On any given day Lisa Price is sure to have something strange brewing in her Brooklyn kitchen, like chunks of amber beeswax floating in an 80-qt. steel pot or rose petals marinating in a bowl of lemon juice. But there is one ingredient that Price—who makes by hand her Carol's Daughter line of all-natural body, hair and skin products—won't ever let into the mix. "When there's bickering going on between two people," she says, "the pots don't come out right."

Price must be keeping a tight lid on disharmony among her 25 employees. Since starting her company in 1993 by hawking baby-food jars filled with scented creams at local street fairs, Carol's Daughter (named for Price's mother) has steadily grown into a $2 million business—mostly by word of mouth, because Price's products are available only at her Brooklyn boutique, her Web site and 15 small shops in places like Denver and Tallahassee, Fla. Oprah Winfrey fell in love with one of the foot creams after Halle Berry sent her a gift basket, and Jada Pinkett Smith introduced her husband, Will Smith, to the peppermint-laced Lisa's Hair Elixir. "It makes his hair smell so good," Smith says.

Almost good enough to eat. Price uses actual food—like chocolate, honey and mango—in her lotions and potions, which have such yummy-sounding names as Creamy Nougat Body Scrub and Jamaican Punch Honey Butter. Some of the products, which range in price from S3.50 for Healthy Hair Butter to $25 for the Shea Butter Skin Smoothie moisturizer, are so fresh they carry six-month expiration dates, while others must be refrigerated. Price's premium on freshness gets results. "With over-the-counter products, half an hour later you're ashy again," says CSI star Gary Dourdan, who likes the Mango Body Butter. "But Lisa's really stay on."

To get them that way Price, 40, does a lot of experimentation, using her family as guinea pigs. Husband Gordon Price, 44, who works in audio production for Sesame Street, tries out new men's fragrances. "I used to be an Old Spice guy," he says, but now "a new bottle shows up on my dresser and I'm expected to wear it." Price's son Forrest, 6, tells her, "Mommy, it's itchy," if one of the kid's moisturizers irritates his sensitive skin. He and brother Ennis, 5, inspired the name of Price's Sweet Baby Body Butter. "When I would rub the cream into their skins," she explains, "I would say, 'My sweet baby, my sweet baby.' "

The older of two children born in Brooklyn to Robert Hairston, 68, a professor of business law at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., and Carol Hutson, 60, a retired bookkeeper (the couple divorced in 1972), Price grew up feeling self-conscious about being overweight. To make herself "special and stand out," she started experimenting with perfumes. "I always knew when she was coming," her father says. "I could smell her."

She spent two years at the City College of New York in Manhattan before dropping out in 1980. "I didn't know what I wanted to do," says Price, who went on to work in a series of jobs while also singing with an R&B band.

It was during a 1989 gig that Price met her husband, who played percussion for the group one night. "I'm watching Lisa dance and sing," says Gordon, "and I'm thinking, 'I like the way she moves.' " The couple married two years later, and with the help of a friend, Price landed a job as a writer's assistant on The Cosby Show.

All the while, however, she continued with her concoctions. Her early batches of bath salts came out "rock hard," Price says, and it took her three years to figure out how to keep cream from separating. The secret, which she discovered by watching a Duncan Hines cake commercial, was to whip it with a hand mixer. "I was so excited. I was like, 'I made cream! I made cream!' "

After becoming a mother in 1996, Price decided "to stay home and give this business a go." She initially set up shop in her living room ("The doorbell would ring at 10 p.m., with someone saying, 'I need shampoo!' " she says) before opening her Carol's Daughter boutique three years ago.

Though she never imagined such success "in my wildest dreams," Price has discovered a lot more than how to run a business. "I learned," she says, "to dream bigger."

Galina Espinoza
Eve Heyn and Kadesha Thomas in New York

  • Contributors:
  • Eve Heyn,
  • Kadesha Thomas.