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Drunk Elephant Is Doing Everything Right

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There’s a reason Sephora can’t keep this natural-meets-clinical skincare line in stock.

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Photo: Drunk Elephant

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In May of this year, Forbes reported that relatively young skincare brand Drunk Elephant has already raked in about $25 million for its founder, Tiffany Masterson. The article threw out one remarkable stat after another, including Drunk Elephant’s 600 percent year-over-year growth at Sephora and its estimated $30 million in sales during 2016 alone. Internal projections anticipate revenue could more than double again by the end of 2017.

It would be foolish to call those numbers anything but impressive. But if you've been following the company, which was Sephora’s top-growing skincare brand in 2016, they shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Drunk Elephant has garnered a near-cult following since its launch in 2014 without the help of ads or celebrity co-signs. Instead, the brand has gained buzz thanks to its transparent, no-nonsense approach to skincare, and the fact that it focuses on effective, clinical ingredients over exclusively natural or organic ones — even with natural beauty being one of the most booming categories in skincare.

“We are not all ‘natural’ or ‘organic,’ and being those things didn’t feel necessary to me at all,” says Masterson over email. “I think all of these terms that are loosely applied can quickly feel trendy and eye-roll-y. It becomes a problem also because every brand has a different definition of what these labels mean.”

Instead, Drunk Elephant just focuses on what works, whether that’s virgin, cold-pressed marula facial oil naturally full of antioxidants or a high-tech glycolic night serum featuring plant-derived and synthetic ingredients. Active ingredients are included at high-enough percentages and pH is balanced at the right levels for products to be their most effective. The idea is that every ingredient serves a sincere and proven purpose, so if the role of a would-be addition is to make a product smell like roses or, I don’t know, look millennial pink, it’s left out of the formulation without question.

I can personally attest to the fact that the 13-count product line, which includes three serums, two bar soaps, a jelly cleanser, a hydrating gel, a facial oil, a cream, two sunscreens, a lip balm, and an at-home “facial,” yields some serious skin-altering results. I’ve been using five of Drunk Elephant’s best-selling products, which were sent to me complimentary by the brand for testing, in tandem for the past two months. I’ve also been following Masterton’s advice to completely remove any products containing what she’s coined as “the suspicious six” from my skincare regime.

The first (and most rewarding) product I’ve thrown into rotation is the C-Firma Day Serum ($80), which includes a high concentration of l-ascorbic acid — the gold-standard vitamin C — at 15 percent. Admittedly, the clinical smell and oily texture did take a few days of getting used to, but in return my skin has never been brighter or smoother. I follow it up with the Lala Retro Whipped Cream ($60), a silky moisturizer that, while lightweight, gives a really hydrating boost of moisture thanks to its blend of six African oils.

At night, I switch out the vitamin C for the T.L.C. Framboos Night Serum ($90), a gel-textured serum formulated with a blend of three acids — most notably with up to 12 percent glycolic acid, a master exfoliator that removes dead cells from the outer layer of your skin while simultaneously boosting collagen production, leaving your face brighter and fuller. It’s noticeably evened my texture, reduced the size of my pores, and generally tamed my oily skin.

I also tried the T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial ($80), which is meant to be used once a week to further exfoliate and brighten. It’s one of Drunk Elephant’s newer products, as well as one of its most successful — the mask was Sephora’s best-selling skincare product of 2016 — and is essentially an at-home facial that gives fancy spa treatments a run for their money. If you’re partial to products you can really feel working (that tingly, burning sensation), you should give it a try. The formula includes a blend of acids that gets rid of dead skin cells combined with antioxidants like matcha tea and apple fruit to soothe and nourish skin. The results aren’t immediate, but I woke up the next morning with a baby-soft face as promised.

The last product I tested is the Beste Jelly Cleanser ($34), which just launched in June. I was much less excited about this one, and found it to be rather drying even for my oily skin. The twist-bottom packaging also made a mess in my shower. Masterson was refreshingly candid when I asked her about it, confirming that I wasn’t alone in my not-so-great experience with the product.

“We will wait awhile and see how things go,” she says of the product’s mixed reviews. “We can always tweak or redo if we need to. Our customers and fans are like a huge focus group — they are loud and interactive and we are always listening and responding as quickly as we possibly can.”

Aside from the cleanser, I was sold on the system one week into my testing — so much so that I’ve completely stopped wearing makeup, aside from a little blush and concealer when I need it, because I want to show off how good my skin looks and feels. It’s quite literally never felt healthier.

While the effects speak for themselves, it’s hard to talk about the success of Drunk Elephant without mentioning its packaging. The look of the line on the shelf is incredibly aesthetically appealing: The white-and-neon packaging, stamped with a minimal elephant logo, holds its own against branding of everyone’s millennial favorites — even without using that pink everywhere.

Most of its products (aside from the soaps and facial oil) come in airtight pumps, which are great for not only preventing bacteria growth, but for ensuring that the contents don't become oxidized, which keeps them effective longer. (It’s worth noting here that while Drunk Elephant products are expensive, they’re big enough to last you several months. After two months of daily use, I’ve got more than half of both serums left; I’ve been using the moisturizer multiple times per day and have about half of that left, too.)

In such a crowded beauty space — Sephora is adding new brands to its roster, one after another — Drunk Elephant is only gaining traction. At the end of the day, that’s because it works, plain and simple, and isn’t trying to confuse you (or scare you) with marketing jargon.

“[Drunk Elephant] represents hope in a space where people are desperately searching for a solution,” says Masterson on why she believes the brand has seen such success. “Customers who have long described their skin as ‘sensitive,’ ‘acne-prone,’ or ‘combination’ are discovering that their skin was just confused and sensitized. It wasn’t their skin after all, it was the ingredients they were putting on their skin.”