Drunk Elephant Founder Tiffany Masterson Takes Skincare by Storm

Results speak louder than words.

by Nora Maloney

Today, in the time it takes for branding to win consumers over, ineffective formulas will lose them just as fast. Luckily for us,Tiffany Masterson, founder of runaway hit skincare brand Drunk Elephant, didn’t stop at pretty packaging.

Drunk Elephant officially launched in 2014 on the premise that, “a product is only as good as its worst ingredient,” sparking a whole new category of skincare that Masterson calls clean-clinical. She was unable to find products without one or more of what she dubbed the Suspicious 6 (more on that later) and so, backed by family investment, she made it her mission to set out to solve the skin issues she believed they were causing.

“The first honeymoon phase was much more about the name and packaging,” says Masterson. “Later on came the realization that the products actually worked . . . and well.”

By 2016, the Houston-based brand was named Sephora’s top-growing skincare brand with best-selling products such as the T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial and C-Firma Day Serum. This month, Drunk Elephant launched the Protini Polypeptide Cream, a day and night protein moisturizer that works to tone, smooth, and tighten the skin.

Below, we speak with the entrepreneurial-minded mother of four to learn more about the brand that has taken skincare by storm.

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Let’s start with the obvious question. Why the name Drunk Elephant? What significance does it have to you?

Well it’s significant because it really represents my personality, as does everything with the brand. I felt weird naming it after myself because I’m not a doctor and I’m actually really shy and don’t love attention. I had decided to use Marula Oil as an ingredient and in researching its origin I read about the myth of elephants getting drunk off the fermented, fallen marula fruit. Drunk Elephant popped up in my mind and after running it by several friends and family members, I decided to go with it. It’s a whimsical name, even though the formulations are very serious. Similarly, I don’t take myself too seriously, but I work hard. So it all makes sense. The name is something people ask about immediately because they don’t know what it is and once they find out, they don’t forget. Keep in mind too, I’m not from the beauty industry so what did I have to lose?

You originally started Drunk Elephant due to a personal need for better skincare— what was your overall experience that sparked this? Can you talk a little about what you call the “suspicious 6”?

I had tried many lines from drugstore all the way up to the derm’s office...nothing completely worked. I ended up selling this bar cleanser from Malaysia for a while which ignited my passion for ingredients and learning what they do to skin and why they are used in formulations. I had suspected that there were ingredients my skin just didn’t like and so I read and tested and experimented as much as I could. I learned how the skin functions and what it needs. Through trial and error, I determined that there were six ingredients, all marketing, that I felt were disruptive to the health of the skin and today I call them the “suspicious 6” (essential oils, fragrance/dyes, silicones, SLS, chemical sunscreens and drying alcohols). I formulated my products without them and I think this is what sets my line apart… I literally couldn’t find one single brand that didn’t use at least one or more of them. I’m self-taught and I’m a consumer first, so my decision to do the line and my formulations were based on that. I will now go as far as to say that I believe skin types such as sensitive, acne-prone, oily, dry, combination and others are created by the marketing ingredients we are using every day. Skin is skin, it all functions the same and if we let it do what it knows how to do, it will thrive. Unfortunately, people get into vicious cycles of treating a skin condition and in fact, they are just feeding the condition even more without realizing it.

Did your education or prior jobs prepare you in any way for what you are doing now? If we had told you then that this is where you would be, would that have come as a surprise?

Nothing prepared me for any of it but that keeps me on my toes. I graduated from college with the sole intention of getting married and having babies so every day, from where I’m sitting, is pretty shocking and surprising. I wake up every morning knowing that I need to make it happen over and over again and I don’t take anything for granted.

Drunk Elephant has taken off at record speeds— why do you think this is? Aside from the fun packaging, of course.

There’s only one reason, because it works. Marketing and pretty packaging can only get you so far. Consumers are brand hoppers and I think we’ve seen with Drunk Elephant that even though we have remarkably low awareness, we have healthy volume because we have a high retention rate. My interest is in helping people feel good about their skin and I think my consumers trust me because I’m a consumer first, I’m honest with them and I’m willing to listen and learn as I grow.

Can you tell us a little bit about Clean-Clinical skincare? You’ve referred to it as a new category of skincare. Is this because no one has done it before?

Yes. This category didn’t appear to exist when I developed the line, but I do realize my definition of clean may not be someone else’s. I define clean as biocompatible. I use only ingredients that can be recognized, accepted and used by the skin. Clean doesn’t mean all-natural. Clean doesn’t contain essential oils, an ingredient that is not meant to go on skin and is actually bad for skin. Clean-clinical to me is safe, high-performance skin care that will nourish, support, protect and improve the skin without disruption, irritation or any form of sensitization. I use synthetics and naturals and I feel that my products are every bit as good and effective as the most expensive dermatologist office brands, and maybe even better because they don’t contain ingredients that will hinder their performance. A product is only as good as its worst ingredient. Clean-Clinical is the best of both worlds, taking the good from the natural side and the good from the synthetic side, while leaving all the bad out.

You’re based out of Houston, where you were born. Did you ever feel the need to move the company? What makes Houston the right place for Drunk Elephant?

My kids are in school in Houston and their grandparents live here, plus my incredible marketing and design teams are here. None of us want to leave. I do, however, feel it’s important for us to have team members in key places like California and New York, which is where the majority of my team are today. We recently opened offices in Newport Beach, California and that is where operations, finance, sales, education and digital will live. It just so happens that where my manufacturer and DC are too…

You’ve won countless awards since your initial launch— when do you think publications/people began to recognize your products? Which product was the first to break onto the scene?

I soft-launched in August of 2013 and officially launched in July of 2014, two years after naming the line. I won the Allure BOB in 2015, so we started receiving recognition very early on. Strangely it wasn’t one product that broke onto the scene, it was the concept and branding first. It took a while for editors to realize the formulations were serious. The first honeymoon phase was much more about the name and packaging. Later on came the realization that the products actually worked . . . and well.

What comes next for D.E.? Have you or would you consider venturing into makeup? Please, say yes…

I have not seriously considered it. I’m sorry! I don’t wear makeup myself so that’s that. I feel it’s best left up to the pros, so I’ll stick with skin! We have to know what we don’t know.

From where you sit as the brain behind the brand, what salient advice would you give to a young beauty entrepreneur?

To not concern yourself with any other brands out there, no matter your industry. Be yourself, don’t look around. If you let the ideas come from one place, your gut, you will have a brand that makes sense and feels cohesive and you’ll set yourself apart. I don’t feel a sense of competitiveness with any brand really, and I stay very focused on what I’m doing and that’s what’s worked for me.

Nora MaloneyComment