Madison Reed Review: A Detailed Look

By Lydia Noyes
HighYa Staff
Updated on: Mar 26, 2020

Madison Reed is an at-home, permanent hair dye brand that claims to give you beautiful, natural hair color without harsh chemical additives like ammonia, parabens, resorcinol, PPD, phthalates, and gluten.

Amy Errett founded this hair-dye company after she discovered that the European Union mandated stricter safety policies for home-hair dye than US companies and sought to bring a similar option to the United States.

Today, the company claims to put you and your hair health first by creating healthy, cruelty-free hair care products that leave your hair in better shape than possible with other dyes.

Does this home-hair dye company offer something different than other brands, and is it safe for your hair in the long run? Learn from our analysis whether you’re really getting everything that the brand claims to offer.

  • More than 50 shade options
  • It’s possible to “test” shades online before buying
  • Transparent ingredients lists for each product
  • Subscription program available for convenient delivery
  • More expensive than similar ammonia-free brands
  • May still cause adverse sides effects
  • Some customers state the dye isn’t true to color

Shopping Process

With their product line, Madison Reed home hair dye promises to deliver multi-dimensional color with complete gray coverage.

The company offers more than 50 shades, each of which is purportedly blended with multiple tones to create natural-looking hair coloring.

When you first get on Madison Reed’s website, you’ll answer a series of hair-related questions, including ones about your hair’s thickness and natural texture.

You can also select up to two hair goals like “restore hydration,” “reduce brassiness,” “tame frizz,” and more. Finally, you’ll specify your skin tone, eye color, and whether your hair is currently dyed.

The next step is to select the closest match to your current hair color and specify how much hard-to-cover gray you have. You’ll then share whether you are looking to lighten or darken your current hair color.

At the end of this quiz, Madison Reed will recommend a hair color for you. You can compare online pictures of the color and even upload your own to see how it would look on you. If it’s not your favorite, you can virtually try similar shades to find a better fit.

How to Use Madison Reed Hair Dye

Using Madison Reed hair dye is similar to the dyeing process for any home coloring kit. If you recently chemically treated your hair, it’s best to wait two weeks before coloring. Make sure also that it’s been at least a full day since you shampooed it.

It’s best to do a strand test first to figure out the right timing for your preferred shade. Take a quarter-inch section of underlying hair and tie it off with an elastic band.

Mix one part of the Radiant Cream Color with 1.5 parts Conditioning Color Activator and coat the whole strand. Check the coloring after 35 minutes, and wait longer, up to 45, for a deeper color that better covers any grays.

After you figure out your best timing, you can divide your hair into four sections, using clips to secure them. Color each part individually, using up to half a bottle of the Radiant Cream Color and Color Activator on your roots and combing it down to the ends.

Leave the dye in for as long as desired before washing out the product with the Color Protecting Shampoo and Conditioner.

Note that the Radiant Cream Color is a permanent formula that can stain surfaces and towels. Wipe away any spills immediately and make sure your shower water rinses clear before toweling off your hair. It’s also best to avoid light-colored towels for the first few shampoos afterward.

Analysis of Ingredients

Each purchase of permanent hair dye from Madison Reed includes seven products. Below are the top five ingredients within each (excluding water).

  • Radiant Cream Color: stearyl alcohol, propylene glycol, ethanolamine, cetyl alcohol, ceteareth-25, cocamide mea.

  • Color Activator: Hydrogen Peroxide, Cetearyl Alcohol, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Propylene Glycol, Dimethicone

  • Barrier Cream: Mineral Oil, Glycerin, Pvp, Peg-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Stearic Acid

  • Cleansing Wipes: Isopropyl Alcohol, Glycerin, Polysorbate 20, Sodium Cocyl Glutamate, Sodium Lauryl Glutamate

  • Color-Protecting Shampoo: Sodium Lauroyl Methyl Isethionate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice

  • Color-Protecting Conditioner: Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Cetearyl Alcohol, Stearyl Alcohol, Polyquaternium-7, Behentrimonium Chloride

  • Pro Boost Seal: Distearoylethyl Dimonium Chloride, Parfum, Isopentyldiol, Cetearyl Alcohol, Sorbitol

What can we learn from these ingredients? To start, most act as moisturizers, emollients, agents to help hair accept hair dye, and as nourishing and restoration agents for post-treatment care.

Hydrogen Peroxide is Madison Reed’s main ingredient for lightening hair. It works as a permanent dye to change the hair’s cortex, which is the part responsible for its pigment.

This colorless chemical is considered safe for skin and hair, though it can lead to irritation if you get it near your eyes or breath any in. Likewise, using peroxide will damage your hair’s cuticle, which can lead to breakage and split ends if you don’t deep condition soon after.

What’s also noteworthy are the ingredients that Madison Reed products don’t contain. These include ammonia, PPD, resorcinol, parabens, phthalates, gluten, SLS, and titanium dioxide, which are common in other hair dye kits. This may benefit you in many ways.

First, ammonia is a common hair dye ingredient because it prepares each strand to accept new color pigment. However, it can cause irritation when making direct contact with your skin, especially on the scalp, and the dyeing process often produces ammonia vapors that can irritate your eyes, throat, and even cause breathing problems. It also damages each strand and leads to dryness and frizz.

Likewise, resorcinol is a common ingredient in hair dyes and acne medication because it can break up tough patches of skin and prep hair to accept hair dye. There’s a serious concern that overexposure can negatively affect the nervous system and endocrine system. You’re more likely to be at risk as a hairstylist than someone who dyes their hair every few weeks.

Possible Side Effects

Despite the company’s claims of an all-natural formulation, there are several ingredients in Madison Reed products that are associated with adverse side effects. These include the following:

Propylene Glycol: This synthetic liquid absorbs water and is used in many industrial products, from deicing solutions to pharmaceutical products. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, some people experience skin irritation from using it.

Cocamide Mea: Derived from coconut oil, this chain of fatty acids is often added to cosmetic ingredients to boost foam and increase viscosity. Though there’s little risk associated with using it on the skin at low concentrations, research from the International Journal of Toxicity found is can create a highly toxic vapor.

Cocamidopropyl Betaine: Common in cosmetics and personal hygiene products, this synthetic detergent was named the American Contact Dermatitis Society’s Allergen of the Year in 2004 because of its ability to cause mild skin irritation.

Behentrimonium Chloride: used as a conditioning agent in hair care products, behentrimonium chloride is considered safe at concentrations between 1–5% but can cause skin irritation when used at higher concentrations or when left on the skin for a long time.

One notable ingredient that didn’t make the top five is ethanolamine. Madison Reed uses it as a substitute for ammonia and states that it gives users “pleasant, predictable results”.

However, research indicates that this ingredient (along with hydrogen peroxide) can damage hair more than ammonia and even lead to hair loss. This is a symptom many Madison Reed customers complained about.

Overall, with the exception of ethanolamine, none of these ingredients are very concerning for the average user. Unless you are using Madison Reed products in ways other than how they are designed, or you have extra sensitive skin, you should be able to use these products without risking any negative side effects.


All Madison Reed permanent hair dye kits cost $26.50 for a one-time order, plus $6 shipping.

Along with your choice of hair dye, you can also purchase an optional professional color tool kit for $33, which includes the necessary supplies for a home dye job, including hair clips, a comb, mixing bowl, and a 4-oz color reviving gloss.

You can save money per batch by signing up for the company’s auto-enrollment program. This brings the cost down to $22 per order, and you will receive a shampoo and conditioner welcome gift with the first delivery, valued at $39.

The default delivery period is every four weeks, but you can adjust to anything from every two to every eight. Note that you will still pay the $6 shipping costs per order.

You can cancel your subscription at any point without penalty through your online account.

The company also offers a 100% money-back guarantee. If you don’t love your hair color, Madison Reed will connect you with a professional hairstylist for a consultation so you can figure out what to do next. If you still aren’t happy, they will refund the cost of your first box.

You can return unopened products for a refund within 30-days of purchase by writing “return to sender” on the unopened package and sending it back through the mail.

For more guidance, contact customer service at (800) 463-3339.

Madison Reed vs. Popular Alternatives

For those seeking an ammonia-free at-home hair dye system, other options to consider besides Madison Reed include Naturtint and Garnier Olia. Here’s how they compare to each other:

Madison Reed Naturtint Garnier Olia
Number of Shades 50+ 32 34
Cost $22–$26, plus $6 shipping $12 $9.99
Active Ingredients Ethanolamine, hydrogen peroxide Oleic acid, hydrogen peroxide, ethanolamine 60% oil blend, hydrogen peroxide, ethanolamine
Selling Points Possible to sign up for subscription purchases so you never run low on dye All shades can be mixed together for extra color personalization. The hair dye uses a 60% oil blend to better nourish the hair before and after treatment
Aftercare Shampoo and Conditioner Included? Yes Yes No

This chart highlights a few facts. First, Madison Reed costs twice as much as many competing brands, though it contains similar active ingredients.

You get more shades to choose from with Madison Reed, but Naturtint permits you to blend shades together to get your perfect hue. Note: buying more than one dye kit will bring the cost closer to Madison Reed.

None of these brands shared specifics about how long you can expect the color to last in your hair. That depends more on your personal hair type and lifestyle factors – like how often you shampoo your hair – than the dye itself.

Choosing which brand is best for you might come down to how you like to shop. If you don’t mind going to the drug store whenever you need more dye, Naturtint and Garnier Olia should be easy to find, and you won’t have to pay for shipping. This also allows you to compare the colors in person rather than over a screen.

Madison Reed’s subscription program, in contrast, will appeal to those who know exactly how often they need to treat their hair and want to automate the process.

Analysis of Customer Reviews

More than 30 HighYa readers have left reviews for Madison Reed, and these average 1.9 stars, with just 17% saying they would recommend the brand to a friend. You can also read over 20,000 reviews on Ulta, where this hair dye line averages four stars.

What are these reviewers really saying? Here’s a summary of their comments:

Common Compliments:

  • Great, long-lasting hair color
  • Salon-quality results but at a lower price
  • Excellent grey hair coverage

Common Complaints:

  • Some users were left with an itchy scalp
  • Company has reduced product size
  • Some users experienced hair loss
  • Color didn’t last long
  • Poor customer service experiences due to late shipments and long hold times
  • Hair dye wasn’t true to color

The Bottom Line: Is Madison Reed Worth It?

Madison Reed promises its customers an all-natural at-home hair dye solution that will leave them with their dream color. Some seem to think it delivers on this goal, but many others were left unsatisfied with their hair’s final result.

Overall, permanently dying your hair is an invasive process that’s bound to have some unwanted consequences, regardless of your product formulation.

Madison Reed customers have complained about itchy skin, damaged hair, and even hair loss after a home treatment, which is also the most common hair dye critiques for formulas with ammonia.

So, while Madison Reed may be one way to get great hair color at home, we think it’s misguided to think the company’s formula will do much to protect your hair compared to traditional home kits.

As with all hair dyes, aftercare can be even more critical than the brand you pick. Make sure to treat your hair with a high-quality conditioner regularly to treat any damage and keep your hair looking healthy.

Customer Reviews

Start your review of Madison Reed:
  • 44 Customer Reviews
  • 16% Recommend This Brand
1.9 out of 5
5 star: 13% 4 star: 2% 3 star: 2% 2 star: 20% 1 star: 61%

 Our Promise to You

To safeguard you and ensure helpfulness and relevance, our compliance team manually assess every customer review before it goes live.

We have a zero-tolerance policy for fake reviews, and companies cannot control or alter any reviews at any time.

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  • Still waiting for delivery 9 days later

    • By Melissa A.,
    • Atlanta, GA,
    • Oct 29, 2020
    • Verified Reviewer
    • Length of Use: 2+ years
    Overall Experience:

    They used to deliver in real-time but no longer. Multiple phone calls resulted in patronizing advice that it was "3 to 7 business days". Sorry, but I can count.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

  • Everyone is different

    • By Cheryl S.,
    • Washington DC,
    • Oct 13, 2020
    • Verified Reviewer
    • Length of Use: 2+ years
    Overall Experience:

    I've been using Madison Reed hair color since 2017 and have had nothing but excellent experiences with both products and customer service. I've changed my color 4 times and have never been disappointed. The packaging makes the whole experience feel like a treat. That there is no awful smell like with most drugstore brands pleases me. That the packaging is recyclable also makes me happy. The shampoo and conditioner leave my hair softer than before I dyed it. I would (and have!) absolutely recommend Madison Reed to friends, but because everyone is different, I would also recommend that they do a skin and strand test.

    Pros and Cons:

    • No awful smell
    • Everything needed is in the kit
    • Great colors that leave my hair soft
    • Pricier than most alternatives

    Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this to a friend

  • My hair is falling off

    • By SLC C.,
    • Douglas, AZ,
    • Aug 20, 2020
    • Verified Reviewer
    • Length of Use: Less than 3 months
    Overall Experience:

    I ordered the color they suggested but it came out very reddish and did not cover my grays. They contacted me and sent me a free box, tray, and brush. I am going to throw it away! Shortly after I colored my hair with the first box, my hair started falling off in clumps and it is now extremely dry. I am not sure what I am going to do at this point. My hairline has receded quite a bit and my hair looks overall awful.

    Pros and Cons:

    • Fast shipping
    • Representatives are very nice
    • My hair is falling off
    • My hair is very dry
    • Did not cover my grays

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend


    • By Wendy B.,
    • San Diego, CA,
    • Jun 15, 2020
    • Verified Reviewer
    • Length of Use: Less than 3 months
    Overall Experience:

    Don’t try this Madison Reed right before you have somewhere important to be. This is was my first try with Madison Reed and I used the 7NCG Genova Red, which was the color that the quiz suggested to me, as well as the provided shampoo and conditioner. My hair came out WAY darker than expected, not red hardly at all, and feels like straw. I have been dying my hair with L’Oreal Preference Mega Reds MR1 Light Intense Copper, which is also a level 7 dye (with a 20 vol developer, both from Sally Beauty) for over 5 years, so I’m not a newbie. This Madison Reed color is more like a level 5-6. Really disappointed and frustrated that I have to correct this dye job and hopefully not damage my hair. Proceed with caution.

    Pros and Cons:

    • Fast shipping
    • Resulting color was not as described
    • Hair felt like straw
    • Irritating on the skin (more than other brands)

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

  • Hair loss - Madison Reed color?

    • By Joan H.,
    • Houston, TX,
    • May 26, 2020
    • Verified Reviewer
    Overall Experience:

    My first and only application of Madison Reed color was 5 weeks ago. I was very pleased with the color and application. I have thick medium length hair. Three weeks ago I noticed an alarming amount of hair in my brush, drain, and on wood floors. The only new product I have used was MR color.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

  • My hair is falling out!

    • By Stacey F.,
    • Montana,
    • May 15, 2020
    • Verified Reviewer
    Overall Experience:

    The first time I used this product, I was slightly disappointed that my hair appeared darker instead of the burgundy shade I picked from the quiz. Still, I was really impressed with the box presentation and also, how soft and shiny my hair was. I left a great review because of that. So I contacted them and a very nice consultant suggested a brighter red. She gave me specific instructions on how to apply the new color when it arrived. I waited a few months to re-dye just to be safe, and also make sure the red took, even though the original color had faded within a week. Immediately after dyeing and washing the dye out, my hair started falling out in clumps! Like...right at the root!

    It’s now been a month, and it’s still falling out like crazy! My once thick, curly hair is now super thin. You can see my scalp in all the places it has fallen out. I’ve also had intense headaches, burning, and even woke up one night in a cold sweat. It is absolutely devastating to see my hair fall out like this, and feel so off physically. I was 100% fine and loving my hair right up to the moment I used this. Now I have to go to the doctor tomorrow to see if anything can be done to save my hair! And by the way, the red never took. My hair color was the same as before I dyed it!

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

  • Direct competitor?

    • By Kimberly C.,
    • Missouri,
    • Apr 24, 2020
    • Verified Reviewer
    Overall Experience:

    Why not compare Madison Reed to eSalon? They are direct competitors. As a reader, this is what I most want to know. I have used both and would pick one of these over any grocery store brand.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

  • Not so good for covering gray

    • By Ellen L.,
    • Charlotte, NC,
    • Apr 22, 2020
    • Verified Reviewer
    Overall Experience:

    Disappointed in my gray coverage. Going to have to color it again. I think the product needs to stay on longer but I followed ALL the directions for gray coverage. It seems that the required 45-50 minutes should be adequate. There’s not much else to say but this post requires 180 words so I’m just typing to fill the requirements.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

  • My hair fell out too!

    • By Tracy J.,
    • Dublin, CA,
    • Apr 20, 2020
    • Verified Reviewer
    Overall Experience:

    I thought it was me, but my hair fell out for months after using the Madison Reed product back in 2016. I had to cut my hair significantly and stop using hair color altogether. I would not recommend this product.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

  • Very disappointed

    • By Hara C.,
    • New York, NY,
    • Feb 25, 2020
    • Verified Reviewer
    Overall Experience:

    I was very excited to try Madison Reed as I was tired of spending money at the salon and the drugstore brands seemed to fade after a few weeks.

    Everyone there was very nice AND they totally ruined my hair color.

    I went to the salon for the "Roots" service.

    What they don't tell you: You need to have your hair dyed single process with their product for the "Roots" service to match the rest of your hair. They are very limited in the shades of color that they offer. If you have medium to dark brown hair you should be just fine.

    I expected a salon that specializes in color would tell me that they would not be able to match my color. I came in with light golden brown. When they were finished, I had medium brown-red on the crown and the rest of my hair was light golden brown. A disaster!

    I was told that they DO not pull the color to the ends of the strand and that is called "single-process color".

    My expectation would be that the stylist would inform me that they would not be able to match my roots to the ends.

    They agreed to "fix" the problem for free. Now, my hair color is some weird red/med brown and my hairline is copper.

    BTW, my scalp is very itchy so I'm not sure about their natural products.

    In conclusion, I'm going to have to go to a real salon and have the color corrected back to my original light golden brown.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

  • Disappointed

    • By Bev S.,
    • Seattle, WA,
    • Jan 23, 2020
    • Verified Reviewer
    Overall Experience:

    A while back your company raised the price. Although I wasn’t too happy, but since everything was the same, I accepted the increase. Today, after opening the box, I find the shampoo and conditioner sizes have been made much smaller. You may think that changing from plastic to coated foil is more environmentally safer - it isn’t. I have short hair and found that your color activator has decreased in volume. Just had enough to cover all. Sorry to see this company cutting back. Hope you take this review seriously and return back to the awesome company it was.


    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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