Time-resolved diffuse optical spectroscopy (TR-DOS) is an increasingly used method to determine the optical properties of diffusive media, particularly for medical applications including functional brain, breast and muscle measurements. For medical imaging applications, important features of new generation TR-DOS systems are low-cost, small size and efficient inverse modeling. To address the issues of low-cost, compact size and high integration capabilities, we have developed free-running (FR) single-photon avalanche diodes (SPADs) using 130 nm silicon complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) technology and used it in a TR-DOS prototype. This prototype was validated using assessments from two known protocols for evaluating TR-DOS systems for tissue optics applications. Following the basic instrumental performance protocol, our prototype had sub-nanosecond total instrument response function and low differential non-linearity of a few percent. Also, using light with optical power lower than the maximum permissible exposure for human skin, this prototype can acquire raw data in reflectance geometry for phantoms with optical properties similar to human tissues. Following the MEDPHOT protocol, the absolute values of the optical properties for several homogeneous phantoms were retrieved with good accuracy and linearity using a best-fitting model based on the Levenberg-Marquardt method. Overall, the results of this study show that our silicon CMOS-based SPAD detectors can be used to build a multichannel TR-DOS prototype. Also, real-time functional monitoring of human tissue such as muscles, breasts and newborn heads will be possible by integrating this detector with a time-to-digital converter (TDC).