Getting your hair colored is stressful. Until you find a colorist who gets your hair—and more importantly, your vision for your hair—it can feel a lot like speed dating with high-stakes. Add in the hours spent parked in the salon chair and the hundreds of dollars it costs for a basic service, and it’s essentially a giant anxiety pile-on.
Amy Errett, who created the hair color company Madison Reed, felt the same struggle and so she wanted to present a happy medium. The concept of her business is not unfamiliar. An online quiz allows women (who prefer to skip the salon and DIY) to answer a few questions and receive a customized color cocktail to their doorsteps. For those women in New York City and San Francisco, however, there’s also the Color Bar that’s essentially like Drybar—but for color services. In the name of ahem research I visited the NYC location to see what it was all about.
Keep scrolling to find out my experience at the Madison Reed Color Bar and what you need to know.
What to expect at a color bar
While many salons feel as though they take up your entire day, Madison Reed is all about convenience. Their menu is stripped down to help you deal with common hair color woes like covering up roots and making dulled-down hair look brilliant.
The Roots Only treatment ($60) is permanent color that works to cover gray roots or regrowth, and according to David Stanko, VP Technical Design & Education and Master Colorist for Madison Reed, most women do this every two to six weeks. The express version of this is the Root Reboot ($35), which is a “true tone-on-tone service that quickly camouflages gray roots in just 10 minutes, but doesn’t alter the natural color and washes out in two weeks,” he says.
If you need to reset your hair altogether, try the Color Reviving Gloss ($35), which “uses one of eight semi-permanent shades to enliven color-treated hair that’s starting to look faded and dull,” says Stanko. “It can add warmth and dimension to an overly ashy or dull color, or correct undesirable brassy tones by cooling them down,” Stanko says. If you want, you can combo a root touch-up and gloss for $85 or even add on a blow-out for $35.
What to know about the formulations
There are a few important things to note about Madison Reed hair color: The brand’s formulations are free of ammonia, parabens, resorcinol, PPD, and phthalates. “All permanent hair coloring products require an alkaline agent to lift the hair’s cuticle, and the two main choices are ammonia and a form of MEA,” explains Stanko. Madison Reed uses ethanolamine instead of ammonia. Meaning: no chemical-smelling odor or scalp irritation—and on that note, the brand also includes ingredients like keratin, argan oil, and ginseng root extract to fortify strands.
When it’s time to select a color, you can either complete the online quiz (which matches you to 40-plus shades) or get help from an on-site colorist. Blondes take note: I learned from another editor that the bar doesn’t specialize in platinum. That’s because often to get hair uber-light, you have to bleach it first and then deposit the color. Since the bar focuses on glosses and root touch ups, they’re only able to go to about a level ten blonde (think: Reese Witherspoon).
My takeaways from the Color Bar
Up until about a year-and-a-half ago, I hadn’t colored my red hair, but then I decided to go for it. I wanted a myriad of contrasting things for my hair color—bold! (but believable) vibrant! (but not too bright)—so ever since I found a colorist who understood these things, I’ve remained loyal and visit her often.
I didn’t yet need a root touch-up, so instead, I decided to get a gloss to enhance the hue that I already had. I’m pretty picky about my hair, and told my colorist, Yvonne, that I wanted it to look very natural. So, she mixed two gloss shades—Canella and Miele—using half a bottle of each. The result was a beautiful orange-red with a few hints of gold.
While I was happy with the results, I love my current hair colorist so much (you know what they say about old flames) that I’ll continue to see her and reserve trips to Madison Reed for big events when I need to bring on the shine with a gloss (this one left my strands seriously silky). For anyone who doesn’t have a steady colorist or for someone who’s covering grays (which for some people can call for an appointment every two weeks) this is an excellent (and fast!) alternative to sitting in the salon for hours. Half the price and half the time? Sounds like a win-win to me.