My Honest Review of Sunday Riley’s UFO Ultra Clarifying Oil

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sunda riley acne oil before and after photo

 Rebecca Norris+BYRDIE

As someone with sensitive, combination skin, many products simply overwhelm my complexion. Oils, fragrance, and potent natural ingredients are normally an automatic no for me, but something about Sunday Riley’s UFO Ultra Clarifying Oil made me want to let down my walls and try something new. After all, with packaging that I’d be proud to put on display in my bathroom, and sister products that I absolutely swear by (hello, Good Genes), I figured, what could hurt?

Keep reading to find out how my skin fared with the cult-favorite dry oil formulated for breakouts.

Pros

  • Fast-drying oil formula
  • Shrinks appearance of pores
  • Reduces blackhead and other breakouts

Cons

  • Intense natural scent (despite technically being deemed fragrance-free)
  • Price per ounce is expensive
  • High percentage of salicylic acid for sensitive skin (if you don't have sensitive skin, you might view this as a pro)

The Bottom Line

While the fragrance is intense (and noticeable for up to an hour post-application), the price is steep, and the percentage of salicylic acid can be a bit much for those with sensitive skin, overall, this dry oil’s pros outweigh the cons. That’s because after applying just two drops evenly between my forehead, cheeks, and chin, I noticed that my mask-related breakouts were more at bay than any other time during the pandemic. It’s a yes for me. 

Sunday Riley U.F.O. Ultra-Clarifying Face Oil

Best for: Oily and acne-prone skin types

Uses: Decongesting pores and effectively minimizing breakouts, as well as minimizing the appearance of dark spots, fine lines, and wrinkles

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Potential allergens: Salicylic acid is related to aspirin, as such, anyone who is pregnant or allergic to the ingredient might want to steer clear.

Active ingredients: Milk thistle seed oil, tea tree oil, chamomile oil, salicylic acid, licorice root, hexylresorcinol

Clean?: Yes

Price: $40 for 0.5 ounce

About the brand: Sunday Riley is known for science-based skincare products with quirky names and stellar results. It’s a female-found, B Corp-certified brand that prides itself on being cruelty-free and an advocate for sustainable beauty.

sunday riley ufo acne oil
Sunday Riley UFO Ultra Clarifying Oil $40
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About My Skin: Combination, sensitive, and finicky

More specifically, I have sensitive, combination skin that borders between an oily T-zone and seasonally dry around my nostrils and sides of my chin. Despite never having acne growing up (for which I’m grateful), the pandemic has put a damper on my good skin days. Now, thanks to how reactive my skin is to even the slightest touch—it gets red almost instantly—let alone active ingredients, every centimeter covered by my mask is acting out in protest. The result? Teeny tiny whiteheads covering the sides of my chin and occasionally just below my nose and under my bottom lip. While there are undoubtedly bigger issues at hand during this global crisis, I’d be lying if I said I haven’t tried an array of different products in hopes of putting an end to the splotchy breakouts. 

Nine times out of 10, I reach for gentle, fragrance-free formulas that are designed with sensitive skin in mind. Up until the past month, I’d never tried retinol on my face and generally steered clear of anything equally as potent (think: high levels of salicylic acid, potent tea tree oil, etc.).

The Feel: Ultra-lightweight and Blendable

Typically oils that promise to be fast-drying and lightweight let me down—often leaving a not-so-pleasant pore-clogging residue behind in their wake. Not this oil though. It’s super sheer and sinks deep into skin, leaving not even the slightest greasy footprint. As a result, it can easily be worn under makeup—the brand actually recommends adding a drop or two into your foundation. 

The Ingredients: A lot of key players, here

  • Milk Thistle Seed Oil: Rich in linoleic fatty acids and skin-nourishing vitamins, milk thistle seed oil is both hydrating and helpful when it comes to reducing inflammation. A 2019 study found that, when applied, milk thistle (AKA silymarin) can prove incredibly effective in slowing down photoaging. 
  • Tea Tree Oil: Tea tree oil is anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial. As a result, it’s a stellar ingredient for treating acne. 
  • Chamomile Oil: Loaded with antioxidants, chamomile oil helps protect skin against free radicals. And, since it’s anti-inflammatory, it helps reduce redness and breakouts. 
  • Salicylic Acid: This oil-soluble chemical exfoliator is best known for its uses with oily, acne-prone skin types. It works to cut through oil build-up to unclog pores and prevent future breakouts.
  • Licorice Root Extract: Anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial, licorice root extract lends to UFO’s soothing nature. Additionally, since it’s packed with antioxidants, it works like a charm to help brighten skin, too.
  • Hexylresorcinol: Another brightening agent, hexylresorcinol works to diminish the appearance of dark spots. Though, it’s worth mentioning that there’s limited scientific research on the skincare ingredient.
  • Aloe Vera: Deeply soothing and hydrating, aloe vera adds to UFO’s nurturing nature. And, if I’m being honest, is probably responsible for why my sensitive skin didn’t fully freak out from the potent natural blend.

Ingredient Concentration: Could be too powerful for sensitive skin

Pretty much any derm I’ve ever spoken with has told me to steer clear of high concentrations of salicylic acid—1.5-2 percent—and to stick to percentages under one so as to not irritate my skin. As a result, testing UFO was a bit of a gamble. However, thanks to the plethora of nourishing natural ingredients—all of which are clean—in the blend, I felt confident that the higher concentration wouldn’t wreak havoc on my complexion.

The Results: Clearer, brighter, smoother skin

sunday riley clarifying oil before and after
Rebecca Norris + BYRDIE 

The morning after I first applied UFO, I noticed that my skin looked less red than normal. As someone with rosacea (hence my sensitivity), this was a welcome result. Over my two weeks of use, I noticed that my skin started to gradually look brighter and smoother, and even less puffy. While I never wore it under a full face of makeup—given we’re in a pandemic and I don’t have any need to get dolled up—I did test it on my hand under makeup and the results made me feel confident that when the time calls, I’ll be happy to do so on my full face. In the meantime, I’m genuinely thrilled at how well the oil sinks in and how hydrated and happy my skin looks as a result. 

The Scent: It's not my favorite

Remember: UFO claims to be fragrance-free. While it doesn’t boast any artificial fragrances, the natural whiffs that resulted from the botanical ingredients—chamomile and tea tree oil—was much more intense than I’m used to. That said, given the results, I’m not fully thrown off by it as a result. 

When I first unscrewed the bottle of gorgeous green serum, I was immediately hit with a scent that made me want to run in the opposite direction. While it doesn’t have any added fragrance, the natural scent of tea tree oil and chamomile was enough to make me raise my brows.

How to Apply

Once I got past the scent, I tested the lightweight dry oil on the inside of my wrist for a patch test. (I don’t put anything on my face that I haven’t first tried on my wrist or hand.) After zero issues arised, I trusted the product and segued it into my nightly routine. I used it every third night for the first week, and, after no blaring issues, every other night for the second—as the brand suggests—followed by the brand’s Tidal Brightening Enzyme Water Cream ($22). (Despite being made with an array of nourishing, antioxidant-rich oils, I always like to back up any products that could be potentially skin-triggering with ample hydration to hopefully stop any irritation before it starts.) Keep reading for what I discovered about the out-of-this-word facial oil.

The Value: Pricey per ounce, but effective

While there are absolutely more expensive facial oils on the market, there are also more affordable ones, too. As a result, there’s no denying that UFO (and most of Sunday Riley’s products for that matter) are quite pricey. That said, given the clean ingredients, science-backed formulas, luxe packaging, and overall efficacy, it’s well worth the purchase—especially since a single drop goes a long way. For reference, I use no more than two to three drops to cover my entire face. 

Similar Products: You Have Options

Versed Just Breathe Clarifying Oil, $20: Much more affordable per ounce than Sunday Riley, Versed Just Breathe Clarifying Oil offers similar pore-unclogging benefits without as pungent a scent. Additionally, it’s ultra-hydrating thanks to being made with glycerin and niacinamide as two of the main ingredients. That said, it doesn’t dry quite as quickly as UFO. Still a good alternative though!

SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense, $92: On par with UFO’s price-per-ounce, this product is another luxe option for those looking to work potent salicylic acid into their routine. In addition to the oil-soluble ingredient, Blemish + Age Defense boasts a formula rich in glycolic, citric, and dioic acid, and one without potent botanicals. The result? No scent but just as effective. 

Our Verdict: UFO Is Worth Your Attention

If you’ve been breaking out and are in search of an incredible product to help, UFO is worth making room for in your routine. Just remember that if you’re sensitive to smell and super botanical formulas, it might not be the best option for you.

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