Color Me Surprised

I Tried It: Madison Reed Hair Color Kits

Madison Reed fills the void between cheap at-home box dye and expensive salon visits.

By Layne Lynch August 26, 2019

Madison Reed's at-home color kit

Every girl remembers her first affair with hair dye. For me, it was witnessing Ashlee Simpson transform her blonde, beautiful locks into a rebellious, raven mane in 2004. I was obsessed with all things Ashlee Simpson back then (this was pre-SNL lip-syncing fiasco), so I followed suit and dyed my auburn hair black.

It was then that I realized I could adopt an entirely new persona just by altering my hair. It was fun, and I became obsessed: Over the years, I would bounce from shade to shade on the color wheel, dabbling in blonde, black, brunette, and—finally—making my way back to varying hues of red.  

I spent at least 10 years box-dyeing my hair before I finally let a salon do the work for me. Though it was an expensive upgrade, I wanted to move away from the unfamiliar chemicals I was painting on my hair every month, and I was looking for more dimensional tones and glossy, eye-catching effects. For five years, it was absolutely glorious to let a salon pamper me each month. 

Shortly after welcoming my son earlier this year, I realized my $100 monthly trips to the salon simply wouldn’t fit into my budget anymore. And that's when I heard about Madison Reed on a podcast.

The direct-to-consumer hair-dye subscription service was created to fill the marketplace void between pricy salon visits and cheap home-color kits. Ammonia-free and made with non-harsh ingredients, Madison Reed delivers multi-tonal, salon-quality color at a fraction of the cost of an actual salon visit ($26.50 for a one-time color kit, or $22 for the subscription membership).  

Virtually trying on new hair colors is a bit of a thrill.

Somewhat unexpectedly, my favorite part of the Madison Reed experience was finding and selecting my color on the website. I tried both the color-advisor quiz and the virtual makeover tool, which lets you sample different shades on your hair from either a live video or an uploaded photo. I wasn’t sure about my results at first, so I ended up chatting online with a Madison Reed color expert, which ended up being thoroughly helpful and informative. I highly recommend exhausting all these steps before making your final decision, especially if you’re trying to match your current shade. I went through about three options before I finally settled on Light Apricot Golden Red

The color kit arrives in a recyclable, well-organized box with all the tools you’ll need to get the job done. All color kits come with a squeeze bottle to apply color, but I decided to go the brush-and-bowl route, which costs about $7 extra. I think the squeeze bottle would have worked just fine, though, because my husband eventually had to intervene to paint the back of my hair with the brush/bowl method. 

You begin by applying a barrier cream to your forehead, ears, and neck—basically anywhere hairline meets skin. I appreciated this because, in my experience, not a single hairstylist has ever applied a cream like this, and it definitely prevented those awkward forehead stains I've experienced one too many times.

The author, post-dye.

Image: Layne Lynch

Next, you divide your hair into four sections to apply the color—which, it turns out, is harder than it looks, especially if you have thick hair. I managed to get it done, though it was no small feat; I ended up taking my hair down a few times to get to those tough-to-reach roots.

After applying color, you put on the color cap and let the transformation work its magic. Because I was just touching up my roots, the process only took about 45 minutes (30 minutes of root touch-up and 15 minutes of doing all-over color to brighten up my ends). After using the brand's color shampoo and conditioner, I also used a hydration-booster gloss, which definitely helped infuse my over-processed ends—I highly recommend buying a boost.

After my hair dried naturally, I was absolutely thrilled with the results. Though it didn’t match my original color perfectly, I saved about $75 and a lot of time using Madison Reed. For color enthusiasts looking to save money and forego those unexpected cheap color kit results, the Madison Reed experience is worth the investment. Just remember, it's important to be vigilant about your color selection process. 

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