Sunday Riley Ceramic Slip Cleanser

One of my recent Sephora Play! boxes included a generously-sized sample of the Sunday Riley Ceramic Slip Cleanser ($45/4.2 oz). $45 is a lot of money for a face wash, so I was naturally curious about what why it costs $45 — does it also play classical piano? Do the dishes? Moonlight as a calculus tutor? Apparently not. Its gimmick is that it contains two types of clay (French Green and Moroccan Rhassoul) to help “remove pore-clogging, excess oil, and impurities, without stripping the skin.” (It also contains neroli to soothe and Vitamin C to brighten, but I don’t think a cleanser that touches your skin for a minute or less is going to do much in the brightening department.)

My thought process when it comes to clay skincare generally starts with “NO” and ends with “ABSOLUTELY NOT.” Sure, I have ginormous pores that could probably definitely use some minimizing, but my other skin concerns — absurd dryness and extreme sensitivity — trump pore cleansing any day.

But like, this is a STUPID-expensive face wash, from a brand that makes a couple of products I’ve really liked, and, seriously, my skin can’t really get MORE dry right now, so … why not, right?

The cleanser squirts out murky, green-tinged, and both slightly stickier and runnier than I was expecting; not actually watery or anything, but when I squeezed it out onto the back of my hand it did NOT stay where I wanted it to. Still, the most unexpected aspect was not the fact that it kind of looked like swamp goo, but THE SMELL. This is the strongest-smelling cleanser I have ever used (and probably the strongest-smelling I ever WILL use, because this is freakin’ POTENT and I don’t see how any other cleanser could top it). It apparently contains some jasmine, but I’m not getting jasmine from this; I get musty, pungent, and green — like a tree stump rotting in a forest, or the dried floral aisle of a craft store. (It also includes neroli, frankincense, and sandalwood.) I’m actually a ginormous fan of the scent, but if your skin or your nose is at all sensitive to fragrance, you’re going to want to give this one a hard pass.

Despite its odd texture, it’s not hard to smear around the face and doesn’t foam much (if at all) when massaged over skin; in this regard, it feels pretty much like a regular cleanser. Rinsing is where this stuff starts getting weird, though; when I rinsed with plain water, this stuff took off all my makeup but left my skin feeling like there was still clay residue. It just felt more … friction-y? … if that makes sense at all. My fingers skipped and dragged when I rubbed them over my face, but not in the same way it does when my skin is stripped. Getting the residue off ended up requiring quite a bit of scrubbing with a wet washcloth, an approach which might not be ideal for super-sensitive skin.

Here’s what I don’t get. Despite a bunch of stuff that should make my skin thoroughly pissed off — fragrance, clay (usually a drying ingredient), having to scrub hard with a washcloth — this stuff left my skin SOFT and NOT REMOTELY stripped. My face felt really, really clean — like REALLY clean, like SO GOOD clean — but didn’t have that painful squeakiness I get from using a too-harsh cleanser. I can’t claim to understand how or why this gets along well with my skin, but it does. I’ve used it as my sole cleanser for the past three-ish weeks, and haven’t experienced any additional breakouts, irritation, or dryness as a result. (I have had one breakout, but it was in pretty direct response to a different product.) How? Why? Why is my skin not rashy and flaky and painful? I don’t know, guys. I. Do. Not. Know. All I can do is report my experience, even if it’s contrary to all expectations and logic.

But back to this product’s main claim: do my pores look noticeably smaller? ehhhhhhhh maaaaaaaybe. My skin texture has been looking pretty nice (for me) lately, but it’s not like my nose pores went from “Wow those craters are so massive that they should probably be named for astronomers” to “Nose pores? What nose pores?” over the course of three weeks. (That’s not how skin works.)

THE VERDICT : Still, I kind of … totally love this? IT’S GOOD. Don’t get me wrong — I will NOT be spending $45 on 4 ounces of cleanser any time soon. Given my budget (tiny) and skincare needs (my face gets along just fine with a few drugstore-priced cleansers), I have no reason to invest in a $45 bottle of face wash. But I like it. A lot.

How about you? Fall in love with any ridiculously-priced skincare items recently? Have you tried this cleanser? (I’m particularly curious about oily/combo-skinned folks’ experiences with this, seeing as how it was designed for you.) Do you have a favorite cleanser that ISN’T $45?