Escaping Hair Dye Hell

WARNING: This will be a possibly painfully boring read for you if you do not care about hair coloring. This post also sponsored and contains affiliate links. Purchasing something through these links helps me to keep coffee in my cup.

The hair color I was born with is a mousy, ashy color. There’s no brass in that color – there’s hardly anything at all. I remember it being referred to as “dishwater blonde” when I was in high school. I hated it back then. I hated that my hair was really neither blonde nor red nor brown, that it was this washed out, muddy, lifeless puddle of a color instead. If I wanted to accurately use crayons to color my hair in a self-portrait as a child, I would have needed to blend all yellow, gray, brown, and maybe some shade of blue together until the most boring – or so I thought – color on earth showed up on my piece of paper.

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An old photo of me depicting my natural hair color. It looks a little blonder in this light than it actually was.

So when I was much younger than I am now and living in New York City, I dyed my hair one day. A coworker had suggested I go dark to draw attention to my blue eyes and I went for it.

With box dye.

From CVS.

Done by myself entirely in my apartment bathroom.

I went for an auburn color with that first dye job and it did make my eyes pop. But it got brassier every time I washed it and my hair looked full-on red within weeks, which wasn’t what I was going for.

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Another old photo, this time depicting the first shade I dyed my hair to.

I went darker with a handful of dyes after that, thinking that the darker shades would combat the red-pulling tendency of the cheap dyes. It was years before a friend told me that I needed to use ashy dyes exclusively if I wanted to do my best to avoid brassiness. That was a good tip, but still, after enough time passed, red would somehow show up, despite the fact that my natural hair color has zero red.

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And yet another old photo, depicting the darker shade I went to after auburn and stayed at for a very long time.

By the time 2009 rolled around, I’d been dyeing my hair for over five years and I’d become interested in getting back to my natural ashy mousy color if I could find a way (I know. I KNOW). I tried – for years – but I never really completely got there. And the lifting involved in the efforts to get there just amplified the problems with brassiness I’d been having.

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Here’s the way my hair looked after a couple attempts at lifting it and then dyeing it back down to a medium or dark ashy brown.
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And when I was pregnant, the brassy tones reallllllly took over because I wasn’t dyeing my hair at all during that time.

I know now – 12 years into dyeing my hair – that if I really want my natural color back, I’m probably going to have to just grow it out. That’s fine. Maybe I will decide to grow it out someday soon, but for now, I’m just trying to keep my medium ashy brown color without brassiness and, ideally, without all of the arguably not-the-best ingredients I’ve been using for over a decade.

Enter: Madison Reed Hair Color

I teamed up with Madison Reed for this sponsored post, but in trying their products out myself as a part of this partnership, I’ve become a soon-to-be loyal customer already. Not because my hair won’t fade to brassy again – I’m guessing that it will. It seems like hair dyes in my hair just do that (I will absolutely update this post if I notice that I don’t go brassy with this dye), but because the brassiness probably won’t happen as quickly with this kind of dye made from these kinds of ingredients AND because oh my god – it was really actually great to dye my hair for once and not smell anything that made me want to open the windows immediately, to just be rubbing ammonia and paraben free dye all over my hair without feeling my eyes burn. I had looked for nontoxic dyes in recent years, but I’d come up short in finding something with the ashy color I wanted. I didn’t look too hard, but my local co-op definitely wasn’t carrying any medium ashy brown nontoxic dyes, so there’s that.

So here I am using Madison Reed Sienna Brown to combat the brassiness of my previous box dyes. I didn’t leave it on for as long as suggested because I didn’t want it to get too dark, I just wanted to keep the brass at bay.

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Before the recent dye job with Madison Reed. TOO MUCH BRASS.
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1.) Section off hair. 2.) Add barrier cream to face to keep from dyeing skin accidentally.3.) SHAKE.
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4.) Carefully adding dye evenly and thoroughly, doing roots first and then the rest.
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5.) Waiting game. I left it on for 15 minutes.

And it worked! My hair still looks natural and still retains its color dimension, but the brass is gone. I feel way better about having used ingredients that don’t make me feel like I’m choking, too. And this might be a wild idea, but I kind of suspect that if I do decide to grow my natural hair color out and if the length of my hair gets too brassy, that I might be able to just throw this on my hair (avoiding the new growth) for five minutes or so to keep it all looking ashy as my roots come in over time. Regardless of if it will work or not, at least I’ll be putting something on my hair that feels like it’s helping, not hurting. For once.

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The end result! Natural-looking. Not brassy.
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Love it. Thank you, Madison Reed.

PS: I also received a few other products from Madison Reed that I’m excited to try, including Espresso Color Reviving Gloss, Root Touch Up, Style and Tame set, Glass Shine Gloss, and theMadison Reed nourishing, color enhancing shampoo and conditioner set.

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Elizabeth Seward is a writer and songwriter, among other things. Read a full bio on the ABOUT page.

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