Alpha-H Founder Michelle Doherty, An Early Proponent Of Glycolic Acid, Dies At 57

Michelle Doherty, founder of Alpha-H, died Thursday morning last week at the age of 57 after a two-year battle with cancer.

A beauty therapist early in her career, Doherty’s search for solutions to her cystic acne led to her discovery of glycolic acid and the birth of her brand a quarter century ago. In the years since, Alpha-H has become a multimillion-dollar business powered by the glycolic acid exfoliating treatment Liquid Gold.

Speaking to Beauty Independent in March 2019 timed with Australian brand Alpha-H’s launch at Sephora in the United States, Doherty said, “What we wanted to do is make active skincare that you normally would be able to buy from professionals available to a larger audience for their home-care use.”

Mourning the loss of its architect, Doherty’s company Alpha-H stated, “She never missed a single opportunity to share her passion with the world, and always gave back in any way she could. She was incredibly inspiring to us; both brilliant in business and all-encompassing in life. We know that she can look back with pride at the legacy she has created.”

Leaders across the beauty industry remembered Doherty as dedicated to her family and effective skincare. She is survived by her husband Dean, daughters Jamee, Libby and Taryn, and six grandchildren.

Alpha-H’s assortment contains over 60 products spanning its retail and professional collections, but glycolic acid-driven exfoliating treatment Liquid Gold is the clear hero offering.

At the beginning of e-tailer Cult Beauty in 2008, co-founder and co-CEO Alexia Inge recalled Doherty “supported us generously and enthusiastically through the times where we were driving sales of 150 pounds a month for them. She was as free with her time and advice as she was with her infectious guffaws and will be missed by more people than this modest lady would ever have imagined.”

In a blog post, beauty influencer Caroline Hirons wrote, “Michelle was funny, gregarious, generous, appropriately loud, had no problem telling people when to F off, adored her team, was obsessed with her family, thrilled about the fact that her girls had all started having their own babies and that she was a grandmother, and loved nothing more than talking about them every time we saw each other.”

Sephora shared, “We were incredibly saddened to learn of the passing of Michelle Doherty, who was a valued partner of our Sephora beauty community. We extend our deepest sympathies to her loved ones.” On Instagram, Adore Beauty CEO and founder Kate Morris said Doherty “was an incredibly successful businesswoman because she truly cared about what she did, but more importantly she was a genuinely lovely person to know.”

Long before skintellectuals were debating the benefits of AHAs and BHAs, Doherty promoted glycolic acid to improve skin. “When I go back to 1995, everyone was so frightened of the word ‘acid.’ We defended acid and the tingle our products produced for such a long time,” she told Beauty Independent. “This was never a trend or fad for us. It was always the backbone and the heartbeat of the brand.”

“What we wanted to do is make active skincare that you normally would be able to buy from professionals available to a larger audience for their home-care use.”

As the beauty industry woke up to acids, Alpha-H’s retail profile escalated. As of last year, it was stocked in roughly 300 retail doors around the world, including at Myer in Australia, Marks & Spencer in the United Kingdom, Sephora in Singapore and Australia, and Harvey Nichols and Bloomingdale’s in the United Arab Emirates as well as Adore Beauty, Cult Beauty and Sephora in the U.S. On top of retailers, the brand was carried by 1,000-plus spas, salons and skincare clinics. Alpha-H is available in more than 30 countries. In 2019, The Riverside Co. acquired the brand.

Once the pandemic hit, Alpha-H pivoted quickly by turning customers to its free live online skin consultations and producing hand sanitizer. In an online letter on its efforts, Doherty emphasized, “We are trying really hard to help our customers feel as connected as ever before.”

Spanning its professional and retail ranges, Alpha-H’s assortment contains over 60 products, but Liquid Gold is the clear star. “When someone’s feeling let down by their current skincare regime, that’s when they turn to Liquid Gold,” said Doherty. “We never ask our customers to invest in a whole new skincare routine. You can slot Liquid Gold into your current routine for up to three nights to amplify the results of your skincare products.”

Asked about the succession plan at Alpha-H, a brand spokeswoman said, “The business has been building a new senior management team to run Alpha-H over the last several years. With this year marking 25 years of Alpha-H, the team have been working on building the brand’s platform for the next 25 years and beyond with many new initiatives planned.”