Is Drunk Elephant a uniquely good skincare line, or...?
October 4, 2017 8:14 AM   Subscribe

Last week, the sample set of Drunk Elephant products arrived at my house and I have subsequently enjoyed the best skin week in recent memory. But I'm not rich, and the full-size versions of all six products would total $364. So are there good, similar-to-identical routines out there, or can I justify funneling my cosmetics budget into DE products?

What I love about it is the feeling of layering potent serums and moisturizer ("it's working!"), and of being told exactly what to do, in what order, without having to make many decisions. I like that DE products are free of parabens and fragrance, yet they incorporate sophisticated ingredients. For the first time in a while, I feel like a weekly mask treatment or other exfoliant, or toner, would be redundant. The soap, serums, and moisturizer/SPF are completely adequate on their own.

My skin and my goals: I'd like to appear like I get 8 hours of sleep every night. I'm in my early 30s and my main concern is keeping my pores small, avoiding redness (I have some mild rosacea on my cheeks), and not looking haggard and old (currently and with an eye toward preventative care). I'm super pale and I wear sunscreen daily.

Previously, I experimented here and there with the Clinique regimens, and with products by Paula's Choice, Dr. Jart, and other Birchbox/Sephora-type brands. They were just okay, and I was never sure that I was doing the right thing. Their quizzes and consultations about my skin type were mostly just confusing.

I want to avoid crafting a super custom regimen from different brands. I want to keep things simple. Can I justify spending big money on Drunk Elephant and forgoing other products? Or are there good dupes, and dupe routines, that are accessible to a lazy layperson?
posted by witchen to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (15 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I would finish the DE sample and assess from there. If you continue to have the best skin weeks ever, I would get the essentials but drop the Lala creme and maybe the oil because you can definitely do better for cheaper there. Have you looked at the Ordinary? They have lots of science-y oils for super cheap and that way you could keep the bulk of your routine DE but save quite a bit.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 8:26 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]

I think that The Ordinary might be a good avenue to explore - it's not quite as simple since they offer more products than DE and you'll have to identify the replacements, but the products themselves are similar in that they use good ingredients but are free of fragrance and other fillers (and I believe you could recreate all of DE from the Ordinary). The price point can't be beat, either - their Marula oil, for example, is $10 for 30ml instead of $72 for 30ml that DE charges!

If you want a truly thinking-free routine, though, it might be worth sticking with DE. Even if you find "dupes" for all your DE products from the ordinary, there's no guarantee the ordinary's products wouldn't break you out or cause other issues, just because skin is so variable and what works in one brand might have a tiny difference that causes problems in another.

You can always wait until the Sephora fall sale (usually in November) to buy the DE products at 15% off, if that lessens the blow a little.
posted by jouir at 8:28 AM on October 4 [13 favorites]

I had a similar emotional reaction to using this set from Laneige. Layering, products really seem to work, less redness. They're not super cheap, but absolutely less than DE. The only thing you would need to add is an SPF.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 8:34 AM on October 4

I expanded the ingredient list and was going to suggest searching for products with similar ingredient lists.

Searchable lists of cosmetic ingredients don't (AFAIK) currently exist in the form you would need, so I went over to Beautypedia to see what I could work out.

On searching for "Drunk Elephant" I find that the products are highly rated.

So at first glance, it seems like maybe you *can't* do better than this product line.

If it helps, I use Garnier salicylic acid wash (without microbeads) morning and night, Cetaphil twice with one final rinse to remove makeup and wash at night, Cetaphil moisturizer morning and night, Ocean Potion facial sunscreen SPF45 in the morning, and Differin at night. All that usually does me, but I have different skin from yours. It is a lot cheaper, though, so YMMV.
posted by tel3path at 8:40 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]

DE is kind of astonishingly good stuff -- no fragrance, as you note, and their products seem to work wonders. If it's working for you, I would stick with it. If you don't want to craft a crazy routine, I would actually avoid The Ordinary; I'm pretty advanced at skincare stuff for a long time now, and even I get nuts trying to figure out what's what in that line. (I also seem to be one of the few people who actively dislikes most of the products in that line; I've found that they make my skin sticky but do little else, and their Vitamin C product actually irritated my skin so badly I had to toss the stuff.)

I do agree with tatiana wishbone that you could probably forego the Lala cream; I've used it and I find it fine, but honestly, no better than CeraVe Moisturizing Cream.
posted by holborne at 8:40 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]

See how long your sample sizes last. You might be able to get by just buying miniatures/travel sizes for much less money at a go. I find skincare products seem to last a long time if they are just for the face.

The other thing you can do to diminish the pain of the costs is to stagger your replacements so that ultimately you aren't running out of and replacing all of this stuff at one time.

Can I justify spending big money on Drunk Elephant and forgoing other products?

It's your money and your skin. If this works for you, other stuff hasn't, and skincare is important to you... Yeah. Expensive skincare is often (not always, but often!) expensive because it's better. You can try to dupe products but there's no guarantee they'll work. In that vein, only substitute one product at a time, ideally for at least a couple weeks, to see how you react.
posted by windykites at 9:00 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]

Another vote for The Ordinary. No fragrances or parabens; just simple, effective formulas with a listed % of active ingredients and PH level. They'll help you make a personalized routine for your skin concerns if you contact them. Beautylish also has a helpful guide (though slightly out of date).
posted by givennamesurname at 9:09 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]

nthing The Ordinary. Though it can seem confusing as there is way more choice, they list recommended routines/products for different problems so I'd suggest just following those. They have a glycolic product, a Vitamin C product & Marula oil so you might like to give them a try. I am addicted to their 2% retinol.

Though for Vitamin C serum & Hyralonic acid I'd look to the Timeless brand as you get more for the same price and their Vitamin C serum is amazing & I just prefer the texture/price of the Hyralonic acid.

I'm not a big fan of DE, mostly because I find their product pricing ridiculous. The pricing of their facial oils in particular drive me crazy Maybe if it was a blend with added ingredients that only expensive products used but pure Virgin organic Marula oil costs $8 an oz from a US wholesaler direct to the public, I imagine it is way less if you're buying the in the quantities DE do. That is a steep mark up.
posted by wwax at 9:39 AM on October 4

The Ordinary has a regime guide that can help you work out which products would be good replacements.
posted by ellieBOA at 10:00 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]

You could also deep-dive into Asian skincare, specifically Korean skincare. Very effective, a fraction of the price. A good starting point is the Asian Beauty subreddit. They have lots of resources for beginners, tips on great products and where to buy them, etc.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 10:19 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]

Before you plunk down $360, you may want to try using the Drunk Elephant stuff for a full month or two, buying an additional sample set if necessary, because some people get great results when using something initially, then find the effects taper off. Or it may be great for you at first, or it may be great for you with the current weather, then turn into a disaster once the weather changes.

There's theoretically a consult service for Ordinary regime, but it looks like they don't have online scheduling availability now.

Alternatively, a well-known guide to face care with product links. The author is a big fan of the DE vitamin C serum, though she has a dupe for it.
posted by joyceanmachine at 11:23 AM on October 4 [6 favorites]

Another vote for The Ordinary here. I'm always looking for Cruelty free products, and the have a one year return policy!

Weird, that consult service for The Ordinary isn't by or related to The Ordinary at all as far as I can tell?
posted by getawaysticks at 5:40 PM on October 4

I suspect that the improved appearance of your skin is owed only to one or two products in that line up. If you've never used a chemical exfoliant before, that glycolic serum will have made your skin glow and feel much smoother, while also shrinking the apparent size of your pores. And, to a lesser degree, if you have any discoloration/sunspots, the vitamin C serum will have begun to lighten and diminish them (but not to any significant degree in a couple of weeks).

So, if you're going to pay a premium for anything here, I'd prioritize the glycolic acid product. There are a lot of wonderful vitamin c serums out there, so that would come second.

For serums, oils, etc., there are so many wonderful and far less expensive options! If layering appeals to you, then as someone else mentioned above, should be your new hobby for a few weeks. Those folks know how to layer, and have wonderful product recommendations.
posted by mylittlepoppet at 6:42 PM on October 4 [1 favorite]

DE makes some really great products that for me, are worth the cost, and there is always a huge appeal to a single, clear routine. That said, there are places to pinch pennies.

Splurge on what we skincare dorks call "actives", the chemical exfoliants and antioxidants. For DE, that's the glycolic and vitamin C. Those are both super incredible from that line. In fact, it's the only C whose smell and texture isn't awful for me and that is also has good stability and potency. If you're sensitive to cleansers like me, splurge on that too. You can get a marula oil, light oil-based moisturizers like LaLa, and titanium dioxide SPF from other sources, like the Ordinary.

All that said, to get good dupes, it will almost certainly require research and experimentation. Really, that's the whole backbone of the Ordinary and Asian/Korean skincare. Lots of people enjoy that part! So you can afford DE and you enjoy using it, don't feel bad about investing. You'll have this same face for your whole life, after all.
posted by mostlymartha at 11:33 PM on October 4 [5 favorites]

Thank you all for these responses--it was exactly what I was looking for! Permission to splurge on the serums and find comparable moisturizer and marula oil products elsewhere. And I had never heard of the Ordinary, but I'm excited about these inexpensive options.
posted by witchen at 7:30 AM on October 9

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