I Tried $808 Worth Of Drunk Elephant Products — & This Is My Honest Opinion

Welcome to Unfiltered, where we give our honest, no-B.S. reviews of the most buzzed-about beauty products, brands, and services on the market right now.
There are upwards of 20 skin-care bottles on my dresser. I use some of them regularly, but the large majority are products I have used exactly once, exactly a year ago, but can’t bring myself to toss. I use some products before bed for no other reason than that they smell more like nighttime than daytime. One serum that made my face feel like a marble quickly became a twice-daily ritual, until a friend of mine who actually reads labels told me that it was counteracting the effectiveness of my sunscreen (as evidenced by the new freckles that had sprouted on my nose and cheeks).
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This is all to say that my approach to skin care is pretty stupid. I'm normally a skeptical person, but it is disturbingly easy to sway me with a well-lit Instagram or a gushy product review, even if the reviewer is 22 and fine lines are still a theoretical concept. My understanding of chemistry is literally skin deep, which means that I can tell you what AHA stands for (alpha hydroxy acid!), but I cannot tell you what it is exactly (An acid! For… your skin).
I am not proud of this, but I accept it — and I have a feeling that most skin-care obsessives are more like me than those who keep the Reddit /skincareaddiction tab open at work. When you fall within the lazy-but-eager category, every product seems as much like a trap as it does a salvation; because even if you buy a good product and put it on your face, science says you can still screw things up. Mix it with the wrong cream, use it in the wrong order or at the wrong time of day, and your skin will be destroyed. Buying the things is not enough! What's separating me from the Skin I Want (downy soft, smooth, and glowy) and the Skin I Have (easily inflamed and itchy, dull, dry) is my refusal in memorizing and executing these small rituals and incantations.
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That is why Drunk Elephant was a skin-care line that seemed tailor-made for me. Firstly, it’s got sex appeal: At Sephora, it makes up 50% of the top 10 skin-care best-sellers, and its giant colorful bottles are purposefully marketed towards bougie hoarders like me. The products are designed to mix with one another, be worn in any order, and are supposedly suited for every skin type because of the way the brand formulates its “clean” ingredients. But the company's main stipulation — its ultimate answer to my ultimate problem — is a severe one: Thou shalt only use Drunk Elephant products.

“A routine is only as good as its worst product, a product only as good as its worst ingredient,” Drunk Elephant founder Tiffany Masterson writes in her founder’s note, addressing a common criticism from its users that Drunk Elephant always blames other skin-care brands for breakouts. “Using Drunk Elephant exclusively is the best way to get maximum results.” The skeptic side of my brain knows that promoting brand purity is clearly a money-grubbing thing to say. But the woo-woo side of my brain says, SHHH SHE IS RIGHT BUY IT ALL.

But, there's one problem. Drunk Elephant is pretty pricey; its full-sized products range from $18 for a lip balm to $134 for a night serum. The entire line would cost $808, which is the self-indulgent reason I signed up to review the whole shebang for Refinery29's new Unfiltered beauty series. I packed up all my existing skin-care products (except for a tube of prescription eczema medication in case of flare-ups, of which there were many — we’ll get to that later), lined up the Drunk Elephant bottles on my dresser, and embarked on a one-month, 16-product journey to getting the Skin I Want.

There are dozens of very helpful reviews on the Internet written by and for beauty experts who understand chemical jargon. But let’s be honest: Drunk Elephant’s main appeal is for those of us who didn’t do the reading for class. This review is for us.
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Juju Bar

One element that justifies Drunk Elephant’s high prices is its focus on packaging. So imagine my horror that the first product I unwrapped came in soap-bar form, arguably the least modern, least chic, least hygienic way that my prejudiced brain can conceive of skin care.

But Masterson maintains that the Juju bar is not a soap. It does not lather, leave behind a film, or make your face feel dry or tight. In fact, using the bar was a slick and oily experience. (The first few times I used it, I expected a “squeaky clean” finish, and washed my face for waaay too long.) Tiny grains of bamboo powder provided mild exfoliation, but it wasn’t harsh. I genuinely liked using it every morning.

But the fact that this bar is $28 and does NOT come with a soap dish is perverse. Drunk Elephant sells a nobbed dish that perfectly fits a single bar for $24 (which, hahahaha I cry). But if you have both bars, you’d need to get two. That just the dishes alone would cost $48 is already cringeworthy, but the more embarrassing scam here is that you’d be forced to become that person with two soap dishes by the sink that hold two cleansing bars, neither of which are for your hands, and that’s something you’d have to explain to every guest who uses your bathroom.
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B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Gel

For a product line so dense, Drunk Elephant is surprisingly short on moisturizing serums and essences, which normally constitute most of my routine, but the one they have is great. The B-Hyra is completely clear and completely odorless despite being chock-full of what sounds like smoothie ingredients, including lentil/apple/watermelon complex and pineapple ceramides. I used B-Hydra immediately after washing my face, and as a mixing agent to temper Elephant’s gnarlier products, like its glycolic serums and bronzing gel.

The serum dries quickly but leaves behind a slightly tacky film — as if my face was covered by the world’s thinnest Saran wrap. After time, it dries completely matte and loses that stickiness. It pulls its weight, but it’s unequivocally the least sexy thing in the lineup. If this gel was a Queer Eye cast member, it’d be Bobby: Always doing the most, but his humbleness means he doesn’t ever get a novelty smashcut created around his one-liners. It’s tragic how we’ve treated Bobby, honestly.
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C-Firma Day Serum

Just from casual googling, there seems to be a LOT of drama surrounding C-Firma — specifically about its amber color, which raised some reviewer’s well-penciled eyebrows. According to them, the color was an additive to hide how quickly Vitamin C oxidizes and loses its efficacy. As far as conspiracy theories go, this was a really boring one, but raised enough hackles that Drunk Elephant will now swap out mid-2000s-Lindsay-Lohan-colored C-Firmas for mid-2010s-Lindsay-Lohan ones.

The serum smells like candied campfire meats, which is not necessarily bad, but is surprising. Vitamin C is meant to brighten skin tone and even discoloration (which means it will make your face all one color!). And, in fact, it was GREAT at cleaning up the eczema scarring along my chin and forehead. But on inflamed skin, C-Firma made my raw, red spots much worse. Now, it seems like a “duh” moment — that I might not want to use a product that “dissolves unwanted surface skin cells” while my skin cells were already mad at me — but life is about learning. The road to salvation is paved with contact dermatitis.
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D-Bronzi Anti-Pollution Sunshine Serum

Before I go any deeper, one quick thing: What exactly is going on with Drunk Elephant's product names? The brand’s approach to naming seems to be random whimsy with a touch of Duolingo. B-Hydra contains Vitamin B5, but it also sounds exactly like what a Pixar version of an Italian would name something. As for C-Firma and D-Bronzi? "Buddy, you wanna see yourself with firma skin? D-Bronzi? No, youz da bronziest!"

Anyway, after a very stern warning not to use this product alone (or risk a tanning disaster of Ross Geller proportions), I mixed it with B-Hydra, which essentially turned it into a tinted moisturizer. For my complexion, it created that rich-bitch sort of glow that’s always eluded me. That alone was worth $36.
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C-Tango Multivitamin Eye Cream

According to Drunk Elephant, the “tango” part of this refers to the “dance of potent antioxidants, replenishing ceramides, plant oils, and soothing actives.” Personally, I think it was because tango sort of sounds like mango, which is roughly the pinkish-orange color of the cap.

Despite a host of other skin issues, I do not have dark undereye circles (do not @ me), so the main benefit of this eye cream was lost on me. However, unlike most eye creams that are so heavy that they render eyeliner completely useless, this one dried quickly. Brushing on eyeshadow became a luxurious process, but... is that enough to justify $64? Ehh — not really? Then again, I’m annoying for not having undereye bags, and you’d be wise to not listen to anything I have to say regarding eye creams.
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Lala Retro Whipped Cream

The consistency of this product is much closer to whipped cream cheese than whipped cream (though I understand why putting “cheese” in the name of a skin-care product is probably not a smart move). It’s thick, and the pump tub feels like an old-world invention from the time when ladies would smear their faces with cold cream and then yell at their husbands.

It’s also deeply moisturizing (thanks to its “six rare African oils”) — so much so that I was surprised when I checked back in the mirror five minutes after I applied it and saw that it had dried to a completely matte finish. Though my face felt drenched, it didn’t look slick, which provided me with a hell of a cognitive dissonance moment. Most moisturizers last me only a few hours until I have to reach for one of the facial sprays I keep at my desk. But Lala lasted until evening.
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Umbra Sheer Physical Daily Defense SPF 30

I hate sunscreens. I hate wearing them, I hate buying them, I hate traveling with them, I hate feeling and seeing them on my skin. And while I know they've got a big and noble utility, my reptile brain has a hard time understanding that the only way you know they work is that... you don’t end up sunburned or with cancer decades down the road. I mean, I get it. But I...don’t get it.

This sunscreen is the platonic ideal of sunscreen. It is thick but not icing-thick, takes awhile to rub in, dries white-ish, and I did not get sunburned. So, it worked! But it was no fun at all. The best part about this sunscreen is that I was forced to look up what “umbra” meant, and it means the shadowed area that is cast by light being blocked by another object. To use it in a sentence: The umbra region of Connie’s face was provided by Umbra, a sunblock she did not like using very much, but liked more than other sunscreens.
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Umbra Tinte Physical Daily Defense SPF 30

This sunscreen is basically the same exact thing, but has two additional dollars worth of “tinte” that is the exact color of my skin (skine?). For those with a darker or lighter skin tones, I imagine that this would present an issue. But for those of you with Connie Wang-colored flesh, this is a great option for a daily sunscreen.
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Lippe Balm

Roughly the size and shape of a half-eaten tube of Lifesavers, this lip balm covers both my lips in one swipe. It is completely scentless and clear, but has a bit of an oily sheen, which means swiping it on without mercy will still make you look like you just finished a glazed donut. I found it to be slightly drying, which I was not surprised by. I have a feeling that all lip balms — even luxury ones for your lippes — lock you in a vicious cycle of dryness and moisture that is impossible to break out of. But, if you are in that cycle, hello, hi, isn’t it fun down here?
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Beste No. 9 Jelly Cleanser

Of all the confounding names in the Drunk Elephant universe, Beste No. 9 Jelly Cleanser take the cake. It is true that the consistency is slightly jelly-ish, but for something to be both “beste” and ranked ninth seems confusing. And as far as I can tell, the “9” seems to refer to one of the omega acids, though I’m not sure if I admire Drunk Elephant more or less for ignoring the fact that this cleanser also contains omega 6. That’s omegas 6 and 9. (Sorry – it is not my best joke, but it is my beste one.)

As someone who mostly relies on wipes to take off my makeup instead of physically washing my face, I was skeptical about how much work it’d take. But, this cleanser really does melt off my waterproof eye makeup without much friction at all. It doesn’t sting my eyes or feel drying afterward. Plus, the sheer amount of waste I’ve avoided from using this instead of disposable wipes is reason enough to switch.
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Pekee Bar

In Swahili, the word “pekee” means unique (can you tell that I’m obsessed with Drunk Elephant product names??). It’s described as a cleansing bar that’s “in a league of its own.” I used this immediately following the Jelly Cleanser, and it gave me the sensation of being really, really clean, but not raw (like the Juju bar, it’s a goopy experience that should be enjoyed, not fought). Best of all, my skin felt both softer and tighter, like if someone expanded my skull by 3% but my head skin stayed the same surface area. I know that sounds like a horror movie, but trust me when I say that it felt like a dream.
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T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum

I was excited to try the night serum despite its name, which genuinely sounds like something you offer during the desperate last two minutes of a brainstorm, and immediately regret saying out loud. My usual night-time serums rely on a low percentage of retinals, and I love the feeling of waking up with skin that feels poreless. This was my first time using as potent a mix of AHA/BHA (Drunk Elephant’s is 12%, while most others on the market are between 2 and 10%).

The first day, I was healing from an eczema flare-up, but the spots had progressed to the point where they were no longer itchy, just dry. Immediately upon application, my skin started tingling in the bad way, and I woke up to a face full of dime-sized red splotches. The next time, I pumped out a quarter of what I had previously used, but again, woke up to a Kusama painting on my face. After laying off the stuff for a week and half, I reintroduced it for one evening, only to discover a field of miniature burning zits the next day. Part of me was proud of my own face for rejecting the most expensive product in the lineup. The other part of me was mad that I had to break out the concealer.
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Protini Polypeptide Cream

I am told that peptides are big right now. I don’t exactly know what peptides are, but this peptide cream is a godsend. It’s got a similar consistency to the Lala Retro Whipped Cream, but is slightly waxier — like a more luxurious Lubriderm. It also dries in a way that leaves a slight sheen and glow, but isn’t wet-looking (a personal pet peeve of mine).

After 20 minutes, the cream left my skin feeling so plush, I couldn’t stop touching my own face. It was downy soft, like I had the cheeks of an infant, and best yet — it soothed my skin to the point that, for the first time in my adult life, my face felt no sensation. It wasn’t slightly itchy or slightly tight or slightly hot. It was gloriously, absolutely nothing, and that was the best feeling of all.
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Shaba Complex Eye Serum

What is the distinguishing factor that makes this an eye serum and the C-Tango an eye cream? I can’t tell you: Both are white gel-creams, both sink in quickly, and both bottles disperse the same amount. Either way, I have never met an eye cream or serum that has “worked” for me. I've met dozens that have left me battling fields of milia, or have blinded me while I was enjoying a cry before bed. Did the Shaba (meaning “young” in Arabic) eye serum do either? No. But I’m also not sure if it made my eyes any younger-looking, either. Again, I am bad at eye cream. You can have mine.
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T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial

Given how horrifying my experience with the T.L.C. (ha!) Framboos was, I almost didn’t even crack open the Sukari (named after a gold mine in Egypt). But after weeks of healing, my face was mostly blemish-free, and ready to be fucked up all over again. The thick, putty-like paste immediately started prickling as soon as I spread it across the more resilient parts of my face. I spent the next 10 minutes in a panic. Drunk Elephant recommends you keep it on for 20 minutes, but I didn’t want to tempt fate like that. I must have asked my husband, “Am I red? Did I turn red? How red am I?” every 30 seconds (his last response: “I love you, but I’m putting headphones on now”).

After washing it off, I immediately slathered my face in B-Hydra and Protini Cream, and waited for the worst. But, in the morning, my skin was clearer than ever, gleamed under my bathroom light, and felt unfathomably soft. It gave me enough confidence to believe that I might have built up an immunity to the T.L.C. line and should give Framboos another try... but you know what happened with that.
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Virgin Marula Luxury Facial Oil

Marula oil is found in nearly every single Drunk Elephant product. It is the centerpiece of the line, and the inspiration behind its name: A common safari legend goes that elephants love to eat fermented marula fruits and stumble around afterward like a bunch of lushes — but biologists say that's just a myth. It’s this kind of “African Fantasy” view of a very real and very complicated continent that permeates so much of Drunk Elephant’s language and branding. In an Into The Gloss interview, Masterson says that her marula oil is scent- and color-free: “That’s the way they use it in Africa, so that’s the way I’ll deliver it!”

That kind of purposefully obtuse tourist language feels bizarre to me, especially considering how strident Drunk Elephant is when it comes to the details about everything else. And Masterson herself has been very clear about how much lab work goes into extracting and processing the $72 oil. There’s nothing “natural” about it, which makes the “that’s the way they use it in Africa” statement so perplexing.

Indeed, the oil is luxurious. It’s a joy to use. It is neither sticky nor messy, and it sinks into the skin in a way that cheaper marula oils do not. But, as someone who’s loyal to the lightweightness and slightly glassy sheen of Biossance’s Squalane oil, I felt like Drunk Elephant’s marquee product was the most inessential, especially since it’s found in almost every other moisturizing product in its line.
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