In 2015, Eluxe magazine listed 9 of the best “natural” hair dyes. If you have read my blog before, you probably know that I am skeptical about the overused claim “natural,” to say the least. In 2015, I wrote an article that started by criticizing one of the “natural” hair dyes listed in the Eluxe magazine article, Madison Reed. I was concerned about the images of plants on their website and their promises of healthy hair, and no harsh chemicals. I was also very concerned that they had a doctor, Dr. Jan Hansen, who claimed that Madison Reed hair dye was a healthier option for pregnant women.
Today, I want to praise Madison Reed for listening to us consumers and removing this confusing information. Madison Reed no longer makes these claims. Their marketing is more transparent. I also love the fact that unlike other permanent hair color brands, they continue providing a full list of ingredients of all their products on their website. Over the years, I have researched a lot of hair color brands, and I can tell you that some brands refuse to email a full list of ingredients to me or even to licensed hairstylists. Well done, Madison Reed!
So, today, I’d like to tell you what it actually means when a permanent hair color manufacturer claims that their permanent hair color is free of ammonia and PPD, which is such a common claim nowadays. In addition to ammonia- and PPD-free claims, Madison Reed tells us that their permanent hair color is free of resorcinol, parabens, phthalates, and gluten and we can feel good about their ingredients. Should we feel good about Madison Reed hair dye ingredients?
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.
First of all, let me start by reminding everyone about my methodology: before I come to an opinion on any particular product, I first compare the ingredients used by the major players in the industry in question, and by learning about the safety and efficacy (read: how well they work) of the ingredients they use.
When a company claims that their product is free of something, I always ask them what they use instead and what their competitors use instead. Unfortunately, sometimes I have been disappointed to learn that substitutes are not any better, just less notorious. For example, when plastic products or canned food claims to be free of BPA, it might have BPS instead, and it turns out BPS is no safer than BPA.
So what is used instead of ammonia?
All permanent hair colors have to contain an alkaline chemical that opens up the hair cuticles so hair dyes can penetrate and adhere to the hair. Ammonia does that. When ammonia is not used, typically ethanolamine is used instead.
While the Madison Reed hair dye does not contain ammonia, it contains ethanolamine.
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), which 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!
There is also limited evidence that ethanolamine is a teratogen in animals. New Jersey Department of Health states that “[u]ntil further testing has been done, it should be treated as a possible teratogen in humans.” (source) (Teratogens are chemicals that interfere with fetus development.)
Moreover, there is some indication that ethanolamine damages the hair more than ammonia. In this study, researchers applied different methods to measure hair cuticle damage and protein loss and found that there is more hair damage from ethanolamine than from ammonia; in some extreme cases as much as 85% more.
Furthermore, this study found that hair colors that contain ethanolamine versus ammonia are more likely to cause hair loss.
The only improvement is that ethanolamine might not smell as strongly as ammonia.
In my Permanent Hair Color Rating List e-book, I studied each ingredient of 20 hair colors so you can make informed decisions. Among other things, you will learn which hair colors use ammonia and which ones contain ethanolamine.
So what is used instead of PPD in Madison Reed hair dye?
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 Madison Reed uses toluene-2,5-diamine sulfate (aka PTDS), a common substitute for PPD, instead. Is it safer?
PTDS is rated in the Skin Deep database as being worse than PPD – it received an 8 as opposed to PPD’s 7.
The European Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) has classified 110 hair colorant chemicals into extreme, strong, and moderate sensitizers. This is one of the main factors that use in the Permanent Hair Color Rating List e-book. So if you are interested in reducing the risks of allergic reactions, please check out my rating list.
By the way, a sensitizer is defined as a “chemical that causes a substantial proportion of exposed people to develop an allergic reaction in normal tissue after repeated exposure to the chemical”.
The key here is “repeated exposure”, which means that if you did not immediately experience an allergic reaction to a hair color, the next time you use the same brand you might have an allergic reaction.
And that is why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) instructs us to do a patch test before EVERY use. The FDA explains that people can develop sensitivities with repeated exposure to the same brand (source).
The SCCS designated 12 other hair colorants to be extreme sensitizers (source). And PPD has been classified as an extreme sensitizer in all tests. Toluene-2,5-diamine and its sulfates have been classified as extreme sensitizers, and in some tests as strong sensitizers. In most patch testing conducted in Europe over the years, PPD caused on average twice as many cases of allergic reaction (source).
And this patch test study is consistent with the European findings. It was conducted on 26 people who were allergic to PPD and showed that 57.1% of them were not allergic to toluene-2,5-diamine sulfate.
So yes – replacing PPD with toluene-2,5-diamine sulfate is a step in the right direction; however, you should not think that Madison Reed hair dyes are free of potent sensitizers that can cause an allergic reaction after repeated use.
And please know that an allergic reaction is not just skin irritation and itching. It can result in much more severe symptoms. Please read what an allergic reaction may entail here.
So, what is used instead of resorcinol in Madison Reed hair dye?
Madison Reed apparently uses 2-methylresorcinol to help impart color to hair instead of resorcinol. 2-methylresorcinol is rated in the Skin Deep Database much more favorably – it is only a 4 as opposed to resorcinol’s rating of 8. 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.
The great news is that 2-methylresorcinol has been classified only as a moderate sensitizer! Again, resorcinol is rated as an 8.
Now what about thyroid disruption?
The SCCS report for 2-methylresorcinol and the Skin Deep database do not mention any hormone disruption concerns.
It appears to me that the reason the Endocrine Disruption Exchange database lists 2-methylresorcinol is mainly due to this study, which seems to indicate that both resorcinol and 2-methylresorcinol are nearly equally harmful for thyroid function in humans. However, I have discounted it for several reasons. First, this paper is from 1992, and I have not seen its finding borne out in any later medical literature. Second, it is not consistent with the latest findings from Europe, which has focused on this issue. And third, I have access only to the abstract of the study.
So, all in all, I believe that it is good that Madison Reed uses 2-methylresorcinol instead of resorcinol. However, that does not mean that 2-methylresorcinol is absolutely safe and well-studied.
Again, in my Permanent Hair Color Rating List, you can see which brands use 2-methylresorcinol and which ones still use 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.
Phthalates in the Madison Reed hair dye…
The color activator, barrier cream, and cleansing wipes contain fragrance – sometimes listed as “parfum.” 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.
According to the manufacturer, the Madison Reed hair dye is free of phthalates, which is good news. However, we still have to rely on their words as a full list of their fragrance mixes are not disclosed to us.
Conclusion about the Madison Reed hair dye
Don’t get me wrong. I understand why you might feel compelled to use permanent hair colors such as 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 your decisions as to whether to use Madison Reed hair dye – or any product for that matter – knowing the potential risks, especially if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. I don’t want you to base your decisions merely on assurances of safety by the companies.
I applaud Madison Reed for making changes to the way they market their products.
While Madison Reed made some changes in the right direction, you cannot assume that their hair dyes are “safe.”
If you are curious as to how Madison Reed compares with other permanent hair color brands and how you can protect your hair and health while coloring your hair, please check out my Permanent Hair Color Rating List e-book.
And if you have experienced an allergic reaction to the Madison Reed hair dye, please do not hesitate to comment below for everyone’s benefit.