In a perfect world, we’d all be able to afford the luxury of a live-in dermatologist, who would stand by our sides, morning and evening, to offer counsel for our skin. Because the world is flawed, the next best thing we could think of was to ask you what skin issues were plaguing you, and then have your favourite experts answer them. Consider us your skincare medium to the ~other side~. We asked Tiffany Masterson, AKA the founder and genius behind skincare brand Drunk Elephant, the following question:

In what order should I be applying my products? Are there any ingredients we should not combine, such as acids and retinols?

It’s easy to get excited and want to try all [products] at the same time, but skin can only absorb so much, of even the good stuff, before it gets overwhelmed. Think of it like eating a meal — vegetables are great for you, but how much broccoli and kale can you eat, and have your body still benefit from? How many serums and treatments can you use before your skin [has had] enough? We always encourage clients to use only what is absolutely necessary, and no more. Regarding layering, we don’t find it necessary with Drunk Elephant, but if you’re using another brand’s products, it can get tricky due to the presence of ingredients like silicones, waxes, thick oils, and butters. Some of those ingredients wouldn’t allow anything on top to get through. It’s why we don’t use them — so while we can mix everything Drunk Elephant and know it will all absorb, layering may become necessary when using heavier, more occlusive products, thickest on top.

There are no health risks of silicones — they’re not going to “harm” your skin or your internal organs, but they can make it much harder for you to get to results you want, and for many [they] trigger breakouts and dehydrate the skin. Silicones form a barrier on skin that traps moisture and other substances, and also slow the penetration of other ingredients. This silicone barrier can result in the loss of benefits of other products applied afterwards. However, because they can feel so nice on skin, and make stability a much easier hurdle in skincare formulation, brands have become addicted to them. It’s unfortunate, because the client can end up losing out on the rewards of products they are paying a lot for. Silicones are how brands make serums feel thin, and moisturizers thick, but it’s all an illusion because silicones are more like “fillers” than functional and beneficial ingredients. Then, there are the anecdotal accounts of many who cannot use silicones because they trigger breakouts and congestion. Many of our staffers and clients have come to us with such experiences, and that is one reason why Drunk Elephant resonates so well — we show that it is possible to have an exceptional and effective formula without relying on silicones. We don’t ever use them, and the results have been wonderful across the board. The difference is very real.

Traditionally, thinnest to thickest is a good starting point if you’re layering, but that all goes out the window if you’re using a silicone-based serum or treatment for the reasons mentioned above. It makes the mind spin to think of all the variables that can mess this up. Avoid products with silicones and you’ll be fine. Using Drunk Elephant, I never have to think about the order of application again — [I] just mix [them] in the palm of my hand. I’m a busy mom of four — this is all I have time for, so I was very intent on making a line [of products] where layering wasn’t an issue.
[When thinking about your skincare routine], keep your expectations realistic, avoid sensitizing essential oils and other harsh ingredients, and don’t be afraid to question the brands you spend your money on. Make them earn you as a client and explain things like pH, active percentages, why they choose certain ingredients over others, and whether certain ingredients and products are even necessary. They may not be able to tell you everything, but it’s up to you to decide whether you’re comfortable with their answers.

Lastly, remember that your routine is only as good as its worst product, and a product is only as good as its worst ingredient. Ingredients are really the key to healthy skin, and identifying the ones to avoid is easier now than it’s ever been.


Words, Madeleine Woon.