Sunday Riley Scaries - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Sunday Riley Scaries

Sunday Riley Scaries

Among some skincare enthusiasts, Sunday Riley’s Good Genes is a cult favorite.1 As the company claims, this lactic acid serum “deeply exfoliates” the skin to “instantly clarify and reveal smoother, clearer skin.”2 Over the past few years, Good Genes has spiked in popularity, with blogs pointing to the thousands of five-star reviews on Sephora as proof of the product’s merit.3 As with many other luxury skincare products—Good Genes costs $85 per ounce4—customers rely on reviews to determine whether a product is worth the hefty price.5 Because Sunday Riley’s success seemed particularly tied to the proliferation of glowing reviews, beauty bloggers, and consumers were shocked when beauty watchdog Estée Laundry posted a company email instructing Sunday Riley employees to write positive reviews.6 Details trickled in on Reddit’s popular r/SkincareAddiction forum, and the FTC filed a complaint against Sunday Riley in October 2019.7

The FTC complaint details Sunday Riley’s practice of posting fake reviews—employees, managers, and even founder Sunday Riley herself created fake Sephora accounts for the sole purpose of posting fake reviews.8 When Sephora removed reviews originating from Sunday Riley Skincare’s IP address, the company used a VPN to evade Sephora’s removal.9 In emails that founder Sunday Riley sent to her employees, she urged employees to “dislike” negative reviews to prompt their removal and to write reviews contradicting negative feedback in other reviews.10 According to the FTC, the instructions outlined in company emails “constitute unfair or deceptive acts or practices” in violation of Section 5(a) of the Federal Trade Commission Act.11

Despite the damning complaint, on October 21, 2019, the FTC and Sunday Riley reached a settlement.12 The decision did not require Sunday Riley to admit or deny any of the allegations spelled out in the complaint.13 Instead, the settlement ordered the company to stop misrepresenting that employee reviewers are independent users and stop endorsing the product without clearly disclosing proximity to the company.14 Basically, after violating the Federal Trade Commission Act, Sunday Riley’s only punishment was an order to not violate the Federal Trade Commission Act.

This gentle slap on the wrist rightly received backlash. FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra issued a strongly worded dissent to the decision, emphasizing that Sunday Riley’s deceptive practices had gone on for almost two years and had been ordered by the company founder herself.15 Chopra argued that this decision “sends the wrong message to the marketplace” because there’s no punishment for breaking the law, and honest firms might lose out in the marketplace as a result.16 Chopra concluded by comparing the FTC’s lax approach to other countries who have chosen to crack down on fake reviews more systematically, writing that the FTC should not “fall behind our peers” in combating fake reviews.17 Chopra is right to be troubled by the Sunday Riley settlement. Positive reviews drive sales, and often, the number of reviews pushes products to the top of search results.18 Sunday Riley deceived customers by writing fake reviews for profit, and the FTC settlement does nothing to deter other companies from profiting through the same means.

  1. Sunday Riley’s Good Genes Is 20 Bucks Off, Today Only, N.Y. Magazine: The Strategist (Apr. 22, 2019), [].

  2. Good Genes, Sunday Riley, (last visited Feb. 7, 2020). []

  3. Kathleen Hou, The 13 Best Face Exfoliators for Soft, Velvety Skin, N.Y. Magazine: The Cut (Dec. 10, 2019), [].

  4. Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment, Sephora, (last visited Feb. 7, 2020) [].

  5. Elizabeth Segran, Sunday Riley’s Fake Review Scandal Hurts All Beauty Brands—And All Consumers, Fast Company (Oct. 24, 2019), [].

  6. Hou, supra footnote 3.

  7. Stephanie McNeal, The FTC Said Sunday Riley Faked Sephora Reviews For Almost Two Years To Boost Sales, BuzzFeed (Oct. 21, 2019), [].

  8. Complaint, In re Sunday Riley Modern Skincare, LLC, Comm’n File No. 1923008, at 2, [].

  9. Id.

  10. Id. at 3–4.

  11. Id. at 5.

  12. Agreement Containing Consent Order, In re Sunday Riley Modern Skincare, LLC, Comm’n File No. 1923008, [].

  13. Id. at 4.

  14. Id. at 6–7.

  15. Statement of Commn’r Rohit Chopra, In re Sunday Riley Modern Skincare, LLC, Comm’n File No. 1923008, at 2 (Oct. 21, 2019), [].

  16. Id. at 3.

  17. Id. at 3–4.

  18. Sapna Maheshwari, When Is a Star Not Always a Star? When It’s an Online Review, N.Y. Times (Nov. 28, 2019),  [].

Eileen Ceconi

Eileen Ceconi is a second-year J.D. candidate at Fordham University School of Law and a staff member of the Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal. She holds a B.S. in Biological Engineering from Cornell University.