Beauty Boss: How Drunk Elephant Founder Tiffany Masterson Cleaned Up Skincare

Welcome to Beauty Boss, a reoccurring series in which we spotlight the power players driving the beauty world forward. Consider this your chance to steal their get-ahead secrets, and grow from the real-life lessons they've learned on the job.

Beauty Boss - Drunk Elephant - Lead
Photo: courtesy

What is your background?

I attended the University of Texas, moved back to Houston after graduating, floated around different industries like fashion and even software, but really just wanted to be a stay-at-home Mom. I started selling a little bar cleanser to make money on the side after my babies were all in school. This ignited a passion in me to learn more about ingredients and the way people’s skin responded to them. I learned that I look at things a little backwards. I believe skin is skin and that it all needs to be treated equally, it’s our largest organ and it knows what to do if we let it. I based DE on this philosophy of not addressing skin “types” and common issues, but rather avoiding the very ingredients that create unhappy, confused skin to begin with. I believe my job as owner of a skincare brand is to simply provide products that support, nourish, feed, improve and protect the skin. I’m not a chemist, I’m a passionate consumer, so DE comes from a consumer’s point of view with the consumer top of mind. I chose every ingredient myself based on what I personally would need and want. Turns out, there are a lot of people out there who want and need the same thing as me. Great ingredients, safe ingredients, clinically-effective ingredients and products that work. We all just want healthy, clear skin. I have no interest in gimmicks and marketing or in tricking the consumer…I am the consumer!

How did you decide to start the company?

I was selling a bar cleanser and spending a lot of time not only learning about formulations and ingredients, but helping people choose products based on what I had learned, telling them what to avoid and what to use in order to have healthy skin. It became clear that it was nearly impossible to find a brand that didn’t contain one or more of the ingredients that I had decided, through trial and error, were at the root of most skin complaints. So to create a line based on what I had discovered, avoiding those ingredients, was a logical next step. I wanted to create a new category that I felt had been missing. Skincare is emotional. Some people choose natural to feel like they are being health-conscious and safe, while others choose clinical because they want something that really works. DE is the best of both worlds and represents a new category called “clean-clinical."

Tell us more about your famous name, Drunk Elephant and how it came to be.

As I was choosing ingredients, I came across Marula oil. I loved the way it soaked in and felt on my skin. I went home and googled it and found videos of intoxicated-looking elephants. The myth is that the African animals eat the fallen Marula fruit and become drunk. Probably not true, but certainly made for a catchy, light-hearted name. I named it Drunk Elephant after polling several friends and family members. Some said “cute, but no way”, while other said “cute and you should totally do it”. Of everyone though, nobody said it wasn’t cute and I knew that adding an edgy vibe would create curiosity and attract attention. For the first year, there were people who tried to get me to change the name. I’m happy today that I didn’t listen.

What was the most exciting part?

Truly it’s all been exciting. Every single day has been exciting for me. I’m grateful beyond belief for the chance to help people feel better about their skin. I’m excited to see a movement away from some of the marketing ingredients that I strongly believe are not only unnecessary, but at the root of people’s “sensitive” skin. So, the most exciting part is when people tell me that Drunk Elephant has changed their life. I’m not to the finish line yet, though, there’s a lot more to do and more to prove, and that it also very exciting.

How did you determine the product line you would launch with?

I read as much as I could. I researched everything I could. I came to the conclusion that there are six things that people need to be doing or using on a daily basis. (1) Cleansing their skin without stripping it, (2) applying a well-formulated Vitamin C, (3) applying a physical sunscreen, (4) using a gentle, but effective chemical exfoliation, (5) moisturizing with a pure oil-based moisturizer and finally, (6) physically, but gently, exfoliating their skin to remove the dead skin cells that have loosened overnight. I took into consideration the following for every formulation: molecular size, pH balance, percentages of actives, skin-compatibility, hazard levels of each ingredient and the role each played in the formulation. If an ingredient was not there to directly support the health of the skin organ OR to support the efficacy and safety of the formulation, then it wasn’t allowed in. I excluded all marketing ingredients, the main six being essential oils, silicones, chemical screens, fragrance/dyes, drying alcohols and SLS. I added blends of antioxidants and non-fragrant plant oils and extracts to every product. I used proven actives at clinically effective levels. I believe DE can go toe to toe with any brand one would find in a derm’s office, but at a more accessible price point. The bright, happy packaging isn’t very serious, but it’s what’s inside that keeps people coming back.

Beauty Boss - Drunk Elephant - EMBED

What is your skincare routine?

I don’t cleanse my face in the morning. I take a soft, baby washcloth in the shower and wipe my face and neck. I mix C-Firma, B-Hydra, Umbra (enough to provide UV protection) and a new product I recently formulated (I can’t tell yet) in the palm of my hand. I apply to my face and go. I think of it like a morning smoothie for my face. It’s all going the same place. I pay attention to the mood of my skin and add products to my mixture accordingly. Avoiding silicones allows me to skip the layering, waiting etc. I’m typically rushed in the morning so it’s easy and effective to do it this way. I don’t wear makeup, foundation or powder. At night I use the Pekee Bar, alternating in the Juju Bar on some nights, to cleanse my face and neck. I mix TLC Night Serum, Marula Oil, Lala Cream for added moisture and sometimes a drop of prescription retinol (I’m currently doing an experiment) all in the palm of my hand, apply to my face and neck and go to bed. Once a week, I cleanse, apply Babyfacial for 20 minutes, rinse off, pat dry and add a blend of B-hydra and Marula, go to bed. I apply Shaba to my eyes and Lippe to my lips both morning and night. My skin is not sensitized or “sensitive” because I avoid sensitizing ingredients. I have found that this allows me to use high levels of acids, even alongside retinol, with zero redness or irritation. I haven’t had a breakout or a bad reaction in as long as I can remember.

What three items do you never leave the house without?

Lippe, a bottle of water and my phone. If you’re talking skincare, Lippe, bottle of water and Umbra Sheer Physical Defense SPF30.

What is the best compliment you’ve received about the company so far?

That it’s predictive of what the future of skincare will look like and that it’s more than just a skincare company, that it’s a movement.

Do you think diet plays an integral role in skincare as well? Do you follow any particular eating plan for glowing skin?

I think diet does show up on your face for sure. I try to follow an anti-inflammatory diet and just a clean diet in general. I recently completed the Whole30, which removes dairy, sugar, alcohol, grains and gluten. No doubt eating vegetables and fruits all day gives you that certain healthy glow, but I think sweating, exercise and moving around outdoors is very important for skin health too.

What product is your absolute favorite if you had to choose just one?

The Littles because it contains all of them! Just kidding. No really I can’t choose. They are all so different and purposeful. I love them all and use each one religiously.

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