Drunk Elephant skincare are young, iconic and active packed. Yet till 2018, 6 years after their 1st product launched, Drunk Elephant skincare or more specifically their founder Tiffany Masterson had an incredibly controversial view on retinol. Controversial because Drunk Elephant are a cosmeceutical skincare brand i.e. they make skincare with active ingredients which work, in concentrations which give them the best bet at working. Pretty great ‘eh.
Yet Drunk Elephant were missing out on the most talked about active ingredient that has ever existed in skincare – retinol.
Retinol/vitamin A – the clinical prescription for acne.
The gold-standard in a dermatologists armoury.
The most well-proven anti-ageing active you can buy.
Yet Drunk Elephant put retinol on their nasties list. And they went as far to say…
Retinyl palmitate and Retinol (Vitamin A) : a nutrient that may damage DNA and speed the growth of skin tumors when used topically.Drunk Elephant 2013 to at least 2015
Yikes! Scary sounding ‘eh.
But now Drunk Elephant believe differently.
At the end of 2018 Drunk Elephant officially announced;
When I first launched Drunk Elephant, I put retinol (vitamin A) on my “no” list. Like many, I was confused and scared by the ingredient. I thought that retinol exfoliated skin. It doesn’t. I thought you couldn’t mix it with AHAs. You can. I now know it’s a powerhouse of an antioxidant that teaches skin cells to act younger… and I can’t imagine my line without it.Tiffany Masterson, Drunk Elephant, 2018
Feel reassured? Don’t worry dear skin savvy you are not alone. Drunk Elephant’s 2018 statement on retinol does not give reason to their original statement i.e. retinol may cause DNA damage and skin tumours. Instead Drunk Elephant mention exfoliation and what ingredients you could mix retinol with. Be sure to keep reading for my take on this (!)
This brings questions. Is Drunk Elephant’s retinol cream the real deal? Is Drunk Elephant’s retinol safe to use? Is Drunk Elephant’s retinol really #aLoverNotAFighter? Can it be used if other retinol creams gave you breakouts or redness? How can a skincare brand claim an ingredient is toxic then decide it’s fantastic? Find out all in today’s Drunk Elephant retinol review. You’ve got the questions. I’ve got the answers…
Drunk Elephant & Retinol
They said it could damage your DNA. Now they say use it. Confused? Me too.
Here’s the deal: Retinol is a controversial skincare ingredient.
…and it’s controversial pretty much because 1 small scale study concluded put retinol on mice skin and it speeds up skin tumour growth.
Psst! If you love retinol and find it safe for your skin – be free to skip this bit and move straight to the Drunk Elephant retinol review below.
I’ll summarise the findings of this study (link to the 2012 review of it) which says this;
Psst! You’re super likely to find a few things which make you go huh!?
- Applying a 0% retinoic acid cream to mice skin can increase the rate of skin lesions and skin tumours – even without exposure to UV light. Note: VERY small sample size.
- Applying a cream with retinoic acid to female mice without UV light had no impact on skin lesions (these don’t have to be carcinogenic)
- Applying a cream with 0% retinoic acid to mice skin, then shining UV light on that skin can cause an increase in tumours – what’s in this control cream ‘eh – or is it just that these mice are crazily vulnerable to skin tumours? Using this control cream also in some cases decreased the mean estimated survival time for these mice.
- The average of all results shows using a retinoic acid or retinyl palmitate cream on these mice has no effect on incidence of lesions and has no effect on when skin lesions would happen i.e. mice won’t get them sooner than they would have done anyhow. However using either of these creams did increase the multiplicity of skin lesions i.e. once a mouse had a skin lesion, the number they’d go on to develop.
- The study’s overall conclusion: The control cream can cause earlier onset of a skin lesion plus a higher incidence and multiplicity of skin lesions. Retinoic acid can further enhance this on exposure to UV light. Retinyl palmitate can too.
Overall my skin savvy this study is not well regarded. In fact this 2012 review included expert statements from 11 respected scientists/doctors and researchers. Statements like;
- He questioned the reasons listed for removing animals from the study, suggesting they may have skewed the results, leading to incorrect statistical analysis of outcomes.
- He said the effects of retinyl palmitate independent from those of the control cream could not be estimated, and the control cream itself was “a potent carcinogen” and that this was an “inadequate study of carcinogenic activity.”
- He felt that the control cream should have had no effect on the latency, incidence, or multiplicity of skin lesions.
- He was concerned that the animals scratching them-selves as a result of irritation from high doses of retinoids could be a carcinogenic stimulus.
- He thought that the conclusion of photocarcinogenicity for retinoic acid was not sufficiently supported by the data. The other primary reviewers all concurred.
- She said that the control cream was not irritating, and that no episodes of scratching were seen in the control cream-only group; scratching was seen only with the higher doses of retinoic acid and retinyl palmitate… it would not be possible to discern whether the lesions were due to effects of radiation or because the skin was compromised.
Here’s more to consider;
- This study does not show that vitamin A causes cancer. What this study concludes is that when applied to skin vitamin A might increase the already known about carcinogenic effects of UV light.
- Vitamin A is now being found to help prevent cancer when taken orally. Look-ee here, Cancer Research UK even list it.
- Mice skin is not the same as human skin.
- The cream alone was shown to be carcinogenic so really this was a study of vitamin A in a carcinogenic cream (to mice) not whether vitamin A itself would speed skin tumour growth in a cream which didn’t.
- Your body needs vitamin A.
- If you’re serious about skincare, you should be using sunscreen aka UV protection 365 days a year.
Drunk Elephant & Retinol: That Statement
As many of you reading this already know – I’m a scientist. Most people think of science as black or white. It works or it doesn’t. It’s good for you or its not. Thing is, science can be like fashion – it changes. Eventually you have a staple black skirt, a go-to white shirt, a go with anything, great butt hug pair of jeans. But other pieces – well they come and go.
Science can be exactly like this.
First someone starts with an educated guess. They test it and boom – it works. They test it a bit more and wow – it looks like proof.
Now this someone has a hypothesis. Do X and it looks like you get to Y.
The more and more this hypothesis gets tested, the more and more proof you have. Aka the more you know a black pencil skirt plus a crisp white shirt is chic as can be. Once you’ve got a sizeable amount of evidence – taadaa! your hypothesis turns to theory.
Trouble is this. Some people jump on very small scale study conclusions at step #1 – that just born hypothesis.
…and it can turn into something which looks incredibly real and scary aka you hear statements like retinol can cause DNA mutation. Yikes! And when words like these come from a source you respect – they hit your heart. You tell someones, they tell someone else – and before you know it – everyone’s a believer.
A view now exists which is going to be really, really hard to change… because without smoke there’s no fire right?
Here’s my take on Tiffany Masterson’s statement.
Tiffany started Drunk Elephant as a marketeer. Someone offered her the opportunity to sell Drunk Elephant’s original product – the cleanser bar – and as a stay at home mum with 4 children flying the nest – she jumped. In the beginnings Tiffany did not have an established background in science. She probably did not have access to peer-reviewed scientific journals. She was not a cosmetic formulator. She therefore was not realistically in a position to decide if retinol was good or if retinol was bad.
Ever got on a plane to think – jeez I have no idea who the heck this pilot is. I am literally placing my life in the hands of someone I have never met.
Crazy ‘eh. But thing is on a plane you know there’s a HUGE amount of checks and balances. Someone else has vetted that person for you.
But when it comes to setting up a skincare company – you don’t have to be a dermatologist, you don’t have to be a scientist, you don’t even have to work in skincare. You could one day be a chocolate maker and the next day be a skincare maker.
Which means sometimes new skincare brands make strange decisions.
But right at this very moment you can bet your bottom dollar Tiffany Masterson knows a heck load more about skincare. She is now in a much better place to make decisions on retinol.
Others might decide to stick with their original opinion no matter what. We all know one of those ‘eh. Tiffany Masterson hasn’t. Instead Tiffany’s held her hands up and said hey – I didn’t get it right. For this reason I personally applaud Tiffany for changing her view so publicly. That takes guts.
Next – I would love to see Tiffany detail why her original statement was wrong. The current quote you see at the top of this page does not. Come on Drunk Elephant – give us the inside scoop.
Drunk Elephant Retinol Review
…and we’re here! To the Drunk Elephant retinol review or more specifically Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream. Don’t you just love Drunk Elephant branding. Bye-bye boring skincare, hello Passioni (!).
Drunk Elephant’s new retinol cream is a 1% retinol formula.
This is pure vegan retinol aka it is not;
It is not retinyl palmitate.
It is not a mixture.
Drunk Elephants retinol cream is 1% as 100% retinol.
The kind of retinol which can sometimes give side effects aka flaky skin, dryness, redness, sensitivity and irritation.
But Drunk Elephant claim no (!)
No our A-Passioni Retinol Cream will not cause you redness.
No our A-Passioni Retinol Cream will not cause you breakouts.
No our A-Passioni Retinol Cream will not make your skin more sensitive.
— Cheryl Woodman (@HonestyForSkin) 15 January 2019
Note: Drunk Elephant retinol cream is 1%, this is a hefty dose – if you’ve never before used retinol – this may not be the one for you.
Psst; if you’ve decided Drunk Elephant retinol cream’s a no-go for you, grab yourself a free copy of my 5 Best Anti-Ageing Actives Cheat sheet. It’s going to clue you up on THE best anti-ageing actives in existence. AKA what to look for instead of retinol. These guys are science proven. Download your free copy here.
Drunk Elephant Retinol Ingredients List
While new kids on the block aka granactive retinoids claim the exact same anti-ageing benefits as retinol but without the sensitivity, they’re very much less well proven.
The good stuff! Drunk Elephant also team their retinol with a whole party of extra anti-ageing lovers;
- Niacinamide – this helps your skin make ceramides aka it will help counteract retinol dryness – it’s also high up, well-above retinol, so we know there’s much more than 1% of this.
- Peptides (Palmitoyl Tripeptide-1, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7 (< those 2 together are also known as Matrixyl 3000), Palmitoyl Hexapeptide-12) – anti-ageing peptides.
- Vitamin C as Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate – boosts collagen production, helps even skin tone.
- Xanthophylls – potent plant antioxidant.
Great news! Drunk Elephant’s new retinol cream has a tube full of anti-ageing actives. It’s particularly great A-Passioni includes niacinamide. This guy’s definitely a lover not a hater. In fact Drunk Elephant’s new retinol cream contains a monster hug load of anti-retinol-side-effect ingredients;
- Linoleic Acid and Linolenic Acid – a combo which back in the day was known as vitamin F – essential fatty acids your skin needs to stop it from becoming dry and irritated – if you’re deprived of these in diet your skin will not love you.
- Ceramide NP – your top layers of skin contain 3 things to help stop redness, sensitivity, dryness and more – fatty acids, ceramides and cholesterol – A-Passioni retinol cream helps top them back up.
- A peptide called Palmitoyl Hexapeptide-12 – it’s anti-ageing but it’s also skin barrier strengthening – psst! If your skin’s red, sensitive and dry – your skin barrier needs help quick.
- Phytosphingosine – helps restore your skin barrier plus helps get rid of redness.
- Lots of fatty acid rich oils (apricot, jojoba, avocado, soybean) – aka ingredients which help condition your skin aka stop it from getting dry and irritated.
Before Drunk Elephant’s new retinol cream launched all Drunk Elephant skincare came in a plastic pump. A-Passioni does not. Instead Drunk Elephant retinol cream comes inside a snazzy metallic tube. Why? Because retinol hates light and air. Both make retinol go-off. Use a retinol cream that’s gone off and you will not get its anti-ageing benefits. Phew – so long as you keep your Drunk Elephant retinol cream’s lid on – you’re good!
Bottom line: Drunk Elephants A-Passioni retinol cream is very fab. There’s a ton of well-proven anti-ageing love plus a ton of reasons why DE retinol cream may not irritate your skin if other retinoids have.
Drunk Elephant Retinol Review Need-to-Know Extras;
Like how to use it, when to use it and if you should use it!
Drunk Elephant have stated some how to use Drunk Elephant Retinol rules on their site. They are;
- Use it AM &/ PM
- Mix it with AHAs
- Use it at any age
Drunk Elephant go on to claim;
MYTH 1; Retinol can only be used at night.Drunk Elephant, Jan 2019
In my opinion – plus with some science supported extras I would not agree;
- In the cosmetic ingredient reviews, review of retinol in 2012 – “Retinol oxidizes readily and is inactivated by ultraviolet light” – which means use it in AM and light could make your retinol go off before it’s absorbed deeply into your skin.
MYTH 2; I’m too young to use retinol.Drunk Elephant, Jan 2019
In my opinion – I would not agree;
- I would not recommend retinol for young skin (the exception may be if you have acne!) – when you’re very young your skin barrier’s still developing aka retinol could cause significant irritation plus – if your skin doesn’t need retinol aka you’re so young you’re anti-aged already – your skin’s 99% likely to already have enough of its own. Why use something you don’t need? Marketing ‘eh *winks*.
MYTH 4; You can’t use retinol with alpha hydroxy acid exfoliants.Drunk Elephant, Jan 2019
In my opinion – plus with some science supported extras I would not agree;
- In a 2016 review by the scientific committee on consumer safety – “Retinol is unstable to acids” – which means use it in the same routine as AHAs and you could cause retinol to go-off/aka your retinol reacts with the acids and could therefore be less effective.
- Retinol is most stable at a pH a little higher than skin (around pH 5 to 6). AHAs like for example glycolic acid need to be below pH 3.6. They don’t match.
Drunk Elephant retinol review bottom line: The new Drunk Elephant Retinol is a fab formula. The new Drunk Elephant advice on how to use and mix retinol – take it with a pinch of salt.
There you have it my friend – your full Drunk Elephant Retinol review. What do you think about their retinol 360? Have more questions before buying yours? Leave them for me in the chat below…
Cheryl Woodman is a scientist & award winning skincare formulator who’s more friend next door than bow tie wearing professor. As creator of Honesty For Your Skin her aim is to help you care for your skin in the best ways possible. She’s founder of the natural & fragrance free skincare brand Honesty while also hosting 1 to 1 skincare coaching to help you get your best skin yet. Find out more here.