How Drunk Elephant founder Tiffany Masterson cracked the code to 'biocompatible' skincare and inclusive success | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Drunk Elephant Founder Tiffany Masterson gets candid about her childhood, beauty philosophies, and the most valuable lesson she’s learned
Tiffany Masterson, Founder & CCO of Drunk Elephant | Photo: courtesy of Drunk Elephant

In this exclusive interview, Drunk Elephant founder Tiffany Masterson gets candid with LIFESTYLE.INQ about her childhood, beauty philosophies, and the most valuable lesson she’s learned from her brand



These days, beauty brands come and go quicker than some of the results their products promise. It’s a business supercharged by the constant ebb and flow of hopefuls trying to be the next big thing. 

“7-day anti-aging miracle” 

“Lose your dark spots in just four days!” 

In an industry notorious for preying on the insecurities of millions of women, one can only wonder what it takes to cut through all the noise. 

For Tiffany Masterson, founding her Houston-born skincare brand Drunk Elephant was driven by her desire to find realistic and effective results for her own skin concerns. Pure, honest intention—basically the antithesis of all the smoke and mirrors that have made skincare so complicated and intimidating. This is the ethos that has made all the difference. 

After uncovering the six ingredients that are at the root of her skin concerns, now famously known as “The Suspicious 6™”, Masterson unlocked a world of opportunity too good not to share with the millions of women out there who shared the same struggles as her.

Since their public launch in 2013, Drunk Elephant has skyrocketed to success. From their punchy packaging to their innovative formulations, Masterson’s approach to skincare has completely transformed the beauty landscape, carving a brand new beauty category she coined “biocompatible.” 

In this exclusive interview with LIFESTYLE.INQ, we speak to Masterson about her childhood, the values that ground her brand, and the best advice she’d give women looking to start their journey through skincare. 



Do you recall your earliest memory of discovering beauty/skincare products?

Yes. My mom used Erno Laszlo and I was always going into her bathroom and testing it all when she was out of the house. Also, her blush and lipstick and mascara were super fun for me to play with.

What elements of your upbringing do you think have influenced your perspective now as the founder of Drunk Elephant?

I was taught to tell the truth and be accountable for my own actions. I was taught to leave things better than I found them. I was taught to treat people the way I like to be treated. And I was taught that I’m not better than others, just different, and that putting good out into the world will always come back around you in the form of blessings. I was also taught to surround myself with kind people who inspire me.

I think I built the brand with all of those things in mind. I wanted to build a positive, loving culture. I like to laugh at myself, and I love to have fun, so you’ll see some humor in the brand. You’ll see us take responsibility when we screw up and I think you’ll see us being inclusive and kind when nobody is watching. We aren’t cocky and we don’t assume anything. We work hard every day to answer our consumers and to educate our community in fun, innovative ways.

How do you think your personality shines through in Drunk Elephant?

I work hard but I don’t take myself too seriously. I like to have fun. I’m not cocky—I’m aware it could all go away tomorrow. I want to help people, sincerely. If someone is down, I like to try to make things better. I’m super sensitive, too. I think you can see all of this in the brand and definitely in the team, too. I try to hire individuals with similar values. We aren’t competitive and we all have the same goal in mind: to help people.

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Tiffany Masterson | Photo: courtesy of Drunk Elephant

What are some of your favorite memories from the early days of launching your brand?

Rolling my sleeves up and brainstorming ideas with my product development or creative team. We always come up with such different and exciting ideas. Also, just getting good news and getting feedback from my consumers too. We had so much fun. I miss the early days and if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change one thing! I love my team so much.

What are some of the most valuable things you have learned to date?

You have to fail many times before you succeed. You should always listen to your gut. Too many cooks in the kitchen is a bad thing. Know what you are good at and know what you’re not. Surround yourself with people who know more than you. 

If something goes wrong, share it immediately with key team members so they are aware and can help. More heads can solve a problem much more effectively than one can, but you also actually owe it to the people who are dedicating time and energy to the brand. That sounds random but it’s one of the things that really helped me get through challenging times as we built Drunk Elephant.

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Drunk Elephant is known for its vibrant visuals while still delivering effective, non-toxic results. In the beginning, did you feel any pressure to fall under a particular category (clinical, all-natural, etc.) amid the skincare sector’s highly populated climate?

I believed then, and still believe today, that my brand was in an entirely new category. It wasn’t all natural and it wasn’t what we knew as “clinical” at the time. Neither category took into account the ubiquitous ingredients like fragrance, essential oils, drying alcohols, chemical screens, silicones or SLS that have the potential to inflame, sensitize or hold skin back from being its best in one way or another.

There wasn’t a brand that existed at the time that avoided every one of these ingredients and that’s what I personally wanted for my skin as a consumer. I wasn’t thinking about falling into any category, I was thinking about making an entirely new one. At first, I called it non-toxic but soon felt that was too negative of a word. 

I used the word “clean” in 2015 and it hadn’t been used yet by any other brand. Once that word became diluted with multiple different definitions, I moved to using “biocompatible,” which I think really fits what the brand is. This means using only absorbable ingredients (outside of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) that your skin can recognize, process, and benefit from without irritation, sensitization, congestion or inflammation. 

Drunk Elephant stood out instantly among the other brands because we had a very clear point of difference. We were a hybrid brand. Safe like the naturals and as effective as any clinical or dermatological brand. And in addition to that, we were the first skincare brand to feature colorful packaging and a fun, whimsical name. Other skincare brands were very serious looking or pretty with light-colored florals or graphics. It was kind of a shock to see the neon.

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Upon identifying the ‘Suspicious 6’ as the root of the majority of your skincare problems, are there any other changes that have transformed your skincare routine?

Yes! Removing [the ‘Suspicious 6™’] entirely. I also stopped cleansing in the morning. I also started mixing my products together to save time and product. I knew I could do that because all of my formulations, except for the sunscreen that goes on top, were bioavailable, or absorbable, so I knew that layering was not necessary. Those things have completely transformed my skin and my routine.

The beauty industry holds a huge stake in influencing millions of impressionable women around the world. What message do you hope Drunk Elephant delivers to them?

That skincare can and should be fun and suited to your own personal needs on any particular day. That arming yourself with the tools to know your skin and its behaviors can dictate what it needs better than any brand can. I always wanted to educate the consumer so that he or she could make their own choices regarding what was best for them. 

Also, I want to deliver the message of hope to the millions who suffer from skin issues and can’t find the solution. Our philosophy is different and something most people haven’t tried. They’ve tried everything, but not this ingredient-elimination philosophy. It’s exciting to think there is something out there that is different and maybe, just maybe, this could be the answer to healthy, clear skin. For my consumer, it has been.

What values would you say you are grounded on? How have these values grounded Drunk Elephant as a brand?

I am grounded in being kind and treating my consumers and my employees like gold. I like to give the consumer a first-rate, top- of-the-line experience. I like to treat our people with the utmost respect and appreciation. They are our greatest asset as a brand that we have. If you show them how valued they are, they wake up and they work hard. They want to be there. We were built with an incredibly kind and humble culture. I also like to be transparent with our community and let people know when we’ve made a mistake and then let them know how we are going to fix it. That is how you earn consumer trust and that of your employees. Honesty is the best policy.

What advice would you give women who want to start their skincare journey but feel intimidated by everything available on the market?

Start slow. Less is more. Set everything aside—particularly if you are experiencing any issues with your skin—try our philosophy. It only takes a couple or a few of the products to test it out and see what it can do for your skin. You might think you have sensitive skin or acne-prone, or even just a combination, but you may not. It may be that you’ve been unknowingly using ingredients that are causing the issues and once removed, they are resolved. I made The Littles™ kit for this reason. So that people could test the philosophy for 30 days without having to invest in full sizes. Or, if they already love Drunk Elephant, it’s the perfect way to travel with your whole routine.

Drunk Elephant is available in the Philippines online and in-store at LOOK At Me

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