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The Interview: Dr.PAWPAW's Pauline Paterson on bringing Australian skin-healing superfoods to British skincare

Chloe Burney
16 August 2023

Australian-born Pauline Paterson co-founded Dr.PAWPAW with her husband Johnny after realising the UK didn't import pawpaw-infused skincare products. The everyday ingredient, which floods store shelves across the pond, has skin-healing properties that helped manage Pauline and Johnny's daughter's eczema. 

The pawpaw fruit, which originates in North America, boasts similar skin-healing and hydrating benefits to Aloe Vera. In 2013, the couple decided to make their own pawpaw balm, which has evolved over the past decade. Now, the brand is on its way to becoming a household name with a full range of affordable skin and hair care products.

Pauline tells about the brand's ethos to keep skincare simple and multi-purposeful as well as her vision for Dr.PAWPAW's colourful tubes to be available in any and every convenience store across the country.

You founded Dr.PAWPAW in 2013 after discovering a natural formula that helped soothe your daughter’s eczema. Can you tell us more about this?

My daughter Jasmine developed eczema as a baby when she was about six months old. It got quite bad, all down her arms and legs. We tried everything on the shelf and then we took her to the GP because nothing was working. The doctors explained that steroid cream was the only other option, but I didn't want to put such a harsh chemical on my baby’s soft skin.

Because I came from the hair industry and understood the scalp and the sensitivity of skin, I didn't want to go down that route. So, that's when we started looking for natural and alternative remedies.

In Australia, I grew up using pawpaw fruit in lots of different beauty and skin products. It was a bathroom staple, as much as Vaseline is here. In Australia, mums used pawpaw fruit for everything. I had one of the Australian brands with me in the UK and I thought to try it on Jasmine’s eczema. As soon as I tried it, you could literally see the redness disappear and it stopped her itching within weeks.

My husband asked me why you can't get creams with pawpaw in them here. So I started googling and looking on Amazon, and no one was shipping it over. That’s when I had the light bulb moment, thinking, "We need to bring this product over to the UK and Europe."

Your first-ever product was the Dr.PAWPAW Original Balm. Can you tell us how you went about creating this?

We realised we couldn’t export the Australian products because the brands made claims on their packaging that weren't UK-compliant. For example, some say you can put pawpaw balms on open wounds and burns, but you can't make those claims for a cosmetic product. That's when we decided to make our own.

When I was researching formulas, particularly of the already-existing products that we like, it was using what they called fermented pulpal, which was basically like a powder. Then, they’d mix the powder with something similar to Vaseline because it is a good barrier cream. But that's all it does, it is a barrier. It's like sticking a bandage on something, it doesn't do any good for the underneath.

So, I started to ask, "How can I make this better?" We knew the pawpaw fruit was the star, so I started working on a list of ingredients that would complement it and  at those that I didn’t want in the formula. For example, we didn't want to put beeswax in our products, because a lot of our competitors use it and it was quite a common lip balm ingredient. Also, we knew we wanted to go down the vegan and natural route.

The pawpaw fruit is not only hydrating and nourishing, but it’s also antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. The only ingredient with similar properties is aloe vera, so I decided to double up and add that to the formula. They have the same vitamins, results and benefits. By adding two superfoods together, we got double the staying power.

We then wanted to add a third ingredient, which was oil, because oils sink deeper and further into the skin than a cream. Unlike topical creams, like some we were trying for eczema, they just sit on top of the skin and don't absorb in. This is where we differed from the pawpaw creams that were on the market at the time.

Back in 2013, everyone was talking about Argan oil and almond oil, but I didn’t want to add them as they’d be unusable if you’ve got a nut allergy. We were conscious that all the products were as safe, clean and natural as possible because we were using our own baby. Although it's not accredited to be used on babies, if you wanted to use it on children or babies you could. It's an unsung mother's hero. But it would take a lot of money and testing to accredit it to be safe for babies. Read that list of ingredients, there really isn't anything in there that could cause a reaction or irritate the skin.

How do you use all clean ingredients while keeping the prices accessible?

It’s thanks to our packaging, there are no fancy pumps or pipettes. We keep to very simple tubes that are made from recycled plastic already and are 100% recyclable.

I’m a bit of a magpie and I love beautiful packaging, but it costs a fortune and sometimes it costs more than the actual product. Simplicity is key. Keeping packaging simple and only having a few ingredients is what keeps the cost down. There are no flavours or fragrances or colours, it's simple and the base of it is castor oil.

We use castor oil as it's one of the only oils that can solidify, so it feels like Vaseline and has a thicker consistency than the oils. When I changed from using the fermented pawpaw to papaya extract, it was a lot easier to mix.

The first tube that we ever made was a bit expensive and we paid a fortune for it because we only bought 10,000 units. But the bigger we got, the more we could produce, which helps make it more affordable. So, that's how I've done it. We've tweaked the ingredients along the way to make them easy to mix and continue to keep the packaging as simple and as environmentally friendly as possible.

What is your best-selling product and why do you think this is?

It depends on where you are in the world, which is interesting. In the UK, our original balm is the best-selling product. But, in the Middle East, our red balm is our number one seller and in America, it’s our overnight lip mask. In the Far East, our peachy-pink balm is doing really well. But this also fluctuates depending on the season. It's amazing how much it differs.


You recently launched a skincare line. What made you decide to move into the over-saturated skincare market? For example, did you notice a gap for ‘clean products’?

Firstly, we've got such an amazing following with our multipurpose balms, so we knew we had a captive audience. Secondly, we received requests from our customers, especially when cleansing balms took off. Also, our fan base has been asking us for an SPF that didn't leave a white cast for years. So that has always been on the agenda.

I am a self-proclaimed beauty junkie, I'm always trying new products, ingredients and technologies. I looked at what I didn't like about my beauty regime and I knew I wanted to simplify skincare. I have always found it annoying that if you wanted to have vitamin C in your products, then you just had to use this serum or this range. But, if you wanted hyaluronic acid, then you could only use these products in this range, and so on. I was applying four or five serums on my face because I wanted all the ingredients and all the benefits. I thought, "Why can't we just have it all in a few simple steps?" and that's when we felt like we saw the gap in the market.

There are a lot of brands out there doing lots of great products, but they're selling 20-30 products. Sometimes it's quite confusing about what you should use and consumers often want or need more than one benefit. Who doesn't want hydration and brightening together? I don't know why anybody should have to choose one or the other. Plus, multitasking is at the core of Dr.PAWPAW. For example, our one serum gives you four different things. Then we have a three-in-one cleansing product that removes makeup, even waterproof mascara, but it can also cleanse wet and dry skin - just use water to rinse it off. Even out SPF is multipurpose. A lot of makeup artists are calling it a three-in-one because it works as a  moisturiser, SPF 50 and primer. 

Your slogan "look good, feel good, do good" goes further than your sustainability efforts in terms of packaging and clean formulas. Can you tell us about your charity promise?

I always knew we wanted to give back, so as soon as we could we wanted to share. The first charity we gave a percentage of our annual sales to was Crisis, which helps to end homelessness here in the UK. That was tricky because we started just before the pandemic and then had to pay them around in the middle of the pandemic.  They said we could wait to pay, but we didn't because the difference that we made to them was amazing. What's more, we put all of our multipurpose balms into their Christmas kits because it's excellent at helping to heal cuts, bruises or infections.  Not only do we donate money, but also products to their drop-in centres as well. So if someone dropped in who needed a shower, they can use our shampoo to smell and feel good.

During lockdown, we launched our second charity campaign, which was with the Teenage Cancer Trust. This partnership came about because Teenage Cancer Trust contacted us after noticing so many of their chemo patients on the wards were using our balms on their sensitive skin. They were handing it around and recommending it to one another. So they approached us by saying, "Look, you're already on our wards, you're already helping, can we work together?"

We worked closely with them to create a balm, which turned out to be a shimmer version of our original. A percentage of the sales of the shimmer balm go directly to them. We also decided to tell patients' stories on the back of the packaging. There are eight in total, which makes it really personable.

We also work with charitable organisations when sourcing our ingredients. The first time we did this was when we launched the shea butter balm. Dr.PAWPAW made sure that we were sourcing the shea butter from a supplier that only bought from the Ghanaian women's project to ensure the women harvesting the shea butter are in safe working conditions, getting fair pay and replanting to keep it sustainable.

The team are really great at giving back to the less fortunate as well. My husband (Co-founder of Dr.PAWPAW) ran the marathon for the Teenage Cancer Trust. Myself, and four of the girls from the office, climbed the Three Peaks in Yorkshire to raise money for charity. There's also a Dr.PAWPAW team this year doing the Tough Mudder. Not to mention the charity walk we just did for another female homeless shelter called 18 Keys, which is about bringing female homeless women off the streets, but also gives them an address so they can get a bank account and a job. There are so many more I could mention, but it's really great that our team get behind it.

Dr.PAWPAW is currently stocked at Boots, Superdrug, M&S, Holland and Barret and Oliver Bonas to name a few. You’ve swept the UK market, most recently launching in Tesco, are you looking to expand further?

The recent collaboration with Tescos is going really well. Every time I go in, I count how many there are and they're always selling. I think there were only three left when I went in this week.

It's going to be interesting to see how well our skincare does as we begin the rollout. It will be exclusive in Superdrug until the end of the year, but we're already in talks with M&S. So, our existing partnerships are opening more doors for the new skincare range.

I think that Dr.PAWPAW could be anywhere where you need to pick up lip balm. So there are lots of stores out there that we're not in. So, we could be available literally anywhere and everywhere. That was always one of the things that me and Johnny wanted, was for it to be accessible to everybody. We didn't want to sit in the premium or the prestige realm because the big brands that are doing that are doing that so well. We didn't want to compete with that, we just wanted to bring really good ingredients and make it more accessible to everybody. So that's why we want it to be a household name and literally have it available anywhere, such as service stations.

Would you ever consider expanding into cosmetics?

Yeah, but I think there's probably more we want to do with the skincare. We've only got six products and there are few more that we want to add to the line.

There are actually three new balms, which are launching this month. One of them is a collagen-infused lip oil, which is just amazing on the lips for plumping them and giving that super mirror-like shine. We've got a lip and eye balm because customers are just loving the thicker consistency.

There's still room for new products, possibly maybe cosmetics on the way. I've got loads of ideas of what more we could do. Definitely.

That leads me to my next question, are there any exciting launches or upcoming projects you can tell us about?

The three balms are all that'll launch this year. But next year, keep your eyes peeled. Without giving too much away, that is when we may be expanding hair and skincare...


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