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Skincare Brand Sunday Riley Admits to Forcing Employees to Write Positive Sephora Reviews

Beauty brand Sunday Riley has accumulated a cult-like following for its luxury skincare products. Now, they are facing backlash from customers after a company email that encouraged employees to write positive product reviews on Sephora surfaced online.

In an email with the subject “Homework time – Sephora.com Reviews” — obtained by anonymous beauty industry gossip Instagram account @esteelaundry — the brand’s employees were told to write “at least” three reviews over the course of two weeks to support the launch of Sunday Riley's Saturn Sulfur Acne Treatment Mask and Space Race Fight Acne, Oil + Pores at Warp Speed Kit.

A former Sunday Riley employee first shared the email on a Reddit thread titled, “[PSA] Sunday Riley Employee: We Write Fake Sephora Reviews,” which ignited the controversy.

“I’m sharing this because I’m no longer an employee there and they are one of the most awful places to work, but especially for the people who shop us at Sephora, because a lot of the really great reviews you read are fake,” the ex-employee wrote of the brand, which was founded in 2009 by Houston entrepreneur Sunday Riley.

“We were forced to write fake reviews for our products on an ongoing basis, which came direct from Sunday Riley herself and her Head of Sales. I saved one of those emails to share here. Also, check out the glassdoor reviews for Sunday Riley, the ones that we weren’t asked to write, anyway, which are ACCURATE AF.”

The email shared also dictated the content of the reviews: “Credibility is the key to the reviews! When reviewing Saturn please address things like how cooling it felt, the green color, the non-drying mask effect, radiance boosting, got rid of your acne after a couple uses.”

The unidentified employee who sent the instructions — names and email addressed were blacked out — also urged employees to sound as relatable as possible when writing their reviews.

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“It helps to make yourself seem relatable – like you now how hard acne is and you’ve tried everything, and this one actually works or mention things like yes, it’s a little more expensive, but works incredible well compared to the cheaper masks out there. If you need help with things to come up with to say, feel free to ask myself, Sunday [Riley] or Addison [Cain, the company’s Integrated Marketing and Communications Manager],” the email said.

The email also said: “As reviews come in, read them too. If you notice someone saying things like I didn’t like ‘x’ about it, write a review that says the opposite. The power of reviews is mighty, people look to what others are saying to persuade them and answer potential questions they have.”

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The Sunday Riley employee then went on to instruct everyone login to a secure VPN network to ensure that the reviews would not be traced to the their IP addresses.

Not long after the condemning email went viral, @esteelaundry posted a screenshot of a comment from Sunday Riley’s Instagram account, where the brand admits guilt to posting the fake reviews.

“As many of you know, we are making an effort to bring more transparency to our clients. The simple and official answer to this Reddit post is that yes, this email was sent by a former employee to several members of our company,” the comment read.

“At one point, we did encourage people to post positive reviews at the launch of this product, consistent with their experiences. There are a lot of reasons for doing that, including the fact that competitors will often post negative reviews of products to swing opinion. It doesn’t really matter what the reasoning was. We have hundreds of thousands of reviews across platforms around the globe and it would be physically impossible for us to have posted even a fraction of these reviews.”

The brand concluded the statement by saying, “Client word-of-mouth, sharing how our products have changed their skin, has been the cornerstone of our success. In the end, our products and their results stand for themselves.”

PEOPLE has contacted Sunday Riley for a comment.

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