Alpenglow Skin Care: High-quality, homespun products

December 12, 2011

Business a family affair for Anchor Point woman

On five-acres halfway between Anchor Point and Homer with views of the snowcapped Kenai Mountains, Susan Houlihan cooks food for the skin.

Her business Alpenglow Skin Care, is dedicated to producing 100 percent natural and made in Alaska lotions, soaps and even shampoos.

She grows her own calendula and mint, harvests cottonwood buds and wild Alaskan Rose petals during the peak seasons and gets goat milk from a neighboring farm for her homespun goods.

“Our products are deliciously — not overly — scented, feel wonderful on the skin and hair, and work incredibly well, in addition to being the healthiest products available,” Susan said.

And that’s something Susan will personally vouch for. She uses her own Cottonwood Balm and says she can’t live without the Alaskan Herbal Hair Rinse.

Susan is passionate about health and educating customers about harmful ingredients in most corporate formulas.

“Unfortunately, the skin and hair care industry does not have the same level of regulation that the food industry does, so it’s very easy for companies to mislead the customer into believing a product is safe,” she said. “Toxic ingredients that are carcinogenic, hormone disrupting and create problem skin are omnipresent.”

A natural beginning

The gardener, wife, mother and businesswoman, began making her own skin care products after trying everything in her 20s for her acne-prone “problem skin.”

“My bathroom cabinet was full of products that didn’t work for me and that had labels I couldn’t understand,” Susan said. “I didn’t trust they were as healthy as proclaimed.”

So she started researching ingredients and got a “how to” book on natural products.

A self-proclaimed “crafty person,” she made face creams, balms and soaps for herself.

“I just wanted to make products with simple, healthy ingredients,” she said, “and to my delight, my skin began to improve.”

After sharing her creations with family and friends, her business started in 1999 with help from her husband, Patrick Houlihan

“Alpenglow began in our small cabin without running water or a driveway and a small garden for growing food and botanicals for our products,” she said. “We had one table in the cabin so I had to make a batch of soap between lunch and dinner or we’d end up eating dinner on the couch.”

After her husband built them a house with modern amenities, the cabin became the dedicated space for the business.

Organic growth

More than 10 years after her first sale of six soap bars to her neighbor, Susan’s company — and family— has grown.

“We now have larger scale equipment like a 50-gallon and 25-gallon fancy heated kettle on hydraulic lifts,” Susan said, “compared with my 10-gallon kettle that requires muscle to move from stove top to table top to dispense from.”

The garden has also expanded from a little botanical plot to a 20- by 60-foot hoop greenhouse to extend the growing season, she said.

Alpenglow Skin Care creates some 60 different products and can be found in more than 50 stores statewide. She sells her products at farmer’s markets and other fairs but does not have a brick and mortar storefront.

“I credit a lot of our growth to listening to our customers,” she said. “It has allowed steady growth through these rough economic times. We are very practical and run a tight ship. There is very little waste of money, resources or time. Efficiency is imperative for profit.”

Susan’s husband and their two kids, Liam, 8, and Alana, 6, make up the majority of the work force.

Liam and Alana put caps on cream jars, count change in the farmer’s market cash box, precisely weigh ingredients on scales and help harvest the wild botanicals, Susan said.

“They know more about gardening and botany at 6 and 8 than I knew at 30,” she said. The business has even outgrown the small cabin and Susan is moving the operation into a 1,600 square foot workshop on their property.

“Alpenglow has experienced steady growth since inception but our goal has never been to become huge,” she said. “Quality of life is priority, so I balance being a mother and wife, with a businesswoman in a way that works for us.”

And that seems to be the key to Susan’s success — her passion, keeping things and perspective and making things work for her family.

Business advice? Quality of life

Her advice for other entrepreneurs?

“Beginning entrepreneurs often attempt to tackle everything themselves to get their business started and to keep costs down,” she said. “I think this is OK at the very beginning, while you fine tune the product and narrow down your customer demographics. Shortly after you have a product to sell, it’s time to do what it is you are good at, and admit where you need help and hire that out. A good accountant, graphic designer or consultant is worth their weight in gold.”

Also, always keep your vision in view, Houlihan said.

“If you are starting to feel overworked and underpaid or there isn’t much joy in your work, re-prioritize,” she said. “Keep quality of life in mind through all decision making processes … We only get one life to live, make sure it’s filled with meaning, a sense of right livelihood and deep connection with your loved ones. That’s what’s most important.”

Apenglow Skin Care:

CONTACT: (907) 235-1412, or email


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15 Responses to Alpenglow Skin Care: High-quality, homespun products

  1. Pat Andrea on December 14, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    Love your products. I live in Arizona, where it is dry year around, and your products have really helped my skin.

  2. Emma Cameron on December 14, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    I love these products!!! Love love love! Every year I buy them as Christmas presents for family and friends and they love it.
    I’m so glad to see this organic non toxic company doing so well!

    Keep up the amazing work Susan!

  3. Patricia Olsen on December 14, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    I absolutely love all of your products especially the shampoos and hair rinse. They leave your hair so soft and shiny without any residue I wish you continued success Susan.

  4. Kay Rukasin on December 14, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Got your Cottonwood Balm while at Denali this past summer. Your samples saved my lips and dry, dry hands while in Alaska. I brought the samples home to Tucson, Arizona where it is dry year round. I have ordered a number of 5g “tinies” for stocking stuffers for the men and women in the family and a couple of serious sized 1 oz containers to use everywhere on my skin, as well as on my husband’s. The scent is light and fresh without being too sweet for the men. Thank you to the bus driver and hiking guide for the samples. They believe in your Cottonwood Balm and were eager to share! Now I am hooked.

  5. Kay Rukasin on December 14, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    Recieved your Cottonwood Balm as samples while in Denali this summer.It saved my lips, face and hands then and now in Tucson, AZ.
    The scent is light & fresh without being too sweet for men. Got lots for stocking stuffers for the entire family. Can’t be without one in my purse or pocket!

  6. Annette on December 14, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    Thanks for all the feedback everyone! We’re so glad you like the business we featured this week.

  7. Vonnie Munk on December 14, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    Well done Susan. Your dedication has certainly paid dividends.
    Love your products and only wish yhey were available way down here in South Africa. Fortunately still have shampoo bars and body lotion gifts from Caroline. Will have to visit AK again soon to stock up.

    Keep smiling on your products.

  8. Meg Cicciarella on December 15, 2011 at 12:46 am

    I’ve used Susan’s facial and body creams, shampoo/hair rinse and soaps for several years now and love them all. We’ve also used the Cottonwood Balm on ourselves as well as our horses’ cuts & scrapes. Great, great stuff!

  9. Anne on December 15, 2011 at 5:49 am

    LOVE this product — and the ethos behind it.

  10. Kat Haber on December 15, 2011 at 6:50 am

    Way to grow your business, Susan!

  11. Casey D on December 15, 2011 at 10:45 am

    I started using Alpenglow for my “problem skin” and damaged hair. I especially like the goat milk soap, which works for my face and body (I have NEVER had a product I could use for both) and the hair products. They are wonderful. Thanks Susan for making such a wonderful, organic, safe, effective and healthy product. Your story was great to read! I always feel good when I purchase your products, knowing I am supporting a family oriented, local business.

  12. Lisa on December 15, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    I received a gift basket of the products and live in Illinois…I wish we had somewhere here that sold them! They are incredibly rich and work so well…love them!

  13. Delores on December 15, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    bought my first products at Farmer’s Mkt in Homer; couldn’t wait to replenish till next trip (summer ’12) so ordered online – wonderful service, prompt response. Thanks for such good products. Shampoo tops on my list, but am learning how good the cottonwood balm is! Like the idea I could “eat” it if I choose.

  14. Dennis Rose on December 17, 2011 at 11:31 am

    Dear Susan,

    I have been ordering your products here in Australia for a couple of years now. I have found them to be the best products for our family. Thank you for having them available and for all the good intention that goes into making them.

    Dennis Rose

  15. Barbara Pratt on December 19, 2011 at 5:17 am

    Found your website while searching for safe skin care products, and am delighted with my discovery of Alpenglow and the cleanser, lotion and goats milk soap that I continue to use. Congratulations on your continual successful business.

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