best from the inside out. There’s been a slight shift in perception about beauty since the pandemic, where people no longer find skincare as a chore but more as a form of self-care in their everyday lives, whenever they need a moment to pause and take good care of themselves.

Beauty also means being comfortable with yourself and feeling empowered enough to overcome challenges. Practising skincare involves having an honest conversation with yourself, that you need to learn to truly embrace your individuality and “flaws” even if society doesn’t.

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sunday riley interview skincare
Above Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment (Photo: Courtesy of Sunday Riley)

You've long been a proponent of sustainable beauty with your skincare line. Why was it important to you to create products that are natural, cruelty-free and produced without toxic chemicals?

With a 360-degree skin health approach, we’ve been constantly evolving to do better for our customers. Besides improving in all aspects of the business including producing clean, high-performance formulas, our brand has also been giving back to the community and taking steps in tackling sustainability to make the world a better place. 

I reckon it’s part of my responsibility to ensure we’re using our beauty business as a force for good, influencing positive change wherever we have a corporate presence in the industry. My brand is cruelty-free, and it always has been from the very beginning. The entire skincare range is certified cruelty-free by international labels, Leaping Bunny and PETA. We are also proud to be a Certified B Corporation, recognised for our efforts and commitment to minimising environmental impacts. Over the years, we have been supporting social impact initiatives that align with our brand values as well—this includes planting trees around the world in collaboration with One Tree Planted.

The beauty industry can be criticised for perpetuating unrealistic standards. How can it be a positive force and empower women?

As mentioned, I believe the idea of beauty is about looking good while feeling good from the inside out. There are elements of negativity you just have to disconnect from, including those unrealistic beauty standards. A good friend of mine once told me in life and business, there are builders and destroyers—listen to the builders and ignore the destroyers. With so many beauty definitions floating around the industry, people should really listen to their skin and think critically. Every woman is doing their best and is beautiful in their own way.  

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I reckon it’s part of my responsibility to ensure we’re using our beauty business as a force for good, influencing positive change wherever we have a corporate presence in the industry.

- Sunday Riley -

What are some of the best Sunday Riley products would you recommend to someone who’s new to your brand and living in Asia’s hot and humid climate?

I highly recommend Good Genes Lactic Acid Treatment! It’s the one product that has remained with us throughout our evolution. This lactic acid treatment is a great multi-tasker that’s perfect for Asian skin types, which promises to improve skin texture, smooth fine lines and brighten the appearance of dark spots, leaving the skin nourished and plumped up.

Our C.E.O range is another collection that deserves a spot on your vanity. The C.E.O Glow Vitamin C and Tumeric Face Oil, C.E.O Rich Hydration Cream and C.E.O 15% Vitamin C Brigtening Serum are some of our best-sellers in Southeast Asia.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when developing a product?

I find mixing, formulating and experimenting with different ingredients both challenging and rewarding. From sourcing the right ingredients to naming the products, it’s a lengthy process. But I enjoyed it a lot as I’m able to create what I love and help people get the results they want.

Each product behind has a different set of challenges, but I have always believed in formulating products with a skin-first approach. It can take a long time to get a formula right which involves lots of reworks along the way. I’m keen to listen to my customers’ concerns and if I know there’s something that can be improved, I will do it. No matter how much I love the product, if that doesn’t tackle their needs, I’ll often remove it from the line completely.

I think it’s important to control your ego at work, especially for us as a beauty brand that’s constantly innovating and thinking outside the box to do our best creative work.

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sunday riley interview skincare
Above C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum (Photo: Courtesy of Sunday Riley

What's your best piece of skincare advice for a beginner?

Take it slow and listen to your skin. Cleansing is one of the most basic and yet important steps in any skincare routine, but surprisingly a lot of people tend to skip it. Exfoliation is also essential as you don’t want to spend money on quality skincare that sits on top of a layer of dead skin cells!

What’s next for Sunday Riley? Any exciting new launches?

I’m excited about our new products in 2022! I can’t share exactly what we’re launching yet, but I want to let you know that we have quite a few launches in the pipeline coming to Malaysia and Singapore. As usual, the items will revolve around our principle of fusing scientifically proven ingredients with botanicals that deliver visibly powerful results.

Do you have any advice for beauty entrepreneurs or small business owners?

There’s a Walt Disney quote that I love—“Keep moving forward”. I live by the rule of being in the now: living in the present and walking towards the future. Mistakes and failures happen, and you will have to drop your ego and keep moving forward with faith.

And you also have to work so, so hard. Sometimes you don’t get the same luxuries as others when it comes to weekends and time off. The journey of becoming a beauty entrepreneur is never easy, as it involves a lot of learning and tolerance. Follow your heart and make sure it’s the job you want that makes you feel happy and fulfilled every day. 

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