Drunk Elephant Founder on Suspicious 6 Skincare Ingredients, Acquisition by Shiseido, and Secret to Success

Drunk Elephant Shelf Control - Destination Deluxe
Cult beauty brand Drunk Elephant was recently acquired by Shiseido for US$845 million. We sat down with founder Tiffany Masterson to find out what that means for the company and its future plans

WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO LAUNCH DRUNK ELEPHANT? 
Before I developed Drunk Elephant, I had all sorts of skin issues: combo, oily-in-the-T-zone, “sensitive” (or so I thought), occasionally breakout prone, out-of-balance, with mild rosacea and visible pores. I was a frustrated, confused brand-hopper searching for a solution. Nothing ever really worked and if it did, it wasn’t for long. I started selling a bar cleanser on the side, while teaching myself about ingredients, how skin reacts to them and what roles each play in a formulation. I identified 6 ingredients that I believed were at the root of my issues. Today, I call them the Suspicious 6 because once eliminated, my skin returned to a clear, healthy and balanced state. I couldn’t find products without one or more of the Suspicious 6 so I decided to make them myself.

When skin is exposed to irritants, sensitizers and inflammatory ingredients, damage can be imperceptible and cumulative, leaving it in a reactive mode. We believe we have “sensitive” skin, but it’s often really just skin that has become sensitized over time, which is easily addressed. With Drunk Elephant I used both great synthetic and natural ingredients that are only there to directly benefit the health of the skin. I formulated with high percentage’s of actives at the ideal pH levels, and made sure all of the ingredients were easily absorbable and recognized by the skin. The result is a new category of skincare: Clean Compatible.  When it comes to caring for the skin, it is my belief that “clean” is not enough, products also must be compatible with skin.

Tiffany Masterson Drunk Elephant - Destination Deluxe
Photo: Courtesy of Drunk Elephant

DRUNK ELEPHANT DEFINES ITSELF AS CLINICAL, YET CLEAN. HOW DO YOU COMBINE THE TWO? 
We are not all “organic” or “all-natural”, as we use effective, safe synthetics in our formulations as well as natural. We never take into account an ingredient’s synthetic or natural status, but instead choose the ingredients that go into Drunk Elephant formulas based on their biocompatibility with skin. Drunk Elephant is clean compatible skincare. We are committed to using only ingredients that either directly benefit the skin’s health or support the integrity and effectiveness of our formulations. When formulating the products, we focus on biocompatibility, pH levels and safety, always making sure that the active ingredients are at efficacious levels and remain respectful and always supportive of skin’s acid mantle.

YOUR BRAND IS AVAILABLE IN THE US, UK, AUSTRALIA, CHINA AND NOW HONG KONG. WHERE DO YOU PLAN TO EXPAND NEXT?
We can’t share those plans yet but we are excited to bring our brand and philosophy to new markets in the future. Stay tuned!

See also: Dr. Barbara Sturm – Skincare Scientist and Dermatologist to the Stars

Drunk Elephant Passion Retinol - Destination Deluxe
Photo: Courtesy of Drunk Elephant

YOUR PRODUCTS DO NOT HAVE WHAT YOU CALL THE “SUSPICIOUS 6”. CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT THESE CAN DO TO OUR SKIN AND WHY YOU WOULD AVOID USING THEM IN YOUR PRODUCTS? MANY BRANDS USE ESSENTIAL OILS, WHY WOULD YOU ADVISE AGAINST THEM?
The Suspicious 6 are mostly comprised of the most common forms of skin sensitizers, particularly fragrance/dyes and essential oils. What we know about skin aging, skin healing and conditions like acne has evolved from our increased understanding of skin’s response to irritation. Anything that increases inflammation worsens concerns such as acne (which is an inflammatory disease), sun damage (which is an inflammatory condition), uneven skin tone and texture (both of which are promoted and worsened by inflammation).

Irritation and inflammation reduce skin’s ability to heal, harms the skin’s chief support substances (collagen and elastin) and decreases vital substances in the skin’s acid mantle (such as ceramides, hyaluronic acid and antioxidants), leaving your skin more vulnerable to damage by environmental stressors (sun, smoke and pollution).

When skin is exposed to irritants, it triggers inflammatory processes that lead to cumulative damage within skin, resulting in the breakdown of collagen and elastin, impaired healing and worsens the effect of environmental free-radical damage (like sun exposure). The effect of inflammation on skin is cumulative – whether you’re showing signs of irritation or not –and repeated exposure to irritants contributes over time to a weakened acid mantle, slower healing (including of red marks from acne), and an uneven complexion.

Inflammation can also be at the root cause of many of the “skin types” that we identify with. For example, irritation can also trigger the nerve endings in the pore that in turn trigger the production of androgens, hormones that increase oil production. 

Acne is an inflammatory disorder, reducing inflammation will help reduce acne breakouts, while further irritation will make inflammation worse and, therefore, worsen acne breakouts and delay their healing. The primary reason for persistent, chronic dry skin is the inability of skin to maintain moisture levels. Inflammation and irritation disrupt skin’s ability to “hold on” to the substances that keep it soft and pliable – vital fatty acids and other emollients – which over time lead to dry, cracked and inflamed barrier. 

When you remove these types of commonly, widely recognized inflammatory promoting substances, you give your skin a chance to reset to a normal, healthy and balanced behavior and then supplying it with antioxidants, ingredients that help keep things regulated (acids that help break down dead skin cells, for example) as well as those that trigger repair to help it thrive. That’s what we call taking a Clean Break!

When it comes to essential oils specifically, it’s true that they have some benefits (antibacterial and antimicrobial action, for example) but they also contain volatile fragrance compounds that can sensitize or provoke inflammation in skin. As I mentioned earlier, because inflammation is not always visible – but it is accumulative, it’s a guessing game whether one may have an issue with them in their skincare routine down the road. Any benefit that essential oils do provide can also be found in other ingredients that do not share the potential drawbacks from those fragrance compounds. Because of those reasons, essential oils aren’t something we want to risk putting into our formulas and that’s why they earned their place among our Suspicious 6. 

WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON?
I’m working on some exciting new launches for 2022 and also some new categories!

See also: Top 8 Anti-Aging Skincare Products

Drunk Elephant Shiseido - Destination Deluxe
Photo: Courtesy of Drunk Elephant

WITH SHISEIDO ACQUIRING DRUNK ELEPHANT, WHERE DO YOU WANT TO TAKE THE BRAND NEXT?
What’s equally, if not more important to me is what won’t change. The fundamentals of the brand will stay the same – my philosophy and my formulas aren’t changing and I’m going to stay in my same role. Also, Drunk Elephant will remain cruelty-free. The partnership with Shiseido will give us more access to incredible innovation, help us to achieve recyclability and sustainability across the brand, expand into new categories, and launch an anti-bullying platform that’s very near to my heart. We also hope to continue building awareness so that we can share our philosophy with more people around the globe. It’s an incredibly exciting time for all of us at Drunk Elephant.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE ‘ME’ TIME?
I love to exercise and at the end of the day, I love to sit by the fireplace and work, even in the summer! The same philosophy that guides my brand bleeds over into all areas of my life …relationships, diet, self-care: focus on the positive and cut out the negative. I eat well most of the time, I exercise often, I work really hard, I try to get enough sleep, I spend time with my friends, I cook, I walk my dog, I spend quality time with my husband and kids and I treat people the way I want to be treated. Those are the things that really keep me balanced and healthy. 

See also: Cruelty-Free Skincare Launching in China

Drunk Elephant Lala Whipped Cream - Destination Deluxe
Photo: Courtesy of Drunk Elephant

WHAT’S YOUR BEAUTY SECRET?
Being kind to others makes a person beautiful.

WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
My family. They are the motivation behind almost everything I do.

WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER BEEN GIVEN?
Forgive people. Holding a grudge is like eating poison and expecting the other person to die. Anger and resentment create toxicity in your body!

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST LESSON IN SETTING UP AND RUNNING A SKINCARE BRAND?
I’ve learned so many lessons, one a day at least! Probably the biggest though is to stay in your own and don’t let others try to talk you out of your vision. Everyone has an opinion and that’s fine, but you need to stick with your strategy and listen to your gut…just because something hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean that it can’t!

YOUR SECRET TO SUCCESS
Listening to my gut and to my consumer.

YOUR FAVORITE QUOTE
“In a world where you can be anything you want, be kind.”

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