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Reviewed: The Best (and Worst) Skincare Products From Drunk Elephant

Is this clean beauty brand worth the hype?
Drunk Elephant reviews

With its Instagram-friendly packaging and promise of cleaner ingredients, Drunk Elephant has become one of the most popular skincare brands on the market. 

Whether in your feed or on your vanity, you can't help but be drawn to the brightly-coloured bottles. And the idea of a results-driven line without fragrance, essential oils, alcohol or silicones is highly compelling. Who wouldn't want to include a few Drunk Elephant products in her skincare routine? 

That's why I created this guide. I'm always being asked about these products, and now that I've tried just about all of them, I've put together a comprehensive review of the entire Drunk Elephant line. 

Just like my guides for The Ordinary and Indie Lee, this is based both on my personal testing experience and my analysis of the ingredients lists. And rest assured, this is a completely honest review, as I have no relationship with the brand and everything I've used was purchased by me.

Drunk Elephant Background

Drunk Elephant Tiffany Masterson

Drunk Elephant founder Tiffany Masterson.

Before we dive into the products, here's some quick background.

Drunk Elephant is the creation of Tiffany Masterson, a Texas stay-at-home mom who got her start selling an imported soap to make extra money during the 2008 recession. Initially, she thought its ingredients had transformed her skin, but soon realized it was what wasn't in it that was making a difference.

That inspired Masterson to do her own research, eventually coming to the conclusion that "ingredients to avoid" are "at the root of every skincare issue," as she told W Magazine. With this philosophy in mind, she began working with a chemist in 2012 to develop her own formulas.

Today, there are more than 20 products in the Drunk Elephant facial skincare range, which gets its name from the hero ingredient, marula oil. (When elephants eat the fruit from marula trees, they get drunk!) 

All of the products are cruelty-free and without what Masterson calls the "Suspicious 6": 

  • Essential oils
  • Drying alcohols
  • Silicones
  • Chemical sunscreens
  • Fragrances/dyes 
  • SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate)

Notably, Masterson has been criticized for asserting (in a since-deleted blog post) that skin types don't exist, and that any skin reactions people experience while using her products are from other brands that do formulate with the "Suspicious 6."

Well, I was already avoiding the "Suspicious 6" long before I ever tried Drunk Elephant, so let's see how well that argument holds up, shall we?

(For the record, I don't love the concept of skin types, either, because there are many factors that can influence how your skin looks and feels on any given day. But I disagree that achieving "normal" skin is as simple as avoiding these six ingredients, especially for conditions like acne.)

Alright, on to the products—and I'll update this review as new ones are launched!

Drunk Elephant Reviews

Drunk Elephant reviews

The Drunk Elephant skincare collection.

Moisturizers

Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Cream

Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Cream

Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Cream

  • Details: Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Cream is a peptide-based moisturizer with a light gel-cream texture. The peptides do everything from stimulating collagen to reducing inflammation, while various hydrating ingredients (including amino acids) bind moisture. At pH 4.0, this cream has a lower pH than most, so theoretically, you could layer it on top of acidic treatments right away, without much reduction in their effectiveness.
  • Key ingredients: Glycerin, fatty alcohol, marula oil, plant-derived stem cells, peptides, amino acids, hyaluronic acid. 
  • Best for: Normal to oily skin. But if you are acne-prone, it may cause breakouts. (I can't use it for that reason—despite the light texture, it gave me multiple inflamed pimples!)
  • Keep in mind: Peptides are not as proven as retinoids, antioxidants and hydroxy-acids, and some dermatologists, such as Dr. Leslie Baumann, believe they are too big to penetrate the skin. So if you want anti-aging benefits, you're better off investing in a retinol, vitamin C serum and/or acid exfoliant (whether from this brand or another). Otherwise, if you're simply looking for a lightweight moisturizer, I find the ones from Versed, The Ordinary and Augustinus Bader are way better tolerated by acne-prone skin. If you do try this product, I recommend using it up within about six months, before the marula oil oxidizes.

Drunk Elephant Lala Retro Whipped Cream

Drunk Elephant Lala Retro Whipped Cream

Drunk Elephant Lala Retro Whipped Cream

  • Details: Drunk Elephant Lala Retro Whipped Cream is an intensive moisturizer with a creamy, whipped texture. Not only does it contain multiple skin-softening emollients, it also includes fatty acids, cholesterol and ceramides to help repair and support your skin barrier. Since it has more occlusives than humectants, you may find this cream does a better job of sealing in moisture than actually delivering water to your skin. To achieve the latter, layer it over a hydrating serum (such as B-Hydra or one of the formulas from SkinCeuticals, Timeless or ClarityRx). 
  • Key ingredients: Glycerin, fatty acids, fatty alcohol, oils (baobab, watermelon, passionfruit, mongongo, marula and ximena), cholesterol, ceramides, hyaluronic acid. 
  • Best for: Normal to dry skin. If you are oily or acne-prone, it will likely be too rich, and may lead to breakouts. 
  • Keep in mind: Since it has more occlusives than humectants, you may find this cream does a better job of sealing in moisture than actually delivering water to your skin. To achieve the latter, layer it over a hydrating serum (such as B-Hydra or one of the formulas from SkinCeuticals, Timeless or ClarityRx). If it breaks you out, try one of the moisturizers from Doctor Rogers RESTORE, Dr Roebuck's or LXMI, which have similar textures but are less likely to trigger acne. If you do try this product, I recommend using it up within about six months, before the oils oxidize.

Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Luxury Face Oil

Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Luxury Face Oil

Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Luxury Face Oil

  • Details: Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Luxury Face Oil is a facial oil comprised of pure marula oil and nothing else. This is a heavier-weight oil that is high in oleic acid. As a monounsaturated fatty acid, oleic acid is relatively stable and resistant to oxidation. Although the brand suggests you can moisturize with this product alone, oils by nature tend to sit on top of the skin instead of actually hydrating. For that reason, I'd suggest layering it over serums or creams. 
  • Key ingredient: 100% marula oil.
  • Best for: Normal to dry skin. But it's probably going to be too heavy for oily and acne-prone skin, and could clog pores and trigger breakouts.
  • Keep in mind: If you're looking for a less expensive version, The Ordinary and Acure both offer pure marula oils. However, you should be aware that continuous topical application of oleic acid has been linked to weakened skin barrier function and even dermatitis. I prefer squalane, since it is much lighter, extremely effective on dry and chapped skin, and well-tolerated by most people. Try Indie Lee, The Ordinary or The Inkey List. Marula oil does have some naturally-occurring vitamin E and polyphenols, but won't replace a good antioxidant serum. You'll get more protection from a proven formula, such as C-Firma or SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic with L-ascorbic acid. If you do try this product, I recommend using it up within about six months, before the marula oil oxidizes.

Serums

Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum 

Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum

Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum

  • Details: Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum is a vitamin C-based antioxidant serum for daytime. Not only does it contain L-ascorbic acid—the most potent, proven form of vitamin C to brighten, repair sun damage and protect from free radicals—it has the same concentration as the ever-popular SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic. There's also the requisite ferulic acid and vitamin E to further increase photoprotection and stability, and an acidic 3.3 pH level to enhance penetration.  But unlike most vitamin C serums, it has a thicker consistency (from the marula oil) and a slight golden tint (from the pumpkin extract).
  • Key ingredients: 15% L-ascorbic acid, 1% vitamin E, pumpkin extract, marula oil, ferulic acid, hyaluronic acid.
  • Best for: Normal to dry skin. For acne-prone skin, it may be too pore-clogging. (I've attempted to use this twice now, each time with a fresh bottle, and it consistently gives me cystic acne, whereas C E Ferulic has never caused a problem. I suspect it's because of the marula oil.)  
  • Keep in mind: Although there are similarities, C E Ferulic (which holds a patent) is still the gold standard when it comes to vitamin C. For a cheaper and/or less comedogenic formula, consider Timeless or Paula's Choice. (Or, if budget allows, there's also the new SkinCeuticals Silymarin CF, which is specifically for oily and acne-prone skin.) If you do try this product, I recommend using it up within three months, before the L-ascorbic acid oxidizes. Unfortunately, the rate of oxidation is difficult to gauge because of the pumpkin extract. While the brand states that "anything from a pale yellow to an amber orange is completely normal," I would personally be wary of using it past the pale yellow stage.

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum

  • Details: Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum is an acid-based exfoliating gel that you leave on overnight. With its high concentration of alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHAs), it both exfoliates the skin surface and unclogs pores. Even still, it is said to be non-drying and non-irritating, as the acids are paired with humectants and calming botanical extracts. The brand recommends applying it every other night at first, gradually increasing to nightly applications. You can also use it as a spot treatment on pimples.
  • Key ingredients: 10% AHAs (glycolic, lactic, tartaric and citric acids), 1% BHAs (salicylic acid), glycerin, aloe, marula oil, hyaluronic acid. 
  • Best for: All skin except sensitive. However, some people will still find it too harsh because of the glycolic acid (which is notoriously irritating due to its small molecule size). I personally cannot use this product, as it makes my skin very inflamed and flaky after a few applications.
  • Keep in mind: Like all acids, this treatment may cause purging initially if you are new to chemical exfoliants. (The marula oil is unlikely to be a problem, since there's less than 1%.) If you find it too strong, I recommend avoiding glycolic acid and switching to a lactic and salicylic acid combo instead. Try Tarte or Luzern Laboratories. You can even just use BHAs alone, as they offer the same benefits as AHAs in addition to cleaning pores, without causing inflammation. My favourite BHAs are from COSRX, Farmacy and First Aid Beauty

Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum

Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum

Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum

  • Details: Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum is a hydrating serum with a gel-like texture. It's named for the provitamin B5 (panthenol), a humectant that attracts and retains water. On its own, this serum probably won't be hydrating enough unless you have oily skin. For best results, layer it underneath a cream, oil and/or sunscreen, which will also help to keep the moisture locked in. 
  • Key ingredients: Coconut alkanes, glycerin, marula oil, pineapple extract, provitamin B5 (panthenol), hyaluronic acid.
  • Best for: All skin. However, be cautious with it if you are acne-prone, since both the coconut alkanes and the marula oil could lead to breakouts. (For the record, my skin is acne-prone and I do actually tolerate this product very well.)
  • Keep in mind: You can find hydrating serums with provitamin B5 from SkinCeuticals, Paula's Choice and First Aid Beauty, and since these formulas don't contain oils or alkanes, they are less likely to be comedogenic. If you do try this product, I recommend using it up within about six months, before the marula oil oxidizes.

Drunk Elephant Protini Powerpeptide Resurfacing Serum

Drunk Elephant Protini Powerpeptide Resurfacing Serum

Drunk Elephant Protini Powerpeptide Resurfacing Serum

  • Details: Drunk Elephant Protini Powerpeptide Resurfacing Serum is an acid-based exfoliating serum that is gentle enough to use day and night. It targets dead skin cells with a high concentration of lactic acid, a mild and hydrating AHA. Taking inspiration from the Protini Cream, there are also 11 peptides for additional plumping and firming benefits. This treatment is supposed to be used after cleansing and before moisturizer. 
  • Key ingredients: 10% lactic acid, glycerin, oils (squalane, marula, camellia seed, borage and rice bran), sodium PCA, peptides, hyaluronic acid, provitamin B5 (panthenol), amino acids.
  • Best for: All skin. But acne-prone skin may not tolerate this well, due to the multiple oils. 
  • Keep in mind: The peptides aren't comparable to retinoids in terms of anti-aging benefits, so you may prefer to invest in a separate retinol (such as A313 or Shani Darden Retinol Reform), and use this as an exfoliant only. By the way, Biossance has a similar 10% lactic acid serum, with a more minimalistic ingredients list and lower price point. If you do try this product, I recommend using it up within about six months, before the oils oxidize.

Drunk Elephant D-Bronzi Anti-Pollution Sunshine Drops

Drunk Elephant D-Bronzi Anti-Pollution Sunshine Drops

Drunk Elephant D-Bronzi Anti-Pollution Sunshine Drops

  • Details: Drunk Elephant D-Bronzi Anti-Pollution Sunshine Drops is a tinted serum that gives your skin an instant bronzed look while helping to protect it from free radicals. While it won't have any effect on your body's vitamin D levels (if it did, it would have to be regulated as a drug), it does contain a peptide that is said to mimic the antioxidant benefits of vitamin D. Since the colour is so concentrated, you're meant to mix just a drop or two into your favourite serum, cream or oil. (Don't add it to sunscreens, though, as it could dilute your level of protection.)
  • Key ingredients: Mica, glycerin, black currant seed oil, marula oil, cocoa extract, peptides.
  • Best for: All skin. (It is unlikely to trigger breakouts if used by the drop, as directed.)
  • Keep in mind: Fair, cool-toned skin will likely find the bronze tint too dark and too warm. Also be wary if you prefer a matte finish, as the mica gives it a subtle shimmer. Since it is not transfer-resistant, this serum is best worn with dark clothing. I would not rely on this product alone for antioxidant protection. Look for serums with stronger, more proven ingredients like L-ascorbic acid (in C-Firma and SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, for example). If you do try this product, I recommend using it up within about six months, before the oils oxidize.
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