Sarah Brown understands your needs.
Like many natural skincare proponents, the onetime marketing and PR executive for companies such as Nike and E & J Gallo wines was drawn to the non-toxic beauty world after confronting her own health and complexion challenges. She searched high and low for products that addressed sensitivity in a legitimate way and ingredients that she could decipher, and she came up empty-handed.
That’s when she decided to start Pai Skincare out her West London garage. She launched the company in 2007, and it has since grown into an award-winning business with products exported to over 40 countries and favored by everyone from beauty world insiders to celebrities like Natalie Portman and Léa Seydoux. In 2016, the company won a Queen’s Award for for Enterprise and an InStyle Best Beauty Buys Award for Best Organic Range. The founder herself has won multiple awards for her business acumen and is passionate about encouraging more young women to explore careers in manufacturing.
Here, Sara Brown talks about handling the emotional side of skincare:
Live The Process: When you look at your background—both personally and professionally—can you see clues that you might wind up creating a beauty company like Pai?
Sarah Brown: I’ve always believed in mind and body balance, but it was the onset of a really bad skin condition that propelled me into the skincare and wellness sphere—and completely changed my career path in the process!
I developed Chronic Urticaria, which made my skin incredibly reactive and itchy. I could no longer tolerate the products I’d used for years, and I began looking for alternatives in natural and organic skincare.
In professional terms, my background is in marketing, which was incredibly helpful, but also made me realize that I wanted to run my business (and market it) very differently than the industry status quo.
Of course, no amount of experience can prepare you for the hurdles of setting up a new business. You don’t know what you don’t know; you just have to start!
LTP: In your mind, what is the link between the state of our skin and our sense of self in the world?
SB: I was in my mid-twenties when my skin changed almost overnight.
I was working in PR in the US for a leading wine brand. I had learned a lot, but I was traveling all the time and under a lot of stress. My skin broke out in raised, itchy hives that covered most of my body and reacted to almost everything I put on it.
I finally got the diagnosis of Chronic Urticaria, but there was a complete lack of information and support. After years of popping pills and trawling the beauty market (in vain!) for a solution, I started Pai with the aim of helping others in the same skin rut.
Our skin is our largest organ and one of the best indicators of what’s happening inside, both in terms of our health and emotions. Whether it’s an acne breakout or extreme blushing, seeing this play out so visibly can leave us feeling incredibly vulnerable.
Dealing with the emotional side of difficult skin is at the heart of our business. The right products are important, but it doesn’t stop there; we want to hold our customers’ hands every step of the way and help them feel confident in their skin again.
LTP: What separates Pai from other skincare lines out there?
SB: We believe in transparency, first and foremost. I’ve been there as a customer, trying to navigate aisles of skincare labeled “hypoallergenic” or “100% natural,” only to end up with another skin reaction.
We made it our mission to strip away the jargon and exclude questionable ingredients. Every ingredient is listed in plain English, so you know exactly what you’re putting on your skin, and we’re also certified organic by the Soil Association (the UK’s leading organic trade body).
I spent years researching which ingredients were a no-go for reactive skin; there’s more than you’d think and they often appear in products deemed suitable for sensitive skin! Even natural ingredients, such as essential oils in high concentrations, can cause irritation.
At Pai, we use a lot of rosehip oil, echium and German chamomile. They’re great for comforting and strengthening reactive skin; we use a CO2 extraction process to get the very best from them.
It’s so important to include ingredients that actively help to repair and rebalance sensitive skin, not just soothe it.
LTP: If you were on a desert island, which of your products could you not live without (SPF aside)?
SB: It would have to be our Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil. I try to keep my skincare routine quick and simple (as it has to be with two young sons), but this always features. It’s the ultimate multitasker and the best way to add radiance to sensitive skin.
It’s also fantastic mixed into body cream as an after-sun product—very handy for a desert island!
LTP: Aside from a skincare regimen, how do you keep yourself feeling healthy and balanced?
SB: I try to have acupuncture every six to eight weeks; it seems to level me out and stops me running on adrenalin. I have at least one green smoothie and one carrot/ginger juice weekly.
Switching my phone and computer off by 9:30pm and going to bed early with a book works wonders too. And, above everything else, sleep. When I get a good eight hours recharge, I’m unstoppable!
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
SB: Spending time with my husband and children and seeing the delight my kids take in the simplest of things we all take for granted.
For me, it’s also all the little indulgences and snatched moments to switch off; like being outdoors in lots of green space, sitting in front of a log fire or watching a great film with a glass of red wine.
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how can we all do that more each day?
SB: To me, it means living in the here and now and not just focusing on the horizon and the next big campaign or annual sales target. When you do that, you completely miss the point of what you’re doing and forget to celebrate all the daily successes along the way.
I love this James Thurber quote, which I learned from my lovely brother many years ago: “Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness.”
It’s pretty pertinent to running a business: You can’t waste a minute worrying about what’s lurking ahead or dwelling on past mistakes; it just paralyzes you.