People have been singing the praises of Madison Reed since the direct-to-consumer hair color subscription service began disrupting the beauty industry back in 2014. No, at-home dye wasn't a novel concept, but DIY salon-quality color at an affordable price certainly was.

Our own contributor Layne Lynch became a convert after trying a kit last summer, which revived her "Light Apricot Golden Red" locks for under $30 in the comfort of her own home. "After my hair dried naturally, I was absolutely thrilled with the results," she wrote then. "Though it didn't match my original color perfectly, I saved about $75 and a lot of time using Madison Reed."

And Madison Reed has something going for it beyond multi-dimensional, natural-looking results: it's not loaded with harmful chemicals. In fact, Madison Reed can claim the first-ever "Smart 8-Free" permanent hair color, meaning its formulas are free of ammonia, parabens, resorcinol, PPD, phthalates, gluten, sodium lauryl sulfate, and titanium dioxide. For good measure, the proprietary blend does include keratin, argan oil, and ginseng root extract.

Still, some of us—myself included—remain skeptical of box dye, or at least our own abilities to successfully employ it. But should we have to miss out on the more-affordable, less-toxic opportunity to color our hair for that?

No, says Madison Reed. Enter the Color Bar, the company's color-only salon concept that rolled into the Houston area this fall by way of locations in Katy and The Woodlands. There, licensed colorists do the heavy lifting to expertly apply the dye (the same stuff you'd otherwise get delivered to your door, still free of all those harsh chemicals) plus free color consultations and lessons on how to recreate it themselves at home.

But they might never choose to do that, since Color Bars aim to deliver clients their new 'dos in two hours or less and—here's the kicker—for $55. Granted, that's for roots only,  but it's still less than half the cost of a typical salon visit. For just $25, you can get a color-reviving gloss that adds tint and shine, boosting your hue for up to eight washes; get both together for $80.

For more than just maintenance, opt for Light Works, basically Color Bar's version of balayage highlights. This requires a bit more finesse, hence a steeper price point—$125—but still a fraction of what balayage might run you at a traditional salon.

Me, post-Color Bar Light Works and blowout.

Image: Abby Ledoux

At the Katy location a couple months ago, I opted for Light Works plus a blowout ($25) and a hydrating booster in my wash ($10). My colorist forewarned me my "Cool Vanilla" blonde might not be jaw-dropping—the downside of that non-toxic formula is that it doesn't lift, meaning it's hard to lighten a darker hair color without some ammonia, and Color Bar doesn't use foils, either. Expectations tamped, I was still pleasantly surprised by my results, which noticeably brightened the blonde I already had and definitely put some life back in my locks.

So, if you're looking for a quick fix on the cheap that doesn't sacrifice quality or wreck your hair, you might just pop in a Color Bar near you. And, soon enough, that might not even require leaving the Loop.

"Our fans in Houston have repeatedly told us, 'If you build it, we will come,'" said Amy Errett, CEO and founder of Madison Reed (which is named for her daughter, by the way). "So we feel this will be a successful market for our Color Bars. We are starting with these two suburban locations, but already we foresee more expansion in the Houston area."

Katy's Color Bar is at LaCenterra at Cinco Rinch, 23501 Cinco Ranch Blvd.; The Woodlands Color Bar is at Market Street, 9595 Six Pines Dr. Both locations are open Monday-Wednesday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Thursday-Friday 10 a.m.-8 p.m., and Sunday noon-5 p.m. (The Woodlands) and noon-6 p.m. (Katy).

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