This post may contain "affiliate links." This means if you click on the affiliate link and purchase the item, I'll receive a commission. I disclose this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255. I only recommend products that passed my strict criteria. Read about my research methods in the Start Here page.
Last updated on February 11th, 2017
This year Eluxe magazine listed 9 of the best “natural” hair dyes. If you read my blog regularly, you probably know that I am very skeptical about the overused claim “natural” to say the least. If you look at the website of one of the natural hair dyes listed in the Eluxe magazine article, Madison Reed, the images of plants show up and the company promises you healthy hair and no harsh chemicals. Moreover, a nice board-certified Dr. Jan Hansen tells us that when she was pregnant she colored her hair but the fumes of ammonia made her sick. She claims she recommends Madison Reed hair dye to pregnant women as a healthier option.
If you look closer, it seems that Madison Reed backs up their claims that the hair dye is healthy, recommended by a doctor, and has no harsh chemicals claims, based on the fact that Madison Reed hair dye is free of ammonia, resorcinol, PPD, and Parabens. That must be good, right? It depends. Remember, whenever you see a claim that a product is “free” of something, you always have to ask what the manufacturer used instead. So let’s see!
As an example, here are the ingredients for the Madison Reed Permanent Verona Brown Hair Dye
Radiant Color Cream
Aqua, Stearyl Alcohol, Ethanolamine, Propylene Glycol, Cetyl Alcohol, Ceteareth-25, Cocamide Mea, Ceteth-2, Toluene-2, 5-Diamine Sulfate, Polyquaternium-6, Argania Spinosa Kernel Oil, Hydrolyzed Keratin, Panax Ginseng Root Extract, Dimethicone, Palmitic Acid, Ascorbic Acid, Edta, Sodium Hydrosulfite, Sodium Sulfite, Butylene Glycol, 2-Methylresorcinol, P-Aminophenol, 4-Chloropesorcinol, M-Aminophenol, 2-Amino-3- Hydroxypyridine.
Aqua, Hydrogen Peroxide, Cetearyl Alcohol, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Propylene Glycol, Dimethicone, Parfum, Oxyquinoline Sulfate, Pentasodium Pentate, Phosphoric Acid, Tetrasodium Edta, Etidronic Acid.
Water, Mineral Oil, Glycerin, Peg-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Pvp, Butylene Glycol, Cyclopentasiloxane, Argania Spinosa Kernel Oil, Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate, Dimethiconol, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Disodium Edta, Phenoxyethanol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Sodium Hydroxide, Fragrance.
Water, Isopropyl Alcohol, Ammonium Oleate, Sodium Lauroyl Glutamate, Benzyl Alcohol, Disodium Edta, Fragrance.
The ingredients are listed here.
So what is used instead of Ammonia?
Ammonia opens the cuticle layer of the hair and allows the color molecules to penetrate the hair. While the Madison Reed hair dye does not contain ammonia (yay!), it contains ethanolamine instead. According to Cosmeticsinfo.org, an educational website sponsored by personal care product manufacturers, ethanolamine has an ammonia-like odor, which is no surprise because it is produced by reacting 1 mole of ethylene oxide (a known human carcinogen, rated 10 out of 10 in the Skin Deep database) with 1 mole of ammonia.
According to the FDA, ethanolamine may also be contaminated with diethanolamine (DEA) that is linked with cancer in lab animals. In fact, Ethanolamine is rated 5-6 depending on usage (10 being the most toxic) in the Skin Deep database, while ammonia is rated 4-6. So in this case, according to the EWG database, Madison Reed actually replaced ammonia with something even more toxic! (Not yay. Boo, even.)
When I did more research for the Permanent Hair Color Rating List, I found is that “there is limited evidence that ethanolamine is a teratogen in animals. Until further testing has been done, it should be treated as a possible teratogen in humans.” (source) (Teratogens are agents that interfere with fetus development.)
The only improvement is that ethanolamine might not smell as strongly as ammonia.
So what is used instead of PPD?
PPD, aka p-phenylenediamine, is a permanent hair dye that is rated 7 out 10 in the Skin Deep database, and is associated with allergic reactions. Yes – there is no PPD in the Madison Reed hair dye, but then there is toluene-2, 5-diamine sulfate (aka PTDS). PTDS is rated in the Skin Deep database as being worse than PPD – it received an 8 as opposed to PPD’s 7. This study found that “concentration present of toluene-2,5-diamine elicited allergic reactions in concentrations that were 10-fold lower than the legal EU limit of 10%.”
This study listed PTDS as one of the potent contact sensitizers along with p-phenylenediamine (PPD), resorcinol, m-aminophenol, and p-aminophenol. (A contact sensitizer is a substance that results in a contact allergy that develops over time.) By the way, if you look at the Madison Reed hair dye ingredients, the other potent sensitizers m-aminophenol and p-aminophenol are among them. And this study found that people have experienced allergic reactions to hair dyes containing PPD, PPDS, m-aminophenol, and p-aminophenol.
So what is used instead resorcinol?
As I mentioned above, resorcinol is a potent contact sensitizer. It is toxic to the immune system. And in animal studies, resorcinol can disrupt thyroid hormone synthesis and disrupt the production of thyroid hormones by interfering with iodine uptake in the thyroid gland. It is rated 8 out of 10 in the Skin Deep database.
Madison Reed apparently uses 2-methylresorcinol to help impart color to hair. It is rated much better than resorcinol in the Skin Deep Database – it is only a 4. However, the EWG notes that there is not enough data around this substance and data gaps are a concern, so the EWG may revise its rating at some point as new data becomes available.
And the Endocrine Disruption Exchange database lists both resorcinol and 2-methylresorcinol as hormone disrupting substances.
Thus, based on this information, I am not so sure that 2-methylresorcinol is a much better alternative than resorcinol.
And about parabens in the Madison Reed hair dye…
Parabens are used as preservatives. Paraben preservatives are linked with hormone disruption. To the company’s credit, the phenoxyethanol preservative they used instead is not linked with hormonal disruptions. Phenoxyethanol is rated 4 out of 10 in the Skin Deep database. In my opinion, there are safer preservatives that could have been used instead.
Fragrance in the Madison Reed hair dye
The color activator, barrier cream, and cleansing wipes contain fragrance – also known as parfum or perfume. Most companies do not disclose fragrance ingredients to US consumers, despite the fact that a lot of people have allergies to fragrance, because they are not required to do so by law. According to the EWG, fragrance mixes often contain diethyl phthalate, which is associated with hormone disruption. Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress, and potential effects on the reproductive system. EWG has given fragrance a rating of 8 out 10.
Ethoxylated ingredients in the Madison Reed hair dye
Madison Reed uses a number of ingredients that were derived by a process known as ethoxylation, which is a manufacturing process in which ethylene oxide is added. Ethylene oxide is rated 10 out 10 in the Skin Deep database and is classified as a known human carcinogen by the US National Toxicology Program as well as the International Agency on for Research on Cancer.
As a result of the ethoxylation process, traces of unreacted ethylene oxide might be left in the final product. Moreover, 1,4-dioxane gets created during the ethoxylation process. Unless a manufacturer uses a vacuum-stripping method to get rid of 1,4-dioxane, a possible human carcinogen can remain in the final product.
According to the EWG, the presence of 1,4-dioxane in personal care/beauty products is of special concern because it can be absorbed through the skin in toxic amounts. In addition, both ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane are potent skin irritants.
Conclusion about the Madison Reed hair dye
Don’t get me wrong. I understand why you might feel compelled to use permanent hair dyes such Madison Reed. (We all want to look my age – and I should know because I have been 29 for many years now… 🙂 ) What I want is for you as a consumer to make the decision as to whether to use this product with the knowledge of the risks, especially if you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant. I don’t want you to base your decisions merely on assurances of safety by the company. In my opinion, I do not agree that the Madison Reed hair dye is free of harsh chemicals as it is advertised. And while it is true that the Madison Reed hair dye may be free of ammonia, resorcinol, PPD, and parabens, the substitutes might not be any better. Unfortunately, this type of substitution practice is common and requires us, consumers, to always ask the question as to what was used instead.
Please share this blog post with your friends so they also make their decisions with the knowledge you have just acquired. And if you have experienced an allergic reaction to the Madison Reed hair dye, please do not hesitate to comment for everyone’s benefit.
To learn more about hair color products, read here:
Find out what I use for my hair
Get this free guide and take 5 powerful steps to a non-toxic home today!
When you join the I Read Labels For You community, you'll gain clarity and confidence to create a non-toxic home.
"I find your knowledge so helpful, to the point and like a gold mine. You have saved me so much time and have taught me so much.” Toni