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The Interview: Sarah Brown, organic and clean beauty pioneer, and founder of Pai Skincare

Kelle Salle
25 May 2023

Pai Skincare was launched in 2007 by Sarah Brown. Before launching the brand, Brown was the International PR Manager for E&J Gallo Wines in California. She had also managed communications for brands such as Nike and Barclaycard.

Pai is leading the way with innovative, results-driven skincare that is created for anyone who wants to treat their skin with the best natural ingredients. All of the brand’s products are formulated and manufactured in their West London HQ and are certified organic by COSMOS, the Soil Association, the Vegan Society and Cruelty Free International.

Like many businesses, Pai was born out of Brown’s need to fix a personal problem. She developed a serious skin condition called Chronic Urticaria in her 20’s and it was proving difficult to manage. “I couldn’t get consistent advice and medical treatment didn’t help, so I found myself with a bathroom cabinet full of products claiming to be hypoallergenic that I couldn’t use,” she says.

Brown lived with the condition for years before deciding to take a closer look at ingredient lists. This led to her developing a fascination with the remedial properties of plants. “My love of all things natural is what got me interested in organic ingredients, so I started formulating products from my West London garage and the rest is history.”

Pai Skincare

Pai's signature "Boosters"

Brown’s background is in PR and Communications so she built and grew Pai from the ground up. “It was a true start-up in every sense of the word with limited funds, operating out of a garage with just £15,000 of personal savings. It was just me. My husband joined the business soon after we launched and we hired our first employee a year later,” she says. Brown had a clear vision for Pai which she didn’t want to deviate from. She wanted every single product to be certified organic or natural with fully transparent labelling to help customers understand the authenticity of their claims and to build trust from day one.

After doing some research, Brown found that the majority of products targeted at those who had skin issues were cheap and synthetic. She wanted to create a trusted skincare line that focused on problem solving while being a complete joy to use and not compromising on sensory or skin performance. “We had a clear target demographic, which was people with sensitive or difficult skin who wanted natural skincare they could put their full trust in,” she says.

Pai launched in 2007 with just six products: four moisturisers including The Pioneer (the first product Brown ever formulated), an eye cream and a lip balm. The brand was well received by customers and to this day, their Net Promoter Score (a measure of how likely a customer is to recommend you) is one of the highest in the beauty industry. “Helping people take back control of their skin and seeing their confidence grow is so rewarding. It reminds us every day why we’re here,” Brown says.

The brand’s bestsellers are the Rosehip Bioregenerate Oil and the Light Work Rosehip Cleansing Oil. The Rosehip Bioregenerate Oil is the brand’s most iconic product. “We’ve sold over a million bottles. It has magical powers and its perfection lies in its simplicity and purity,” Brown says. “We don’t dilute it with any carrier oils or fragrances. We use CO2 extraction and use the whole hip (fruit and seed) for maximum concentration,” she adds. The oil is packed full of omegas and beta-carotene which makes it highly regenerative. It contains 60% more sterols and 700% more polyphenols than other leading rosehip oils on the market.

The Light Work Rosehip Cleansing Oil removes every bit of makeup, including waterproof mascara and leaves no residues on rinse-off. It’s certified organic (over 90%) and clinically proven to be suitable for sensitive skin and eyes. “It has hundreds of five-star reviews from customers who say they can’t live without it,” Brown says.

Pai Skincare

The Tri-Mushroom booster

Pai’s latest launch is the Tri-Mushroom Super-Soothing Booster. The brand has tapped into the ‘shroom broom’ trend with the booster, which has been created to inhibit the skin’s response to stress, calm irritation and keep flare-ups at bay. “Mushrooms have adaptogenic properties and are rich in an amino acid called Glutamine. The feedback from our customers has been incredible already – it’s a real saviour for sensitive skin. The boosters are designed to be blended with your existing skincare to supercharge your routine. We suggest starting with one drop and building from there. You can bespoke the boosters and be in control,” Brown says.

To make beauty effective and accessible for all, the brand has continued to make every product itself. It has a dedicated team of three in-house cosmetic chemists based in its London lab and are constantly on the lookout for new ingredients with proven efficacy data. It also invests in clinical and consumer trials for their own formulations. “We want customers to feel confident about the product they’re investing in. Every single product goes through rigorous, independent patch testing to confirm it’s clinically proven for sensitive skin,” Brown says.

The brand also considers accessibility in its marketing too. It's had a strict no retouch policy on all of its photography for over five years and it uses a diverse range of models to show skin in its true state at all ages and in all skin tones, cementing their commitment to celebrating real skin. A lot of actives on the market are expensive, which presents a problem for consumers who want to elevate their skincare routines but aren’t able to afford them. As a result, Pai’s skincare boosters are available at a very accessible price point. Additionally, it is one of the only beauty brands to be freezing all of their prices to support customers during the cost of living crisis. “This was a difficult decision as a manufacturer with escalating costs but it felt right to absorb these while the pressure on people’s wallets is so acute,” Brown says.

In addition to freezing its prices, Pai also offers free skin consultations with their in-house skin coaches. “They really understand our customers’ needs as they have their own skin conditions too. These consultations are not a hard sell. If people have developed a skin condition overnight and want to understand their skin better, our coaches are on hand to listen and help,” Brown says. The brand also offers free 90-day returns, which is something Brown has always been passionate about as she knows how frustrating it can be to try something new and find it doesn’t sit right with your skin. “I want to help people feel good about their skin and good about the choice that they’ve made. You often need to try a product over several days to determine if it’s working for you and you should have the right to return it if it isn’t,” she adds.

Pai formulates and manufactures all of its products from its own London factory. While Brown acknowledges that owning the development process end to end is rare, the brand does benefit by having full visibility of its supply chain. “It allows us to make formulations that are high-quality, unique and ownable while also being able to innovate dynamically. Being so close to the product creation process means we’re constantly re-evaluating new ingredients and developments in packaging sustainability,” Brown says.

Pai launched at a time when organic skincare and clean beauty wasn’t a thing. After 16 years in the beauty industry, Brown still believes that it’s an exciting place to be and hopes that the industry will start to recognise the effectiveness of organic skincare. “It’s a common misconception that organic beauty isn’t effective but attitudes are changing and we’re living proof of what natural skincare can deliver,” she says. Brown would also like to see a shift in mindset towards true end-to-end sustainability. “While I hugely applaud the efforts on packaging, we need to think beyond it to the ingredients that go in the bottle and the supply chains underpinning them. I want more customers thinking about where and how their products are made.” For one of its recent launches, the C-2 Believe Moisturiser, Pai was able to incorporate six ingredients that were either zero waste or upcycled. “This is where the industry needs to be heading to minimise our impact on the environment,” Brown says.

Brown’s advice to anyone who wants to get into the beauty industry is to be mindful of what a crowded and noisy space it is. “Make sure you’re creating something genuinely new that meets an unfulfilled need. If you can’t do that, then create something that’s significantly better than what’s already available. Brown also believes it’s important to stay in your lane when you’re starting out. “Don’t follow the crowd and be tempted to copy what you deem to be best practice or what you see other companies doing. Also, keep in mind that all businesses are organised chaos most of the time. Don’t worry about it. The key is to keep moving.”

So, what’s next for Pai? The brand is continuing to expand their high-performance booster range with more launches this year. They are also evolving their packaging to ensure they maximise their presence on shelf. Brown has also confirmed that they have a very exciting product launch in Q4 which is something she’s always wanted to create. “It takes a 360° approach to addressing premature ageing. It’s truly multi-dimensional and I cannot wait to share it with the world,” she says.

For more information on Pai Skincare, visit its website.

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