Maureen Toohey of Fresh Organic Salon in Bedford Hills Talks About Natural and Safe Beauty
Nov 01, 2019 02:11AM
● By Marilee Burrell
Maureen Toohey and client
by Allison Gorman
Beauty and wellness have been Maureen Toohey’s business for more than 35 years. She understands how looking good can improve one’s self-esteem, as well as one’s personal or professional life. But she is also concerned that many beauty and personal care products available online, in stores and in salons, including DYI hair dyes, are risking the health of people and the environment.
Her concern comes from first-hand experience, as she once worked in a traditional salon setting. Now, as owner of Fresh Organic Salon, in Bedford Hills, she offers a nontoxic approach to beauty. She also advocates for more transparency in the beauty industry regarding the ingredients and sourcing of its products.
“We’re constantly bombarded by toxins in our environment from numerous sources, and most of them we can’t control,” Toohey says. “But we often overlook the toxins that we apply to our own bodies in the name of beauty and cleanliness. Most of the commercial personal products women use daily are full of endocrine-disrupting chemicals that are toxic and wreak havoc on their hormones and health.”
One hidden source of toxins are products that list “fragrance” as one of their ingredients, she says.
“Even though the Food and Drug Administration requires major brands to name ingredients on the label, a federal loophole allows manufacturers to sneak chemicals in under that one blanket term,” she explains. “As a result, toxins make their way into our bodies without us knowing it.
The FDA doesn’t require beauty brands to seek approval before they go on the market, so millions of consumers who buy these products are unwittingly exposing themselves to potential health problems.”
In general, there is little federal regulation regarding the safety of the products we put on our bodies, and little regard for what we absorb into our body through our skin as a result, Toohey says.
“Because the ingredients in a fragrance are considered a trade secret, chemicals like benzene, styrene, phthalates and petroleum often find their way into beauty products,” she says. “These are known hormone disruptors. They can cause thyroid problems and various health issues that result in hair loss, weight gain, skin allergies and breakouts. It has saddened me to find out, through my 35 years of research and development of beauty products, that the major companies have been lying to and misleading both professionals and consumers.”
Reducing Health Risks
To reduce the risk of developing thyroid and other health problems, Toohey suggests finding out the source of the ingredients of any beauty product before using it—and not judging the product by the catchy phrasing on its label.
“While it’s great that natural beauty products are becoming popular, don’t be fooled by the marketing terms either,” she says. “Chemicals like pesticides and chemical fertilizers used to grow ingredients can find their way into our system as well. It’s important to know where the ingredients are sourced and the ethos behind the company.”
She recommends purchasing professional organic salon products, having thoughtful discussions on lifestyle and health, and remembering that what goes on the skin can end up in the bloodstream and organs. Among the known toxins “to avoid at all costs”—chemicals commonly used in salons and commercial beauty products—are ammonia, formaldehyde, parabens, synthetic fragrances and heavy metals. She also warns that major manufacturers of hair dyes and cosmetics use ingredients that have been linked to breast cancer and other hormone-related health issues in women.
“So much work needs to be done to regulate these ingredients, which are harmful to our health,” she says. “These chemical groups can penetrate the body and disrupt the balance of the hormones, potentially stimulating the growth of cancer cells and thyroid issues.”
Both consumers and professionals in the beauty industry should be loudly demanding safer, cleaner products and more transparency from manufacturers, Toohey says.
“While working with doctors and collaborating with likeminded holistic professionals with concerns about safer treatments and ingredient transparency, we need to get to the root causes of undiagnosed illness, which are usually hormone related due to toxicity in the body,” she says. “Professionals’ knowledge needs to go beyond the surface, beyond the trends. Many of my peers are now suffering from undiagnosed illnesses.”
She notes that hairdressing is known as one of the most toxic careers, and that the incidence of health issues like cancer, fertility problems and especially thyroid disease continue to increase in hair stylists and salon owners, who are typically exposed to a host of harmful chemicals over time.
“That is no coincidence,” she says, adding, “I never thought being a hairstylist would be detrimental to my health.”
For years, Toohey worked around toxic products in traditional salons, and she remembers how sick she’d feel at the end of a workday. Her problems resolved when she switched to using all-natural, all-organic products. She partnered with distributors in the European Union and the United Kingdom, where thousands of toxic chemicals are banned from use in beauty products.
“I had so many ‘aha!’ moments—huge eye openers that made me realize how harmful many of these ingredients are,” she says. “For a while I thought I’d have to change my career.”
But since discovering that there are many holistic hair color and salon products available that don’t use ammonia, formaldehyde and synthetic fragrances, Toohey feels she owes it to the community to share her findings.
“Beauty does not need to be harmful to your health,” she says. “Consumers should demand the safest, purest ingredients available today. I do that every day as a professional.”