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According to Sophie Bai, Pavise, her biotech-meets-skincare company, is to suncare as Loro Piana and Hermès are to fashion. “They pride themselves on the highest quality of raw materials – the leather, the cashmere, the wool – and the highest level of craftsmanship and attention to detail,” she says. “Skincare and cosmetics [are] the same way.” It may seem far-fetched to compare a sunscreen to a $10,000 wool coat or a $20,000+ leather handbag, but Bai’s analogy begins to make sense the more she tells me about Pavise.

Bai’s background differs from that of the typical beauty founder. “I was born in one of the poorest provinces in China… not a single good school and not a single good hospital,” she recounts. “I knew that if I wanted to get a better education, better opportunities, I needed to get out of my province. The best way to do that at the time was to participate in science competitions.” So at seven-years-old, Bai did just that — ten years later, at 17, she’d won the International Science and Engineering Fair, the world's largest international pre-college science competition.

Bai was a science geek and mathlete, but she was also invested in the world of beauty, and the currency of aesthetics, at a young age. At age 11, she was kicked out of a public speaking contest for her appearance. “The judges said, ‘You look ugly. We don't want to listen to what you have to say.’ That day I had a really bad acne and eczema flare-up.” After the incident, Bai skipped lunch for a week and bought a Maybelline foundation to cover her perceived imperfections.

It was a formative experience for Bai, but the joke was on the judges. She went on to study at MIT and Harvard, where she helped develop new cancer and diabetes drugs, innovations that helped improve, and even save, patients’ lives. The medicines that Bai worked on went through rigorous testing, safeguards that led her to question why skincare products aren’t held to the same standard as FDA-approved drugs. “Skin is your largest organ,” says Bai. “You wouldn't put watermelon toner or blueberry mist on your liver or your lungs but you do that to your skin.”

Bai eventually homed  in on sun care as a white space for innovation. In 2020, the FDA found that six of the most common chemical UV blockers are absorbed into the bloodstream and can remain there for an extended period of time, even after a single use. But, opting for the alternative – mineral sunscreen – isn’t as easy as it sounds. Zinc oxide and titanium oxide, the two mineral UV filters that the FDA classifies as GRASE (generally recognized as safe and effective), tend to leave a chalky, white cast on skin. Plus, they’re greasy, accentuate skin texture, and pill under makeup.

The many problems plaguing mineral sunscreen have pushed the majority of consumers to settle for chemical UV filters like avobenzone and homosalate, which tend to boast an invisible finish — a must for darker-skinned folks. But these chemical filters can irritate sensitive skin and aren’t yet classified as GRASE. The FDA has yet to determine whether or not their long-term use is linked to health issues down the line.

“I wanted to see if I can create a new UV filter that has the best of both worlds: the safety profile, the efficacy, as well as the cosmetic elegance,” Bai says. After years of research, development, and testing, she and the team at Pavise came up with DiamondCore.

DiamondCore does, indeed, involve real diamonds. Mineral sunscreens work by absorbing, scattering, and reflecting UV rays — and there’s nothing more light-reflective than diamonds, Bai explains. Pavise was able to create a molecule with a diamond core (hence the name) surrounded by a special form of zinc oxide.

Key to its invisible finish, Pavise’s zinc oxide particles are small and uniform in size. According to Bai, sunscreen’s dreaded white cast is caused by large zinc oxide particles that vary in shape and size. By controlling for these two factors, DiamondCore won’t leave you looking like Capser the Ghost.

Every “invisible” mineral sunscreen I’ve tried previously hasn’t performed. Pavise’s did: There was no greasiness, pilling under makeup, or white cast (granted, I have light-to-medium skin and can’t speak to how it looks on deeper tones). Just one test run left me impressed by Pavise’s DiamondCore-powered SPF — which, by the way, does triple-duty as a moisturizer and an antioxidant treatment. For combination skin like mine, the sunscreen is moisturizing enough to wear on its own, sans additional creams or serums.

It also costs $148 a bottle, a steep price for many. “I want to draw the analogy of high fashion versus fast fashion,” says Bai. “[Pavise] develops everything in-house. We created [DiamondCore] in a lab at MIT that nobody else can get their hands on… Scientific discovery is very expensive.” Case in point: “When I started this company, I used all of my savings to buy a piece of equipment called DLS, dynamic light scattering. It's $100K, just for that machine.”

Bai continues: “We don't stop there. We test on the ingredient level – in vitro, in vivo – and we also test in-product, meaning the whole product [with] every single ingredient is also going into clinical trials,” either with a dermatologist, medical oncologist, or a third-party lab in collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital. “We make sure that we test across different skin tones — an SPF 30 to a Caucasian is not SPF 30 to me, and it's not SPF 30 to a Black patient. We treat this product as a drug.”

At the end of the day, there are plenty of sunscreens on the market. Whether you decide to splurge on Pavise’s comes down to personal preference. That said, if you’re looking for the Hermès of suncare, the brand’s Dynamic Age Defense SPF is a hell of a lot more affordable – and practical – than a Birkin bag.

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