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Madison Reed Review – Can You Get Salon Quality Highlights at Home?

Erin Pullmann
ByErin PullmannSep 10, 2021 | 10 comments
Madison Reed Review - Can You Get Salon Quality Highlights at Home?

Madison Reed Review

Can You Get Salon Quality Highlights at Home?

Have you ever tried to dye your hair at home? As a teenager, I tried everything from Sun-In to grape Kool-Aid mix to try to liven up my brown hair, and eventually gave up. Nothing but expensive, time-consuming trips to the salon could give me the highlights I craved. But when commercials for Madison Reed started popping up in all my favorite podcasts, I became intrigued and a little hopeful. The company promised luxurious hair color made with quality, cruelty-free products you could use at home!

Part of me was still skeptical. In the past, I'd seen both my mom and my best friend accidentally turn their hair orange with at-home hair color kits from the drugstore. Were highlights something I could really pull off at home? I figured that with my current work-from-home lifestyle, it was worth the risk. If I had to turn the video off on my Zoom calls for a few weeks to hide a disastrous self-highlight job, so be it! I took the Madison Reed hair color quiz and began to dream of toffee-colored highlights as I awaited my box. Here's my honest review of how it went.

About Madison Reed


  • $36.00 for a subscription (delivery every 8 weeks)
  • $45.00 for a one-time purchase


  • Ships to the U.S. and some U.S. territories


  • A 2-step process to highlight your hair at home


  • Cruelty-free
  • Fool-proof application
  • Free of ammonia, parabens, resorcinol, PPD, phthalates, gluten, SLS and titanium dioxide
  • No harsh odor
  • Free video consultation to help choose your shade

Pros & Cons


  • Made with all-natural, cruelty-free ingredients
  • Support for choosing your perfect shade
  • Detailed instructions are provided
  • Costs less than the salon


  • Limited selection of colors
  • Not intended to cover grey hair
  • DIY hair color is always a risk
  • Costs more than drugstore brands

"All Madison Reed are certified as cruelty-free by Leaping Bunny and free of ammonia, parabens, resorcinol, PPD, phthalates, gluten, SLS and titanium dioxide"

A Madison Reed highlight kit in the box

My Madison Reed Review

The Process
4/5 stars

Madison Reed Bayalage Highlights kit

The Promise: Easy, at-home balayage highlights.

The Reality: Fairly easy at-home balayage highlights

The Madison Reed highlighting kit takes about two hours to perform, including processing time. The box is divided into two sections so it's clear which products are to be used in each step of the process. First, you'll prep your hair and apply the hair color using their unique wishbone applicator. Then, after a good rinse, you'll tone and finish the job with the Light Works Toning Glaze. There's even a video tutorial on the Madison Reed website to make sure you follow the directions clearly.


The directions strongly encouraged customers to perform a sensitivity test 48 hours before highlighting, and then doing a strand test to make sure you'll be happy with the results. Did I have the patience to take either of these precautionary steps? Absolutely not! Instead, I changed right into my zip-up hoodie (it's recommended to wear a button-down or zip-up shirt or smock while highlighting your hair), snapped a "before" selfie and sectioned off my hair according to the directions. If you read my Crafter's Box reviews, you know that one of my pet peeves is when a subscription box company doesn't include an essential tool in your box because they assume you'll already have one. Madison Reed failed me here by not including clips for sectioning off my hair. Luckily, I was able to make it work for my short hair with hair elastics and scrunchies.


This is where the magic happens. Wearing disposable gloves (3 pairs come in the box), you pour the Light Works Lightening Cream into the Lightening Activator bottle, shake for 60 seconds, and then squeeze some out onto the applicator. Since the Lightening Activator and Toning Glaze come in identical bottles, it's very important to make sure you check the label before adding the lightening cream! Also, the directions mention that there will be a little cream caught in the cap that you'll need to discard, but that felt like an understatement when it came gushing out the second I removed the cap. I was glad I had my gloves on for this part of the process.

The author after applying Madison Reed highlights

To create highlights, you'll grab a section of your hair, hold the applicator vertically starting 2 inches from your scalp and press down. Then turn the applicator horizontally and fill in the bottom. Repeat the process across your head until all your hair has been colored. I got a little nervous here that my hair was too dark to highlight since I needed to use a lot of color cream to see the white cream show up in my hair. I set a timer for 40 minutes to let the color process and hoped for the best.

Once the timer goes off, you'll thoroughly rinse your hair and put your second pair of gloves on to apply the Bond Building Cleansing Treatment. This stays in for three minutes.


The toning glaze mixes easily. You'll apply it to your entire hair, like shampoo, but this part gets a little messy. I ended up with a lot of toning glaze on my shirt. Comb it through your hair, and then hang tight in the provided shower cap for twenty minutes.

Unopened packets of Madison Reed shampoo and conditioner

The final step is easy. Simply rinse the toning glaze out of your hair, and then wash it with the shampoo and conditioner. I enjoyed the light cedar-esque scent of these products. Overall, the directions were easy to follow and didn't stress me out. It was a fun way to spend an afternoon.

The Results
5/5 stars

The Promise: Salon quality highlights

The Reality: A lot better than drugstore brands!

I love my highlights! The toffee shade is just light enough to brighten up my hair without my toddler freaking out because I looked too different. They just make me look like the sun is always hitting a part of my hair, which is exactly what good highlights should do. Once I'd blow-dried my hair and changed out of my hoodie, I felt like I'd come right out of the salon.

The Packaging 
5/5 stars

The Promise: Everything you need to highlight your hair at home

The Reality: Everything you need to highlight your hair at home, in a nicely laid out package

The first thing you see when you open your Madison Reed hair color kit is a pep talk about how confident is the new beautiful. Seeing this quote and the stylish packaging helped give me confidence that Madison Reed would live up to the hype. I also liked that the box was divided into two sections so it's clear which products are to be used in each step of the process.

Shipping, Returns, & Subscriptions

Placing Your Order

You can buy this kit from Madison Reed at anytime as a one-off experiment or a subscription service with new kits arriving every 8 weeks.

If you're unsatisfied with your product, Madison Reed will put you in touch with a professional colorist to help you find a solution you love.


My first impression is that this kit did a better job highlighting my hair than the drug store brands. The application process was relatively easy to follow and can be done in under two hours in the comfort of home. But I will need to see how the color holds up over the next few weeks to truly assess how well it worked.

Try Madison Reed for Yourself

Have you tried Madison Reed? Let us know in the comments!

Want to get your own Madison Reed highlights and join the community? Subscribe:

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Madison Reed is an online hair color company that has taken the internet by storm since they were founded in 2013. In addition to at-home hair color kits, Madison Reed offers a full system of hair care products, from shampoo and conditioner to barrier cream and color reviving gloss, that are desi... read more.

Erin Pullmann
Erin Pullmann
When Erin finds a new box she loves, she wants the world to share her joy, especially if it includes something sparkly. Her non-subscription addictions include knitting, reading, baking, running and dancing with her husband and daughter.

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Linda Coats

First time user. Fabulous!!! Was a bit reluctant to spend 30.00 on a box treatment,but I am totally blown away at the results,and quality of product. I can’t or won’t pay close to 80bucks to get my hair colored,never really knowing outcome of a beauticians so called professional coloring. I couldn’t be more pleased with results from Madison-Reeds. Will be signing up for membership soon.

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Jenni C

I like the colors I’ve tried from Madison Reed, and also like the fact that the dye smells pretty good. But the problem is that the gray coverage is very bad. Within a week at most, the grays sparkle through again. Unfortunately, I just think that the dye isn’t good for gray cover up. I’ve tried a bunch of different shades and it’s always the same thing.

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the color is wonderful , east yo apply, no strong odor and lasts a long time. The problem? CUSTTOMER SERVICE IS JUST AWFUL! The wait is terribly long and finally, you are told that they are very busy and to leave your name and telephone number. They NEVER get back to you! Also, although they invite you to consult one of their color experts, it the same routine! You are placed on hold for a long time then again told to leave your name and number and IF they het back to you , it’s 3 days later! Although I continue to get my color from this company, I seethe every time I have to oeder.

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The highlights look nice!

I’ve been dying my hair forever, both at the salon and at home using either professional color or drug store. It generally comes out fine. I’ve had pretty much every color, but it has been bright red for the past few years.

I tried Madison Reed a few months ago because it was on sale, and it just didn’t take or something lol. I chose the shade closest to my current red and followed all of the steps. It sort of brightened my hair and subtlety tinted my roots, but it definitely did not work. It was weird. It did make my hair very soft.

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Fun review! I’m a bit confused by the applicator tool; looks like a wishbone or something 😆

Does anyone else still have nightmares of their mom “frosting” her hair wearing one of those caps with all the holes in it? That cap with the hair pulled through could make any mom look scary 🤣

Thankfully Erin, the highlights look great on you (and I don’t patch test either!)

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SNOW! I once pulled one of those caps off and ALL MY HAIR WENT WITH IT! I will never forget it. It put me off at home hair care ever since!

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Good Lord! 😱 Talk about a traumatizing experience….


Wow, I’m impressed with the results! Your hair does look like you got it professionally done and I love the subtle highlights. Beautiful!

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Nice review! However, I’d love to see a review of some who HAS had success with drugstore brands. I used Loreal, as well as Ion from Sally Beauty, for over 10 years, and my results were just fine. I only stopped once Covid began and I was working from home and not seeing anyone. Becuase Madison Reed is so much more expensive that these other brands, I’d be very curious to know if it’s really worth the extra cost.

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SO! I’ve been dying my hair for 40 YES 40 years now and the majority of the time I use drugstore brands. The last few years I’ve bee nusing different Splat colors since I like my hair pretty obnoxious ie: BRIGHT reds and purples but since my hair is dark and totally gray now at the roots it doesnt make my hair as obnoxious as the box shows. lol

I used to use esalon, which is the same type of service as Madison Reed, and while they were a bit pricey I was able to tweak my dye shades with their consultants and overall I was pretty happy with that setup.

I also used Madison Reed once or twice I think, a few years ago and while it was quality and did work well I was not able to get the more RED shades or to have them tweak my formula.

I’d say if you can afford it give it a try! I dye my hair about every two months now since Covid and not really leaving the house all that much so I can get by but if you have to dye your hair every few weeks this might add up to a pretty expensaive avenue. 🙂

Hope that helped a little bit!

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