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Madison Reed Hair Color Review

is a Solution for:
Dull Hair
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April 5, 2016 Reviewed by Marta 13 Comments
TRU Rating
Good color range for those looking for a safe product


Avoids the most toxic dyes


Not completely toxin free

Hair dye ingredients are positively hair raising. Some of them, especially those that go into making dyes for dark hair, can be very harmful. I frequently am asked to recommend safe hair dyes and so when my colleague, Maura, was at the office with a new, rich mocha-colored coif, I was immediately curious — especially when she said the brand, Madison Reed, made a big deal about safe ingredients.

I’ve heard that before. For example, a few years ago, when a friend asked me to look at Naturtint, a hair dye brand that implies it lives up to its name. It does not. Naturtint had many dubious ingredients, with p-phenylenediamine being a particularly egregious offender. This is a common active in dyes for dark hair and its effects can run the gamut from tearing to coma. So I went to check out Madison Reed with caution.

Since dark dyes are typically amongst the worst offenders, I looked up “Positano Black”. Thankfully, there was no p-phenylenediamine and, I was delighted to see many good things. Nonetheless, this hair dye isn’t completely free of nasties. For a start there’s ethanolamine is also known as acetamide MEA and the European Union classifies it as corrosive and harmful if in contact with the skin. However, the industry body, Cosmetic Ingredient Review, proclaims it is safe in concentrations up to 7.5%.

Although Madison Reed claims to be free of resorcinol (a known irritant), there are a couple of variations such as 4-chlororesorcinol. However, this has been determined to be safe in normal use in hair dyes (source). P-aminophenol can be toxic and an irritant, according to many animal studies, but has been deemed safe at the concentrations used in hair dyes (source).  

Other ingredients, such as 2-amino-3-hydroxypyridine have been deemed safe, even by those picky scientists over in the EU (source). Furthermore, Madison Reed have included some good things such as argan oil, panax ginseng and vitamin C

Overall, Madison Reed has avoided the worst offenders and can be recommended to all but those who want a completely natural, safe product. But pure veggie dyes don’t really do the job of a permanent dye. And this is the perfect segue for Maura to tell us how Madison Reed has performed for her.

by Maura Guyote

I’m only mildly embarrassed to admit that I discovered Madison Reed by clicking on a Facebook ad; but it lead me to a gentle, low-toxicity hair color system that’s a pleasure to use so I can’t complain too much. They caught my eye with the phrase “ammonia-free.” I had recently read in an article (so sorry I can’t source this) that salon hair color has 2% ammonia while most drugstore box color has something like 99%, a frightening number that curbed my penchant for grabbing a box of Garnier Chocolate Cherry on a whim to add some pizazz to my naturally mid-toned, nondescript brown hair.  (Editor's Note: According to this article, the percentage of ammonia in drugstore hair color is much less than 99%.)

A bit of my hair history: my hair has never given me much trouble, but I’ve also never been thrilled by it. Hairdressers comment that it’s “fine, but you have a lot of it” and it grows in a casual wave that’s prone to frizz in humid weather. I’m lucky that it holds a style well and aside from a few cowlicks at the crown of my head, I don’t struggle too much to make it look the way I like when I put in the effort. Growing up in the suburbs of Boston in the early 2000’s, all of the cool kids at my school got blonde highlights, à la Jennifer Aniston in the final seasons of Friends. In retrospect, I’m glad my mother didn’t give into my pleas that I be allowed to participate in this trend, but the result of our arguments was a pressing sense of the expense and commitment of a visit to the salon for hair color. So, when as an art student in New York City a friend asked me to help her dye her hair from a box, it was an “aha” moment: “Oh that’s right! People actually do this themselves in their own bathrooms, and for $10!”

In the handful of times I used drugstore hair color, the major adverse effects were a strong chemical smell that could last until my next hair wash and a stiff, crunchy feel that could last through a few shampoo sessions. But once I learned how packed with nasty stuff they were, I took a break from dying until seeing the fateful Facebook ad. I missed the polish a richer hair color gave to my style and ordered a box of Madison Reed’s auburn-hued Portofino Red - 6NRR.

I still remember receiving my first box from Madison Reed and feeling so impressed and pampered by the thoughtful packaging. With your order, you receive everything you could need to dye: the color & activator, with a pointy-tipped spout for easy application of the color; 2 pairs of gloves, one for application and one for rinsing; a barrier cream to apply to your hairline and ears to avoid telltale “I just dyed by my hair” stains; a gentle wet wipe in case you get color on your neck or hands anyway; sample bottles of their shampoo and conditioner (which I also love); and a cap to wear as the color sinks in.

The first thing I noticed when dying my hair was how pleasant and non-chemical the smell was. It’s a gentle botanical aroma that made the experience of dying my hair so much more pleasant. Of course, since this is still an at-home dye kit, there's still the somewhat annoying process of slowly and deliberately ensuring that the color reaches each and every strand, but at less than $30 per order (even less if you choose the auto-delivery option), it's worth the extra effort. After rinsing the hair color, using their shampoo and standout conditioner, there’s no crunchy feel or chemically smell lingering for days. Just shiny, healthy color that lasts.

  • March 19, 2018

    by diane

    I used Madison Reed for the 1st time because this weekend. I have a sensitivity to the hair coloring when going to my salon. My head itched for a week.
    I used this product and I'm so happy, no itching at all. Thank you!

  • March 13, 2018

    by Kathleen

    I switched to henna to cover gray ( I’m probably 60-70% gray) for two years. I absolutely love it. I’m a licensed cosmetologist and I no longer want to be exposed to hair color chemicals for health reasons. I found the website Read all her info. She did a PhD on serious allergic reactions to hair color and she knows her stuff. It’s easy to use at home. The “Henna for Gray” kit I use actually colors gray better than the salon color I’ve used. It doesn’t wash out. It’s amazing and safe.

  • March 3, 2018

    by Brenda

    Although I love the way my hair felt after it was dyed plus did not irritate my scalp. But not happy after I washed it my roots are just as grey before I dyed my hair!!!

  • February 25, 2018

    by Stephanie

    I been dying my hair since I was 15. I'm now 62 years old. I have fine, thin, straight hair but had lots of it...until 3 years ago. Now it's terribly thin and scarce. Yuk! When I wash my hair and air dry it the results are wavy/curly and very thin and scarce. Oh did did I mention have a cowlick in the crown area with a mind of it's own. It's been hellish to say the least. Trendy short hair styles always looked amazing on me through out the years. I even sprouted a Jane Fonda/Klute and Bowie haircut sprouting the same color as his. People were stoked about this. I have had a Barbara Streisand curl perm that didn't look half bad. Long long long time ago. Moving forward a had Jennifer Aniston's hair cut too and then some. Mostly I wore a near shoulder length style up until recently. I have been to high end color salons, mixed my own product and I used boxed products. I have been very successful in coloring my own hair...and I did it well. Now thanks to dear old Dad (RIP) I'm really thinning. I have gray's around the hairline around the face. I also have severe Dermatitis of the scalp, but it's under control if I keep on it. I just couldn't use any harmful products on the market any longer. After researching the net for month's, I decided to give Madison Reed in Bologna Blonde a try. Amazing color, coverage, smell and all but the one tiny spot, my scalp wasn't offended by the use of this product. The samples came in handy too. Made me a believer. I'm going back and purchasing the entire kit n' kaboodle. To include the powder root touch up, which really stay's on the hair and looks natural. Amazingly, it doesn't irritate my scalp. The color was a shade lighter than what was on my hair and it still managed to raise the hue with gorgeous shine and coverage. I'm not affiliated with the company or employees. I do think they nailed it. Sorry to read others are having an allergic reaction. Everybody's skin is different doesn't mean it's not for you so It's worth trying. With my skin sensitivity (most recently) I am happy to say it worked well. I'm very pleased.

  • January 14, 2018

    by Julie K

    Madison Reed is a dangerous product that will harm your skin.

  • January 9, 2018

    by Barb P.

    Madison Reed products are Dangerous! They do not stand behind their products. My eyes swelled shut. I had welts, pain and and ungodly itch for months. I went to doctors, dermatologists and pharmacists. What else would you expect from: lye, carcinogens and petroleum based irritants.

  • January 8, 2018

    by Toni

    The Madison Reed hair dye caused a severe reaction on my skin. Luckily, I did a patch test on my forearm. Within hours there was: pain, welts, redness itching and swelling. I could not sleep without icing the sight. Madison Reed was completely silent. They would not help or respond to any of my requests for help. Unlike their marketing campaign, they are completely apathetic. They sell a dangerous product and refuse to be responsible. Never again. B warned!

  • May 6, 2017

    by Carmen

    Jaime, your comment was interesting, when you say L'Oreal crème - do you mean L'Oreal Excellence crème?? I know it's a long shot if you come back and comment, but thought I would ask.

  • April 23, 2017

    by Jaime

    I've tried every over the counter brand available, this one did not stand out. If you can't afford to blow at least $60 a month on a one process at the salon, you're stuck with nothing but less than healthy options. You will find most "healthy" options for hair dye won't cover gray very well or very long. If you don't mind non permanents that give muddy color and last 1 wash then more power to you. Best box job hands down is L'oreal creme, but new buyer beware of color grid. You always go lighter than your natural shade if you don't want black hair. A red scalp or muddy undertone doesn't make me real happy so I skip any ash or golden color. My hair was over 50% by age 40 so I use Medium Brown and it comes out light brown with highlights. It takes a good 45 minutes on to kill the gray at the scalp. This is the reality for women without bucks to burn so long as the salon industry has the power to restrict what hair color can be purchased over the counter.

  • February 22, 2017

    by Mina

    I love Madison Reed color, but the shampoo and conditioner smell like Comet cleanser. I HATE them and throw the sample sizes away when they come with my color.

  • December 9, 2016

    by Donna Winton

    I want Napoli Brown but alot of the reviews said it was too dark. Is there a color under it with GOLD tones? I would love to try this product knowing it is a healthier choice. Pleae respond, thank you.

  • April 22, 2016

    by Maura

    That sounds really fascinating, Erin! We'll definitely look into it. Though, I wonder if it would look alright on hair that's already been dyed and is still holding onto some of that old pigment? Thanks for letting us know about it!

  • April 21, 2016

    by Erin

    I've been reading about a product called Hairprint that is very intriguing. It's not a dye but, rather, a formula that literally forms the original melanin in brown and black hair by depositing melanin forming ingredients which bond with the geometry of the hair shaft, producing your original, unique color. It turns out differently on everyone (I keep seeing reviewers saying that it gave them the color they had in high school). It's supposed to reinforce the healthy structure of the hair, too, so it's not damaging like dye.

    It's not for blonde or red hair, as those have additional pigments (they're working on formulas, though).

    It's truly nontoxic- the ingredients are: sodium bicarbonate, sodium carbonate, mucuna puriens, ferrous gluconate, mangagnese gluconate, diatomaceous earth, hydrogen peroxide, and carbomer. I think this would be a great product for TIA to test!

    PS- there are some short videos on youtube with the green chemist/inventor John Warner explaining how it works and showing his own results.

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