(Finally!) A Minimalist Skincare Routine That Actually Works

Eucalpytus in a vase | Cedar + Surf

Upfront disclaimer that I'm no beauty guru - you won't find me online giving tips and tutorials because the only one I could rightfully give you is how I've worn my makeup exactly the same way since 2002 (with the exception of deciding to acknowledge the existence of my eyebrows a few years ago - forgive this child of the 90’s.)  I watch beauty tutorials only when I need to figure out how to create a Halloween look (unicorn - check; sugar skull - check; daily life - not check.)  That said, I've struggled with problematic skin (combo + acne) since I was a teenager.  The only times my skin ever looked clear or remotely glowy were my college and grad school years where I overrode its naturally horrific tendencies with birth control.  Not a long-term solution, as it turns out. I don’t want to be a beauty guru - just give me a simple routine that works without poisoning me and I’m set.

I've been a minimalist forever, really - long before Marie Kondo made ridding your house of its excesses trendy, so I've never been one to peruse the aisles of Sephora collecting products to try later, 5% of which will work and 95% of which will clutter up my bathroom counter and end up being donated somewhere after inducing a heap of consumption and waste guilt. I did try a few of the beauty product subscription services, found a few good products, but mostly ended up with counter clutter that induced anxiety. Eco guilt is real and I suffer. Who has the money to waste on half-used products that pile up in a beauty graveyard anyway?

Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Cream | Cedar + Surf
Drunk Elephant Framboos T.L.C. Glycolic Night Serum | Cedar + Surf

I've also done terrible, terrible things to my skin over the years - dried it out with astringents and toners, caked it with benzoyl peroxide, and exfoliated it to d e a t h, eventually realizing well into my 20's that one does need to moisturize occasionally (hi, wrinkles!)  I used to complain to my mom about how oily my skin was, cursing my genes, and she'd reply, "One day you might thank me for all that oil because we seem to age ok." I couldn’t have cared less as a self-conscious 16-year-old, but she was mostly right and I am grateful that my skin overrode my ignorance and moisturized itself against my wishes.

Why Drunk Elephant?

And why is such a non-expert writing this?  Mostly because I think many of us are tired of being told that we need to buy 300 products and implement a complicated skin care regimen in the name of proper self-care - washes, toners, moisturizers, masks, treatments, exfoliants, wrinkle remedies, daytime, nighttime - PASS. I’m tired of standing in stores Googling ingredients on my phone trying to figure how how cancer-causing we think they might be, realizing that most of what is sold in the US is banned elsewhere in the world and for good reason. I’m also trying to be intentional with sharing anything that enables me to buy less, use less, and create less waste. I sincerely wish that this line existed 20 years ago. (I also wish someone had had an intervention with me and demanded that I stop destroying my skin needlessly, aggressively seizing every Clean & Clear product in my lineup at the time.) 

Drunk Elephant founder’s quote | Cedar + Surf

Who doesn’t love supporting a woman who identified a need, took charge, and executed a vision this well? The story behind the creation of Drunk Elephant is inspiring and could be summarized effectively with the statement, "I couldn't find what I wanted so I made it, and I made it better than everyone else and now I'm rich!"  As we support companies that create non-toxic products, we create the market incentive required to foster the development of similar products - the capitalist gods respond and little by little, our dollars shape the kind of world we want to live in.

What I love

  1. I. buy. less. stuff. 3 products - that’s it. No need to buy ‘n try anything else.

  2. The formulations. They w o r k. And work better than any other product line I have ever tried (we're talking 20ish years of disappointments) ranging from low-end drugstore to high-end Neiman Marcus (desperate times = desperate measures.) 

  3. The ingredients. No suspicious 6. No fragrances. No toxins. No additives. Everything selected is bio-compatible, meaning that your body doesn’t interpret the product’s presence as “intruder” and try to mount an attack.

  4. The packaging. The whimsical name and cheerful packaging make my design-minded heart happy. They actually contributed the most to the brand's success at first, and only later did customers realize that the product formulations were meticulously selected, thoroughly researched, and clean.

  5. The dispensing mechanisms. A Type A lady's dream, you press down on the lotion and a pea-sized amount pops up sort of like a tissue, neatly and cleanly - no putting your gross fingers into a jar-turned-petri-dish or wasting 3,453 Q-tips trying to apply it.  You twist the serum and a nozzle appears, provides what you need, and twists right back where it came from. Nothing is exposed to air any longer than it needs to be. DE uses an airless fusion packaging system that protects the additive-free ingredients. This means that you actually get to use all of the products - no unreachable leftovers.

What I don’t

The pumps are not recyclable, as is the case with most products in this realm. Can we please get there as a society? A Plastic Ocean should be mandatory viewing. From the DE site: “Our first priority is always the safety and effectiveness of the formula. Unfortunately, at this time, in order to protect our formulations, the pumps available are not recyclable. However, when the option becomes available, we will be the first in line!” I don’t think this is a sufficient explanation and a very close second priority should be not filling the world full of more plastic it doesn’t need. It appears that there’s a great business opportunity for someone to manufacture recyclable pumps for this billion dollar company, no?


Morning & Night - Beste No. 9 Jelly cleanser - melts my makeup (mascara too) off with zero effort

Morning - Protini Polypeptide Cream moisturizer - lightweight, non-greasy, doesn’t interfere with makeup application

Night - T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum - chemical exfoliator (aka the wise alternative to scrubbing your skin to death)

I did receive C-Tango eye cream and The Littles set as birthday gifts, and while the latter will be very handy for travel, I won’t repurchase simply because neither is actually necessary. Sephora is great with product samples, so just ask for a sample rather than buying the tiny bottles. Don’t get me wrong, the eye cream is great, but I can’t tell a difference between that and using just the Protini all over my face, so no need for me to repurchase it.

Drunk Elephant Product Review | Cedar + Surf
Drunk Elephant The Littles Set | Cedar + Surf
Drunk Elephant The Littles Travel Carrier | Cedar + Surf


Cleanser - $32 (lasts 2 months used twice daily) = $16/mo

Moisturizer - $68 (lasts 3 months) = $23/mo

Serum - $90 (lasts 4 months) = $23/mo

The cost may be a tough pill to swallow depending on the extent of your current regimen, but the $62 is about as much as I literally swallowed in birth control each month and my skin actually looks better now (in terms of texture and clarity - fine lines excluded, of course), at 33, than it did back in the day.  I learned late(r) in life to treat your body as an investment, so while I buy very few things, I do spend money on decent food, working out, and good quality skin and hair products.  (Stock up during Sephora’s VIB sales and keep an eye out because I’ve noticed that DE products are often purchase freebies.)

I appreciate that Drunk Elephant encourages you to use only what you need - not to buy the entire line.  They're clear that the products work best when they're the only ones you're using (because you're not mixing in low-quality ingredients from other brands) but they don't suggest that you need to buy everything they make to be successful.  I'm proof of that - I use 3 products and those 3 products have replaced literally everything else in my bathroom, actually costing me far less in the long run.  Good riddance!

Tiffany, if you're reading - please don't sell this company to Estee Lauder - or anyone - ever.  I'm not ready to mourn over reformulated or discontinued products. 

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Drunk Elephant: A Minimalist Skincare Routine that Actually Works | Cedar + Surf