The Cult of Alpha-H


I am a master of the art of traveling light, if only because I know to leave room for all the cool new beauty stuff I’ll inevitably want to bring back. I can’t help it! I’ll spend an hour in a pharmacy or little beauty store if a bored and confused travel companion doesn’t pull me out. The latest thing I’ve been made aware of? The Australian-based, and UK-beloved, Alpha-H. The brand confirms that one bottle of its hero product Liquid Gold is sold every two minutes, and a quick Google search for the product results in glowing reviews from across the pond, where its most vocal users are based, and loads of retailers touting Liquid Gold, its price in pounds.

Though it launched in the US a few months ago, we’re still missing out on a large chunk of the line. But the US market does have Liquid Gold, the cult exfoliating toner that the brand recommends as the first and only step after cleansing, lest any other product affect the acidic toner's optimal pH. It sounded like a rumor too wild to be true—apparently, it had a pH so low that, when I mentioned it off-hand to my boyfriend, he expressed genuine concern that I’d accidentally burn my face off. (Liquid Gold clocks in at around 2.8 while, for reference, Biologique Recherche’s notoriously stingy P50 1970 has a pH of 3.5.) But for all my US-based concern, the Liquid Gold exfoliating treatment was flying off the shelves internationally—and had been, for years.

“Alpha-haych’s DNA was formed in the spa,” says founder and Australian-native Michelle Doherty. After discovering what acids could do for her skin in the mid-’90s, Michelle developed an entire line based off of them, with high concentrations of actives to match. Still, she believes that certain professional acid treatments are best left to, well, professionals. “We formulate our own back of house products which are designed specifically to be used by trained aestheticians,” adds Michelle, in addition to what’s available in stores. You can actually get a professional Alpha-H facial in London’s John Bell and Croyden, and at a few spas in Spain and Holland. So, while products like Liquid Gold are stronger than others on the market, you won’t actually burn your face off in one go. Duly noted.

In fact, the line is a balancing act. Half of it is intense, and formulated to dissolve dead skin and cut through oil plugs—many products, Liquid Gold included, are so strong that they’re meant to be used just a few times per week. And then the other half focuses on replenishing the hydration stripped away by the acids. Alpha-H giveth what Alpha-H taketh away. Personally, I found the high-concentration of denatured alcohol in Liquid Gold too astringent for my already dry skin, but met my perfect match in the Liquid Gold Perfecting Mask.

Reader, I don’t like masks. I’ve never seen the point to them—you want me to wash my face to apply a product that I then have to wait around for and wash off again? I’m supposed to make time for this multiple times a week, on top of my regular routine—and if I don’t, they’ll do… nothing? No thanks. But the Alpha-H Liquid Gold mask is different. It actually includes a higher percentage of glycolic than Liquid Gold (15-percent to LG’s 10) bolstered by five-percent lactic acid, but it feels gentler. That's because the rest of the ingredients are there to soothe—squalane, jojoba, shea and mango seed butters are just a few. It’s strong enough for me to see an immediate lightening of my dark marks and relief from scabby flakes, but gentle and creamy enough that my skin feels soft, supple, and not at all stripped when I wash it off. It actually lets me skip some of my routine, so I do more with less time. And luckily, it’s available in the US. If you want to try the BHA version, you’ll need an international pen pal or a vacation. It’s as good as an excuse as any to take one.

—Ali Oshinsky

Shop Ali's favorite Alpha-H products here:

Photo via ITG