Interview with an innovator: Sensitive skin guru Sarah Brown, founder of Pai Skincare

September 20, 2019
5 min read

Founded in 2007 by Sarah Brown, who struggled herself with skin sensitivity, British brand Pai Skincare takes pride in offering certified organic care that leaves consumers with sensitive skin feeling empowered. The brand’s most recent campaign features unretouched images of a model suffering from rosacea, through a transparent approach that mirrors the company’s straightforward take on ingredients and formulation. We caught up with Sarah Brown to understand the mission and values of Pai and how the brand keeps up with its loyal customers’ ever-changing demands.

A strong sensitive skin mission

There is a growing market for skincare specifically developed to address sensitivity. According to Mintel’s research, almost a fifth of US consumers have experienced skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea, or psoriasis over the last 12 months, while in China a third of consumers are interested in facial masks that are suitable for sensitive skin.

Sarah Brown explained how tackling the complexity of sensitive skin makes Pai different to the other brands on the market: “Crucially what separates us from other brands in the industry is that helping people with sensitive skin is at the core of our mission, which we haven’t deviated from since we launched almost 12 years ago. We combine it with a real passion for organic ingredients; having worked for many years with customers facing different types of skin challenges, the remedial properties of organic ingredients are really extraordinary for sensitive skin.”

Pai’s comprehensive range of products is designed to tackle common sensitive skin issues, from redness, blemishes and dryness to eczema, contact dermatitis and psoriasis. It uses therapeutic and soothing natural ingredients, while avoiding common potential skin irritants like alcohol, artificial fragrances or high concentrations of essential oils.

Credit: @paiskincare

“We’re here to help people through their sensitive skin challenge, whatever it may be. When we started, there was a lack of sophistication in both aesthetic and formulation. People with sensitive skin were sent to the pharmacy to buy £3-4 products that were 100% synthetic. The two notions, ‘luxury product’ and ‘for sensitive skin’, were mutually exclusive,” she added. “I didn’t want to have a bottle in a brown box and I didn’t want for people to feel like they had to compromise. So I asked myself, why can’t a product be beautiful, and organic, and for sensitive skin?”

Certification helps build authenticity

By obtaining rigorous accreditation from independent bodies like the Soil Association, Cosmos Natural, Leaping Bunny and the Vegan Society, Pai has succeeded in building stronger trust through ingredient transparency by focusing on provenance, sustainability and efficacy. “We’re certified organic and we often get typecast because of that, because people see us as just another natural brand. But it is what defines and differentiates us,” says Sarah.

“Often we’re inspired by various actives or interesting new emerging ingredients, with authenticity data behind them to meet a certain requirement. Some certified organic ingredients we use are expensive to cultivate and extract, but they are so beneficial to sensitive skin,” she said.

With consumers becoming increasingly discerning and more concerned about greenwashing, the importance of certification in confirming product claims is growing. Furthermore, the concept of clean beauty has evolved from ‘safe’ ingredients to consumers expecting brands to provide a clear view of ingredient sourcing and processing. “An authentically clean brand is a brand that is certified,” according to Brown. And with Mintel data showing that three quarters of US Millennials are interested in trying clean beauty products, Pai has the potential to appeal to these consumers embracing the new healthy green lifestyle.

According to Mintel’s research, more and more consumers are scrutinising their beauty routines in an effort to reduce waste and expect brands to become more ethical and environmentally responsible. In the UK, around four in 10 personal care users buy natural and organic personal care products because they believe they are better for the environment. Meanwhile, two thirds of British consumers claim they are trying to live more ethically than they did a year ago.

Building consumer engagement beyond skincare

Apart from its constantly evolving range of topical products, Pai has also been offering free phone consultations with skincare coaches that help consumers find the right regimen based on their individual needs, taking into account lifestyle and nutrition factors. “The ambition is for the person to leave the 30-minute consultation feeling empowered and a bit more in control of their skin. Even when the advice given is very simple, it’s about getting people to think about their skin in a different way, and there is still lots of education to be done,” Brown notes.

According to Mintel’s 2019 Beauty and Personal Care Trend ‘Beauty with a Brain’, brands that empower consumers with education and gently guide them to find the right solutions for their needs, rather than outright pushing product purchases, are more likely to gain a cult following.

Pai’s strong connection to its consumers often leads to new product launches that correct the obvious and sometimes not-so-obvious gaps in the range. When launching Light Work Rosehip Cleansing Oil back in April, the brand talked to their most avid fans and fanatical facial oil users who weren’t buying their regular cream cleanser, despite being a best-seller by value. They found out that consumers disliked cream formats and wanted a wash-off formula, so the new oil-to-milk formula was born.

From maintaining a long-term focus on a clear goal, to building credibility through ingredient transparency and sustainability, and taking consumer engagement to the next level, Pai proves that developing a successful brand with loyal following takes only a few carefully considered elements that have the potential to turn a company from niche to mainstream.

Irina Ene
Irina Ene

With over five years of experience in global new product launches from mass market to prestige, Irina provides the direction for our research coordinators in covering all the beauty categories.

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