The Popularity Of Skincare Acids Has Pushed Alpha-H Into The Spotlight At Sephora
A quarter century from now, we could be purchasing skincare on Mars. The prospect is perhaps only a bit more farfetched than Alpha-H owner and director Michelle Doherty’s plan nearly a quarter century ago to build a strong following for products based on glycolic acid.
“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 says. “This was never a trend or fad for us. It was always the backbone and the heartbeat of the brand.”
The brand may not be trend-driven, but trends have caught up to Alpha-H. Acids like the glycolic acid, lactic acid and ferulic acid it incorporates in formulas have become important in skincare junkies’ routines. The brand’s relevance to the active ingredient movement du jour has piqued store interest, and it’s launched 12 items online at Sephora, where it will be rolling out to 280 doors later this month with three products: $60 Liquid Gold, $75 Liquid Gold Ultimate Perfecting Mask and $99 Liquid Gold Firming Eye Cream.
Alpha-H has roughly 60 products across its retail and professional ranges, but Liquid Gold, a product with a low pH and 5% glycolic acid intended to promote deep peeling, is a clear standout. Two bottles of Liquid Gold, which also features vitamins, peptides and botanical extracts, sell per minute.
“When someone’s feeling let down by their current skincare regime, that’s when they turn to Liquid Gold,” says 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.”
While skincare enthusiasts familiar with active ingredients aren’t afraid to try Liquid Gold, Alpha-H is aware its acid-heavy proposition is intimidating to many shoppers. To educate them, Doherty is adamant the brand sends trained beauty technicians into stores to communicate about its product contents and purposes. There are currently three trained beauty technicians roving Sephora stores in the U.S.
“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. This was never a trend or fad for us. It was always the backbone and the heartbeat of the brand.”
“You have to be very accountable any time you are taking off layers of skin. There needs to be a real understanding of the potency of the ingredients and the levels of the percentages we are working with and what we can achieve,” says Doherty. “We want beauty advisors on the Sephora shop floor to have a fundamental idea of what our brand does when they recommend our products.”
Doherty’s fondness for trained beauty technicians is personal as well as occupational. She was a beauty therapist early on in her beauty industry career, and she discovered glycolic acid was a savior for her skin upon experimenting with various remedies to the cystic acne that plagued her from age 14 to 28. However, in Australia and New Zealand, where she was located then, it was difficult to find glycolic acid products. Today, Alpha-H’s headquarters are in Brisbane.
“There was Clarins at the beauty salon and not much more. As lovely as the brands that were available are, they are never going to change your problematic skin,” she says. “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.”
Doherty notes customers flock to Alpha-H to address serious skincare issues such as sun damage, premature aging and acne. They gravitate to the sensation Alpha-H products generate. Doherty says, “Most people get a slight tingling with Liquid Gold. That’s an indication the product is micro-stimulating the skin and working. It’s not a reaction, it’s an indication we are able to deliver tangible results.”
“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.”
Doherty had difficultly unearthing products with glycolic acid before Alpha-H began, and she had even greater difficultly pinning down a local manufacturer that could make them. She decided to manufacture them herself and enlisted her husband Dean to spearhead the project. Alpha-H’s manufacturing remains in-house.
“We have around six to seven turnovers of stock every year, which means our products that go to market are newly-made and very fresh,” says Doherty. “Although we run 10,000 bottles of Liquid Gold every day because we have to, we only manufacture what we need. We don’t have 100,000 bottles of our sunscreen sitting in a warehouse somewhere.”
Alpha-H is revving up manufacturing to meet rising global demand. The multimillion-dollar company is projecting 35% sales growth for its fiscal year that ends in June. Excluding Sephora in the U.S., Alpha-H is sold in over 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.
On top of retail stores, the brand is carried by 1,000-plus spas, salons and skincare clinics, and in front of 800 million passengers annually due to partnerships with the airlines Virgin Atlantic and British Airways. It’s on the home-shopping channels TVSN in Australia and QVC in Germany, France, Italy and the U.K., and e-tailers Look Fantastic, Beauty Bay, Asos and Cult Beauty, too.
“Most people get a slight tingling with Liquid Gold. That’s an indication the product is micro-stimulating the skin and working. It’s not a reaction, it’s an indication we are able to deliver tangible results.”
Alpha-H’s healthy sales at Sephora branches outside the U.S. convinced the U.S. arm to take a chance on it. The brand rebuffed retail interest from other American companies prior to solidifying its distribution deal with Sephora stateside.
“We are very selective about who we work with because we have to be careful managing our inventory, and we felt that they were committed to the Alpha-H brand. Some places you go put you on the shelf, and it’s sink or swim, but we felt Sephora would really support the brand,” says Doherty, adding, “Long term, we would like to see the offering expand in Sephora, but we understand we need to prove ourselves in order to get that. We will be working very hard to ensure customers fall in love with the brand and to ensure that we become that go-to brand, not a Band-Aid solution because we’re very much not that.”