In a ridiculously crowded world of skincare products and creators, Tiffany Masterson is a sweet, light-hearted ingredient fanatic. She launched Drunk Elephant in 2013, and the skincare line has reached almost cult status—with highly devoted skincare junkies singing its praises. I chatted with Tiffany in her Houston home and immediately fell in love with her tenacity (at first, the big beauty outlets turned her down and recommended she change the name) and her commitment to making serious skincare fun.
ON DREAMING OF DRUNK ELEPHANTS:
Before Drunk Elephant I was a stay-at-home mom infatuated with skincare—I absolutely loved it. I was always looking at brands and labels, and I was also looking at the products in the dermatologists’ office; I always wanted to use special skincare, partly because I have rosacea. I didn’t break out a ton but I always had problems with redness and inflammation.
I eventually started heavily researching product ingredients, and I realized that ingredients are not only about what’s in the product, but also what’s not in the product. Women started asking me what to use in their skincare, and I would stay up late at night researching ingredients. And I started to look at the other products I was using and think about what I would do differently if I created it myself.
ON HOW SHE BECAME HER OWN CHEMIST:
I think typically when someone like me starts a skin care line they go to a chemist and ask them to help formulate a product. But I didn’t do that. I spent months and months and months researching. I would take a typical vitamin C serum and I would create charts, detailing the role of each ingredient in the serum. I soon not only understood every ingredient, but I realized I wanted to make a line of products in which every ingredient mattered.
Either the ingredient was there because of your skin health directly or the ingredient really supported the formulation and made it good and safe. I didn’t necessarily care about synthetic or natural, I cared only about skin health. If there were ingredients for color or dye or even essential oils, I always asked, what are they there for? Do they have a real purpose in the formula? Pretty smelling skincare shouldn’t be the goal. If the consumer smells some ferulic acid or zinc, I think that should be ok.
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ON HOW SHE FOUND MAGICAL MARULA:
I had been using and really loving oils on my skin, and it was trial and error until I realized that oils can be very different from each other (I know that sounds obvious), but also, if they contain any fragrance additives, like perfume or essential oils, or if they are refined, those things make a difference in how your skin might react. I would use a great apricot or avocado oil and break out like crazy. I couldn’t figure out why, then it was like, oh—it has a scented oil added to it, which ended up being the problem. So, for me, they need to be totally pure and unrefined, plus small in molecular size. Once I figured this out, I was able to narrow it down and really start focusing solely on testing out different “skin-identical” oils that would all meet my criteria. Simply put, once I got my hands on some marula, every other oil just fell by the wayside. It just felt better. It absorbed more easily, and the fact that it was clinically proven to heal and balance the skin and was antimicrobial really appealed to me. I do use other oils that I love in my products, but for my main stand-alone facial oil, marula was the clear winner for me.
ON THE DRUNK ELEPHANT ROUTINE:
I wake up and rinse with water or washcloth, I use the Juju Bar for cleansing in the morning. I mix C-Firma, B-Hydra and Umbra Sunscreen in my palm and apply all over my face, neck, chest and backs of hands. Then I go. At night, depending on how my skin feels, I cleanse with the Pekee or the Juju, mix TLC and Marula in my hands and apply to face, neck, chest and back of hands. I put Shaba Eye Serum around my eyes, up into my eyebrows (morning and night actually), exfoliate my lips with a washcloth and apply Lippe lip balm and last, at night, I apply Lala Whipped Cream all over. That’s it. Oh and once a week I apply a very strong glycolic and salicylic acid facial: it’s not on the market yet. When I do that, I leave it for 20 minutes, rinse it off and cover my face in Lala or Marula. It keeps everything in check and it makes my skin baby-soft.
I originally launched a six product line because I wanted to launch a routine, not just a product, but now I launch new products as I need or want them.
Our marula oil is unrefined. It comes from Namibia. Also, we have a patented process that is free of heat and keeps the nutrients more dense than your standard unrefined oils. This means the omegas and antioxidants can be found at higher levels. The packaging is opaque powder-coated glass, which protects the antioxidants, with a “last-drop” dropper technology. It is more expensive to process and package this way, but it’s worth it to me to offer the best of the best to my customers—not to mention it’s the way I want to be using it on my skin.
ON CREATING A NEW BREED OF SKINCARE, FUN NAMES AND TAKING RISK:
When I thought about the name Drunk Elephant I ran it by a few people and their responses were all over the map. Some said no way! and some said why not? When I fell in love with it, I googled it and found videos of elephants appearing to get tipsy from marula fruit. I felt it was memorable and that people would want to know—they would ask about it, and it would create enough curiosity that it might just work to my benefit. It was a risk, but I think it ended up paying off. I’m not a totally serious person, or a doctor or chemist. I think the line needed a little bit of light-heartedness because the formulations are so serious. I name all the products myself and that’s a fun, creative process for me. I typically do it while I’m on a walk.
When I first launched, I was with a PR firm that I really loved, but in the end I’m not sure they could really get behind the strange name and idea. I went and met with the buyers of Barneys, Bergdorfs, SpaceNK. I met and sent product to the buyer of QVC. Their reactions weren’t totally clear, but I was turned down by all of them. There was some concern about the lack of fragrance and the name. It was suggested that I do a focus-group analysis and possibly change my name. I obviously said no. I really believed in the brand and had grown attached to the name by this point, so I held firm. Luckily, some retailers came along and liked it, so there’s a happy ending. Now I’m being approached by some of the retailers who showed resistance in the beginning—we are very lucky to be where we are.
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ON STAYING FIT AND OLD CINDY CRAWFORD VIDEOS:
I make it a point to workout every single day. I go to a small private trainer gym near my house, but I also do a lot of stuff at home. I like to workout by myself: I don’t love classes. If it’s late, and I haven’t gotten around to working out, and I’m desperately crammed with work and I don’t have time to leave the house, I will actually pop in the old school 1982 Cindy Crawford workout video. I know it by heart, but I still love to do it.