An anti-aging cream that promises to knock 20 years off your face in 24 hours? A pout plumper that guarantees lips like Kylie Jenner with just one slick? We’ve all seen them – the skincare claims that sound too good to be true, if not downright impossible. And it’s exactly those claims — along with a slew of skin-irritating ingredients — that put Tiffany Masterson off mainstream beauty buys.
So, what did she do? She created her own skincare brand using the most effective pH-friendly ingredients that actually work. And, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have seen her beautifully bright products all over your feed, and on every beauty editor’s bathroom shelf. Yes, we’re talking about cult-favorite brand Drunk Elephant, which has finally launched right here in Dubai.
“We are over the moon excited to introduce Drunk Elephant to the Middle East and we’ve been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and interest of the people there. It’s going to be a thrilling experience and we hope we are well-received!”, Masterson tells Savoir Flair when we catch up with her about all things skin. From her go-to ingredients (and the ones she shuns) to her favorite skincare ‘smoothie’ recipes and the story behind that name, this is why you’re bound to fall #drunkinlove with her brand.
Tell us about your journey to starting Drunk Elephant.
I was a stay-at-home mom of four and started selling this hyped-up bar cleanser that had a list of misleading claims a mile long. It did clear my skin, but I realized it only worked because of what it didn’t contain, i.e. sensitizing ingredients such as essential oils, fragrance, silicones, and drying alcohols. The break from these ingredients was exactly what my skin needed to return to a healthy place.
Once I figured out what worked and what didn’t (for me personally) I applied that knowledge to helping others, and — eventually — to formulating my own products. I identified a void in the market, which was a product line that was clinically effective but clean and compatible at the same time. We came up with the term “biocompatible” to describe it. Purchasing skincare is such an emotional experience, and with this new category, you can be excited about how well it works — like with a clinical brand — but also feel safe, similar to when purchasing natural skincare. It’s the best of both worlds!
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
It’s been challenging to get people to think differently. I look at it all backwards. Instead of creating products meant to “fix” issues, my philosophy is that you should look at what you’re using first, then eliminate common marketing ingredients that people unknowingly use on a daily basis — ones I believe are directly responsible for most issues.
The problem is that the six ingredients we avoid are present, in some combination, in almost every product on the market. To benefit from my philosophy, I recommend using Drunk Elephant exclusively for an extended period of time. It’s a challenge to get people to do that, but once they do, they’re usually hooked and don’t look back! It’s a hopeful message meant to offer a troubleshooting solution to people who have been searching and struggling.
What makes Drunk Elephant different from other brands?
We’re committed to only using ingredients that directly benefit skin health or support the integrity of our formulations. We never take into account whether something is synthetic or natural, instead choosing ingredients based on biocompatibility. That’s why we focus on healthy pH levels, formulations the skin recognizes, small molecular structure that’s easily absorbed, and effective active ingredients that support and maintain the skin’s acid mantle.
What we leave out is just as important, which is why you’ll never find the ‘Suspicious 6’ in our line. We believe these ubiquitous ingredients are at the root of almost every skin issue, and when they’re removed entirely from your routine — that is, when you take a “Drunk Break” — skin can reset and return to its healthiest, most balanced state.
What are the ‘Suspicious 6’, and why did you shun them?
They’re ingredients I found to be problematic for my skin. They aren’t scary or even necessarily bad or “toxic”, they just — in my opinion — can disrupt the function of the skin, leading to annoying behaviors that could otherwise be avoided, such as acne, sensitivity, being overly dry, or oily, etc. They are as follows:
Essential Oils: By their nature, their volatile fragrance compounds are sensitizing to skin. There’s no benefit that can’t be replicated by other non-fragrant ingredients that don’t share their downsides.
Drying Alcohols: These alcohols have the potential to dehydrate and sensitize and are identified by the names SD alcohol, denatured alcohol, alcohol denat, natural alcohol, grain alcohol, ethyl alcohol, or just plain *alcohol* on an ingredient list. We believe they cause long-term damage to skin. While they help actives penetrate more easily, they do so by dissolving the lipids that help keep skin pliant and moisturized. This results in inflammation, which in turn can provoke breakouts.
Silicones: They can congest skin, especially with heavier weight occlusive silicones (dimethicone), and they prevent actives (like ascorbic acid) from penetrating skin and doing their job. Some may also dehydrate skin.
Chemical Screens: Many find these types of sunscreen actives to be sensitizing, especially when used around the eye area or by those with skin sensitivities and disorders (like rosacea or eczema). We believe that they also, through sensitization, can lead to random breakouts and the worsening of acne. They can be great, but as they’re problematic for some, we use physical screens instead.
Fragrance/Dyes: Designed to add a pretty color or scent to a formula, these have literally no benefit, but can be sensitizing and take up space from ingredients that are actually good for skin!
SLS: A surfactant that is a little too good at its job. Not only can it be very harsh in terms of stripping moisture, but it is also a small molecule that penetrates into skin, causing inflammation and potentially damaging the skin barrier.
Speaking of ingredients, what are your favorites and why?
Glycolic, L-ascorbic acid, retinol, non-fragrant, bioavailable plant oils, and sodium hyaluronate. They should be in every skincare routine in my opinion. They are gold-standard ingredients that get the job done!
We have to ask – what’s the story behind the name?
I fell in love at first sight with Marula oil. It absorbed very easily and made my skin feel great. In an effort to learn more about it, I Googled “marula”, and a video of elephants appearing tipsy after eating the fallen fruit came up. It’s adorable and it felt like a relief from all the seriousness involved in developing a skincare line!
I’m no doctor, I’m not French, and I’m not a scientist, so I couldn’t really name it “Tiffany Masterson”, and I didn’t want to, anyway. When Drunk Elephant popped into my head, I asked others what they thought. Not everyone liked it, but it felt right in my gut, so I went with it! It’s very much representative of my personality.
What’s the biggest mistake we’re making with our skin?
I’m a firm believer that cleansing in the morning, or even more than once a day, is a mistake. Our skin’s acid mantle is the first line of defense and is critical to skin health. Over-cleansing and stripping the acid mantle is another way of disrupting the health and balance of the skin.
What’s the best piece of beauty advice you’ve been given?
When I was young, my mom told me never to wear foundation. I’m so glad I listened to her!
What advice would you give to someone looking to launch a skincare brand?
Don’t look around. Try to operate from your own perspective and instincts. Being the consumer and living in those shoes is what guided me. I think if I knew too much about the beauty industry and its way of doing things, I would have blended in with all the other brands. I taught myself about it and I knew that if it didn’t work, then it just wasn’t where I was meant to be.
If you hadn’t launched Drunk Elephant, what would be your dream job?
A therapist. I love helping people and solving their problems!
I think if I knew too much about the beauty industry and its way of doing things, I would have blended in with all the other brands.
You’re known for your love of mixing skincare ‘smoothies’. What’s your favorite combination?
I customize my smoothies based on my skin’s mood and where I am in the world. In the morning I typically use a mix of ‘B-Hydra’, ‘C-Firma’, ‘A-Passioni’, ‘Lala’, and a drop of ‘D-Bronzi’ for added warmth and vitamins, topped off with ‘Umbra Sheer’. At night, after cleansing with ‘Slaai’ or ‘Beste’, a typical smoothie is ‘TLC Framboos’, ‘Protini’, ‘B-Hydra’, and ‘Marula Oil’. Some days are dryer than others, so I listen to my skin regarding how much and which moisturizer I choose.
What’s next for Drunk Elephant?
We’re expanding into new markets, launching new products, and converting the entire line to have recyclable packaging. It’s a very exciting time and I can’t wait to share the new products we’ve been working on!
Complete the sentence: To me, beauty is…
Drunk Elephant is available exclusively at Sephora.ae and Sephora stores across the Middle East.