Tiffany Masterson on Drunk Elephant, Gen Alpha’s Essential Beauty Brand

For Drunk Elephant, one of the fastest-growing skin-care brands over the last decade, the recipe for success has been a customer-first approach.

Drunk Elephant

W hen Tiffany Masterson was thinking of a name for the skin-care brand she founded just over 10 years ago, she didn’t want to name it after herself, as if she were a dermatologist. “And everything sounded corny and contrived,” she says during our conversation at the Four Seasons while on a recent visit to Toronto. “And so I just thought, ‘Well, it’s just going to come to me.’ Everything just kind of came to me with this brand.”

The then-housewife living in Houston, Texas, settled on Drunk Elephant based on the myth about elephants getting inebriated when they eat the fruit of the marula tree—marula oil happens to be the key ingredient in the brand’s facial oil. The name also allowed Masterson to have some anonymity, as she doesn’t relish the spotlight. “I thought, ‘If I call it Drunk Elephant, I can stay behind the scenes.’ ”

As for the concept itself, Masterson wanted to create skin care that didn’t contain the six ingredients she calls the “suspicious six”: essential oils, alcohols, silicones, chemical sunscreens, fragrances/dyes, and sodium lauryl sulfate. These ingredients, she believes, are superfluous, not benefitting the skin but rather the formula itself— to preserve it.



After developing the formulas, she designed the toy-like packaging exactly as she’d always wanted to decorate her house: matte white with pops of colour—“Aesthetically, I know what I like immediately”—and in 2013, launched her brand with six products. She started reaching out to beauty editors at various magazines and sending out samples in “a gorgeous acrylic box with confetti.” Not soon after, Drunk Elephant was getting written up in print and talked about on social media.


Drunk Elephant founder Tiffany Masterson


The following year, at the industry trade show Cosmoprof, Masterson presented Drunk Elephant to Sephora. Two weeks later, the powerhouse beauty retailer picked it up. “I would say things exploded really fast after that,” she says. So fast, in fact, that Sephora came back quickly to say they wanted it in every location. Drunk Elephant was one of the fastest-growing brands in Sephora’s history. With zero marketing school experience, Masterson believes having only a consumer perspective was ultimately an advantage. “I would never have tried if I knew how hard it would be,” she confesses. Instead, she was so convinced of her concept that she thought there was no way people wouldn’t want to try the products once they saw what they did for their skin. “That’s what kind of kept me going in the early days.”

While the original six products—C-Firma Day Serum, TLC Framboos Glycolic Night Serum, Lala Retro Whipped Cream, B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum, Pekee Cleansing Bar, and Juju Exfoliating Bar—continue to be in demand, the skin-care range has grown to over 50 products, including body and hair offerings. The newest addition is Bora Barrier Repair Cream, which is “thicker and richer than anything we’ve ever launched but doesn’t feel heavy on the skin.” Masterson is always listening to the consumer, and this latest product was developed in response to requests for something to restore chronically dry skin. As Drunk Elephant continues to grow with the addition of more SKUs, Masterson wants consumers to not feel overwhelmed and to focus on two to three products. “It’s like a buffet. Nobody walks through and gets every single thing.”



Though Drunk Elephant was acquired by Shiseido in 2019—a reported selling price of $845 million (U.S.)—enabling Masterson to get it into more markets and have access to larger teams for technology, design, and marketing, the Japan-based parent company hasn’t changed how she operates. “I still wake up every day and think, ‘What can I do today to propel the brand forward?’ ” A large part is continuing her consumer-first approach, and while the brand’s packaging is nearly all recyclable, Masterson understands the need to become more eco-friendly. “It’s super important, especially as we have these younger generations coming up fast wanting to use the brand,” she says, referring to the boom of skin-care enthusiasts among Gen Alpha. A decade on, and it seems Drunk Elephant is just getting started.