Sarah Brown launched Pai Skincare in 2007 after struggling with a common but understudied skin condition that left her with reactive, hive-prone skin. Frustrated with the confusion of traditional beauty labels and marketing, she has made it her mission to offer safe, efficacious skincare for even the most sensitive skin types. We sat down with Sarah to catch up on Pai’s latest launches, the products she thinks are the most undervalued, and whose makeup bag she’d love a peek into.
Name: Sarah Brown
Profession: Pai Skincare Founder
Current location: Soho, New York City
What are words you live by?
The James Thurber quote, “Don’t look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness.” For me it sums up what you need to be a business owner.
What first attracted you to the beauty industry?
I wasn’t attracted to it, I was forced into it. I have an extreme skin condition called urticaria that forced me to be hyper aware of what was in my beauty products because I was so reactive and would get terrible rashes. It pushed me to learn how to read labels and get through the confusion to discover how impactful some ingredients can be.
If you could tell yourself in 2007 (when the brand launched) anything, what would it be?
I would tell myself to do it, even though it will be hard. Also to raise money earlier, learn how to focus on one thing at a time, and hire people where you are weakest.
What was the first product you created?
The first Pai product I created was The Pioneer (hence the name!), a mattifying moisturizer. It is a product I still use.
What Pai product is a sleeper hit (maybe not the best seller, but you think it should be) and why?
When did you know you “made it” as a brand?
When we began selling in Whole Foods in the UK, the manager of the whole body area called me to say that I’d made it because people began stealing our testers! A lifetime achievement was receiving the Queen’s award for enterprise. Walking through the gates of Buckingham Palace was such a validating moment.
What is one surprising thing people might not know about Pai?
Our product names often have funny backstories. There are lots of personal, musical and cultural references. For instance, Resurrection Girl was inspired by the pandemic. I felt like it was a time to reinvent ourselves in a bold and positive way so we were inspired by that and the Alicia Keys song Girl on Fire which felt so relevant to what many women went through during that time.
Who first taught you about beauty?
My mum is the most low maintenance person - she only used Pond’s cold cream when I was growing up. She taught me that less is more. When you struggle with a skin condition, often the more simple your routine is the better. She uses Pai now!
Walk me through your beauty routine starting in the morning.
I like to add drops of Impossible Glow
in bronze into my sunscreen for a warm, natural glow. Those can be mixed with moisturizer, foundation, applied to the skin directly, or even added to body cream.
My hair texture is thick, wavy and hard to tame. I just bought Virtue's The Polish Un-Frizz Cream
. It has been terribly humid in New York, and I found that this cream kept the frizz in check. In the evening, if I have worn makeup I will double cleanse with our Light Work Cleansing Oil
Is there a treatment that has been life changing for you?
Every once in a while I get an acupressure treatment called Daoyin Tao that is a form of scalp, neck, face and shoulder massage that uses pressure points. It puts me in the deepest meditative state. I also get a regular massage once a month.
If you could get a peek into any person’s makeup bag, who would you choose and why?
I would have loved to look into Marilyn Monroe’s, but for now I’ll say Kristin Scott Thomas. She has aged so beautifully and I’d like to think there is some Pai in there.
Who do you look up to in the beauty world?
I am on the executive committee of CEW
(Cosmetic Executive Women) and its members have been incredibly helpful for me. In their own different ways they are all at the top of their game. Also, Trinny Woodall has such expertise and has truly built a community. She understands women and what it is like to be a woman that is getting older.
Rosehip Bioregenerate Universal Face Oil
Middlemist Seven Hydrating Cleanser
Light Work Cleansing Oil
Love & Haight Hydrating Moisturizer
Back to Life Hydrating Serum
Virtuous Circle Eco-Bead Exfoliator
Salvation Jane Omega Rich Moisturizer
Heavy Mettle Hand Cream
The Pioneer Mattifying Moisturizer
Polly Plum Calming Body Cream
Curtain Call Radiance Mask
System D Cooling Eye Serum
All Becomes Clear Blemish Serum
Gentle Genius Body Wash
10ml PAI Carbon Star GWP
Mini Cleanse & Calm Duo GWP