Why is Drunk Elephant controversial?

Drunk Elephant is a relatively new skincare brand that has quickly gained popularity and a loyal following. However, the brand has also garnered some controversy in recent years. Drunk Elephant markets itself as using clean, non-toxic ingredients and abstaining from what they deem the “Suspicious 6” – essential oils, drying alcohols, silicones, chemical screens, fragrance/dyes, and SLS. While many consumers have applauded this approach, others argue that Drunk Elephant villainizes certain ingredients unfairly. Additionally, the high price point of Drunk Elephant products has led to accusations of the brand pushing “cleanwashing” and pseudoscience. This article will explore the key controversies surrounding Drunk Elephant and examine both sides of the debate.

Drunk Elephant’s “Suspicious 6” Stance

One of the core philosophies of Drunk Elephant is avoiding ingredients they deem harmful such as essential oils, drying alcohols, silicones, chemical sunscreens, fragrances/dyes, and SLS. According to the brand, these ingredients can cause irritation, imbalance the skin’s pH, disrupt the acid mantle, or trigger sensitivity. Drunk Elephant formulates all their products without these ingredients, marketing themselves as a “clean clinical” brand.

Many consumers appreciate this stance, as “clean beauty” has risen in popularity. Shoppers want more transparency about product ingredients and have concerns over chemicals in beauty products. Champions of Drunk Elephant praise the brand’s commitment to avoiding harsh ingredients that could potentially trigger reactions. Even dermatologists have lauded Drunk Elephant’s formulas as suitable for sensitive skin.

However, some ingredients on their “Suspicious 6” have sparked debate in the skincare community. Drunk Elephant vilifies several commonly used ingredients, arguing that they provide no benefits and only harm. But some experts counter that several of these ingredients, in moderation, are perfectly safe for most people. Silicones, for example, help products glide smoothly onto the skin and occlusives like dimethicone can aid hydration. Not all alcohols are drying – fatty alcohols can moisturize. And chemical sunscreen filters provide superior broad-spectrum protection compared to mineral options.

Critics argue that Drunk Elephant relies on scare tactics and misinformation to market their products. Demonizing very commonly used ingredients promotes an unnecessary fear. While their formulas may work for some, they aren’t inherently better or safer than products containing some of the “Suspicious 6”. It depends on your own skin sensitivities.

Accusations of Pseudoscience

In formulating their products, Drunk Elephant also claims to take inspiration from biocompatibility, an unproven concept lacking scientific evidence. Biocompatibility refers to how well ingredients supposedly interact with skin.

Drunk Elephant believes that modern products overload the skin with ingredients it cannot process properly, disrupting the acid mantle and moisture barrier. Thus, they aim to only use biocompatible ingredients that work synergistically with skin. These include many botanical extracts and oils.

However, experts argue there is no research to support biocompatibility. Dermatologists view it as a “pseudoscientific” concept that makes big promises but lacks data to back it up. There is no consensus on which ingredients are truly biocompatible. It is simply a theory Drunk Elephant uses as a marketing strategy.

Playing into pseudoscience fears is a trend in the natural skincare space. But focusing too much on buzzwords like biocompatibility or “clean” ingredients distracts from proven methods that actually help skin—like wearing sunscreen daily. Overall, dermatologists urge consumers to take marketing claims with a grain of salt and look for products backed by robust research.

High Price Point

Drunk Elephant products come at a significantly higher price point than conventional skincare. Their serums retail for $72 or more, moisturizers over $60, and sets up to $390. Even bar soaps cost $22.

Drunk Elephant justifies their pricing by using high concentrations of active ingredients and quality natural extracts. They avoid cheaper synthetic filler ingredients. The brand also argues that consumers end up saving money by replacing multiple products with just a few Drunk Elephant options.

However, many balk at spending so much on skincare. The formulations do not appear more complex or labor intensive than cheaper alternatives. Given the simple ingredients lists lacking illegal or unethical ingredients, consumers question what exactly they are paying for.

Some critics believe they mostly end up paying for sleek packaging and marketing. Drunk Elephant is able to push a higher price point by tapping into consumer fears like “cleanwashing”. By vilifying common ingredients as toxic or harmful, the brand creates a false sense that their products are radically different and thus worth their high price.

In reality, both natural and conventional products can be equally safe and effective. But Drunk Elephant capitalizes on clean beauty trends to drive sales of their expensive formulations. This understandably breeds some skepticism and backlash among consumers.

Issues With Drunk Elephant Reviews

One reason Drunk Elephant has drawn suspicion is odd patterns with reviews of their products. The brand enjoys shining reviews across online platforms like Sephora, Ulta, and Influenster. Their products average around 4.3 out of 5 stars, with most rating them 5 stars.

However, more objective third party platforms tell a different story. MakeupAlley, for example, is a beauty review site known for blunt, honest feedback from real buyers not afraid to highlight flaws. Across the board, Drunk Elephant averages around 3.5 stars – much lower than elsewhere.

MakeupAlley reviews point out issues like oxidation, separation, formula thickness, packaging failures, and breakouts. More critical reviews argue the products are overpriced and overhyped. However, such criticism rarely makes it onto a brand’s own website or retail partners.

This pattern highlights how most online reviews skew extremely positive, lacking objectivity. Brands like Drunk Elephant with savvy marketing and SEO can drowned out critical feedback with their own biased platforms and affiliates. Consumers seeking honest opinions are better off looking to third-parties.

Nonetheless, the contrast makes brands like Drunk Elephant seem potentially fishy. Why do negatives rarely surface on their own channels? The uniformly glowing reviews elsewhere come off as less than genuine to some.

Confusion Over How to Use the Products

Another complaint about Drunk Elephant is confusion over how to use the different products together. The brand markets their line as effective as a whole system. However, they offer limited guidance on how to combine the products.

For example, Drunk Elephant has at least 4 different cleanser options alone. There is no clear direction though on which cleanser pairs best with which serums and moisturizers. The ingredients lists do not obviously indicate how the formulas will interact.

This leaves many users unsure if they are even using the products correctly. Some combinations lead to pilling, irritation, breakouts, or reduced efficacy. Without more specific usage guidelines, consumers are left guessing and experimenting on their own.

Of course, some trial and error is expected with any skincare line. But Drunk Elephant’svery general advice fails to capitalize on selling a comprehensive system. Users expect more guidance when investing significant money into multiple linked products.

The confusion also stems from how Drunk Elephant frames their products as incredibly innovative and complex. This implies a level of science and research behind the scenes. Yet they do not share details to help users best harness that innovation. Usage instructions remain constrained to general platitudes that could apply to any brand.

Accusations of Excluding Negative Reviews

Drunk Elephant has faced multiple accusations that they filter out or delete critical reviews on their own channels. Various users on Reddit and YouTube have shared experiences where they left genuinely negative reviews only to have them mysteriously disappear.

Some noticed that their reviews were posted initially only to vanish within a day or two. Others never saw their critique show up at all. Negative feedback shared on Drunk Elephant’s social media or Amazon also tended to get deleted quickly.

While Drunk Elephant has not openly admitted to screening reviews, their platforms do tend to exclude criticisms. The reviews shown are overwhelmingly glowing, even on the brand’s own website. Yet reviewers report more balanced feedback on third-party sites.

Selectively publishing feedback violates consumer trust and transparency. Review manipulation also calls into question other shady practices potentially occurring. While impossible to verify completely, the anecdotes and patterns are concerning for a brand marketing themselves as ethical.

Lawsuits Over Marketing Claims

Drunk Elephant has faced two lawsuits in recent years contesting the veracity of their marketing statements. Class action lawsuits were filed in California and New York arguing the brand makes false or misleading claims about their products.

The lawsuits pointed to Drunk Elephant’s assertions that their formulas are non-toxic, biocompatible, gentle enough for sensitive skin, ethically sourced, and clinically effective. Plaintiffs argued these marketing claims are exaggerated, unsubstantiated, or outright fabrications.

Brands that make misleading statements open themselves up to legal action. While the suits were still pending at the time of this writing, their existence speaks to larger concerns that Drunk Elephant misleads consumers.

Lawsuits also disrupt and cast doubt on a brand’s image. Even if Drunk Elephant is cleared of wrongdoing, the accusations themselves harm consumer trust. It raises suspicions that the marketing strategy relies on deceptive hooks vs factual information.

Criticisms of Founder Tiffany Masterson

Some backlash against Drunk Elephant also comes down to criticism of founder Tiffany Masterson herself. As the face of the brand, her questionable actions or statements cause controversy by association.

For example, Masterson has faced scrutiny for promoting conspiracy theories about sunscreen on social media. She implied chemical SPF filters are toxic and absorption causes harm. Spreading misinformation about sunscreen safety could jeopardize public health if taken seriously.

Masterson has also made comments that alienate consumers with different budgets or needs. She suggested people could afford Drunk Elephant products simply by cutting out unnecessary spending on things like coffee. This insulted many who view skincare as a necessity, not a frivolous luxury.

The founder additionally relies heavily on chronicling her own great results to market Drunk Elephant. But her complexion and resources are not relatable for most. Masterson herself has admitted she did not formulate the products nor holds an esthetics license. However, she still leverages her personal use to claim authority on ingredients and routines.

While Masterson surely believes in her company, Drunk Elephant depends on her image. So any missteps or controversies on her part likewise tarnish the brand’s reputation.


Drunk Elephant sits at an interesting intersection of clean beauty trends, passionate fans, and serious scrutiny. Their rise to popularity is undeniable. However, substantial controversies cast doubt on their ethos and formulations.

On one hand, Drunk Elephant appeals to consumers wary of chemicals and seeking gentle but effective products. Their commitment to avoiding harsh ingredients and using biocompatible formulas sets them apart. Drunk Elephant offers an alternative for those wanting to avoid conventional products with certain sensitivities.

Yet their villainizing of common ingredients as toxic crosses into fearmongering for some. Effective skincare need not be so complicated nor expensive. And unproven concepts like biocompatibility raise pseudoscience concerns. Their marketing makes inflated promises not backed by evidence.

While Drunk Elephant works wonderfully for some, that does not make it right for everyone. Their products may not live up to the steep price tag when scrutinized objectively. Consumers should remain cautious of lofty brand claims in general and do research to find what best suits their individual needs. Weighing potential pros and cons is key with a polarizing brand like Drunk Elephant.

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