Drunk Elephant’s T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial shot up to the best-selling skin-care product on sephora.com within a week of its launch on Jan. 10. In October, a spokeswoman for Sephora confirmed that Drunk Elephant is one of the fastest-growing skin-care companies in the history of the retailer’s business, and an industry source said it was Sephora’s top-growing skin-care brand last year. At press time, the T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial was the number-one skin-care stockkeeping unit year-to-date on sephora.com and the sixth best-selling product overall on sephora.com (the product enters Sephora stores Feb. 4).
This is impressive for a two-and-a-half-year-old brand that has yet to become a household name. But it won’t be flying under the radar for long.
Drunk Elephant is the most buzzed-about brand to infiltrate the beauty world since It Cosmetics, NYX, Becca Cosmetics and Urban Decay. Private equity firms and beauty giants have been vying to get their hands on it, with rumors swirling late last year that the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. had strong interest in acquiring the brand. Tiffany Masterson, founder of Drunk Elephant, said in late 2016 that she’s been in talks with private equity and strategic partners, but a deal has yet to be made.
“The brand is not being acquired at this point. I’m not done raising the brand. I need more time,” said Houston-based Masterson in an interview when she was in New York this month to launch the T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial, the brand’s 11th product, and its first mask.
The quick-talking mother of four started the company with a $300,000 investment from her brother-in-law in 2012, and brought on a few small investors between 2014 and now, but has yet to raise a significant amount of capital. In addition to Drunkelephant.com, the range is sold in all of Sephora’s 360 U.S. doors and on sephora.com. This year, the brand will roll out to retailers in the U.K., Mexico, Southeast Asia, Canada and parts of Europe. Her products, packaged in white, airless pumps with brightly colored twist caps, retail from $18 to $90.
Masterson said she never expected to be an entrepreneur. After graduating from the University of Texas, she settled down and had four children, who are now between the ages of 11 and 16. When her youngest was two, she started selling a bar skin cleanser for a few years to earn some extra money, and this taught her about ingredients and skin — and was the starting point for her own line.
“I had found that there were certain ingredients that my skin didn’t like and I couldn’t find any lines out there that didn’t contain at least one of them, if not all,” she recalled.
She hired a chemist to help execute the product based on these parameters. Once she had the formula, she wrote to Sephora, eventually got an audience and the retailer picked up the line.
The name is based on the myth that elephants eat fermented marula fruit and become drunk. “Marula represents the first moisturizer in my line and is threaded throughout, so I called it Drunk Elephant,” she said.
Masterson said she views Drunk Elephant as a new category of skin care: clean clinical. She combines a host of natural ingredients and “really good” synthetics that are high in antioxidants to create products that are “clean” and yield results. She has a strong stance on not using certain ingredients, rattling off a list of six materials that will never be found in any of her products, including essential oils. While a key ingredient for many brands trying to adhere to an “all natural” classification, essential oils could cause skin sensitivity, irritation and inflammation, she explained. Other ingredients she steers clear of are silicones, fragrance, chemical sunscreen, drying alcohol and SLS, or sodium laurel sulfate.
“It’s a preventive approach, not a treatment approach. I’m not using ingredients that are going to get rid of your acne. I’m thinking of it backward; I’m going to ask you to stop using the ingredients that created it to begin with, and then you use my products to prevent it from happening again,” she offered.
When she unveiled the T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial at matcha bar Cha Cha Matcha on Broome Street in NoLIta, she discussed its benefits and how it materialized. “The few times in my life that I’ve gone to get a facial, I’ve asked for the enzyme peel…but I would always break out the next week. I wanted to [develop] one that I could use at home, get the same feeling, but not break out,” Masterson said.
The Babyfacial contains fruit enzymes from pomegranate to pumpkin and is packed with “lots of different acids” — namely a 25 percent strength alphahydroxy blend largely made of glycolic acid. Masterson, who often looks to food and wellness industries for inspiration, put garbanzo bean flower into the mask to give it the feel of a clay mask but without the drying effect. She said she also selected garbanzo beans for the formula because of their cleansing effect, noting that they’ve been used for centuries by brides in India to cleanse and brighten the skin before they get married.
Masterson said two more products will launch this year — a tinted product and a cleanser — and she’s already formulated the six products with her chemist that she plans to introduce next year.