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The Hair Color Diaries: An Interview With Our Color Crew

by September 11, 2019

The Hair Color Diaries

Image by Madison Reed

They answer your calls, emails and chats, shade-match your hair color, answer all your questions and tell you that yes, you CAN color your hair yourself (and if you’re still not sure, they are there to help). Our Color Crew is the heart and soul of Madison Reed, so we sat down with a few of them to hear all about their lives as professional colorists, and why they see confidence so strongly linked to hair color. Meet Sharlynn, Ericka, Madison, Sonja, and Lupe...

Woman that color their hair at home successfully


When did you first start coloring your hair?

SHARLYNN: It was the summer before 5th grade and my mom gave me highlights. I ended up with orange tiger-striped highlights! At the time, I was going to Catholic school and color-treated hair wasn’t allowed, so for 6 months I had to wear my hair back to hide it.

SONJA: Age 12 with Sun-In, then for realsies at age 14 with "Black Cherry" permanent color. I haven't had natural hair color since then.

Do you have any good stories about color gone wrong from when you were first learning about hair color?

SHARLYNN: When I first started Cosmetology school, I talked my assistant manager into letting me color her hair. She wanted to go bright red, but my processing times were all wrong so I ended up giving her hot roots!

ERICKA: I wanted pink hair so I bleached my hair yellow and it turned red. I did this a few times before I realize you have to bleach your hair platinum to get a real pink color and my hair would fall out.

MADISON: One of my first and to-this-day loyal clients had been using drugstore black and brown colors for years, and she wanted to make the transition to blonde. Our first ever highlight appointment ended up going until 10pm...tears were shed because the color lifted unpredictably to shades of brown, blonde and lots of red. Once we got past this phase to blonde, she stuck with me after that, and has been a great client ever since.

SONJA: I can think of a few times when toners have grabbed too strong, turning hair too ash, too warm, etc. But those are all very easy quick fixes and that's one of the reasons I love color—it can be changed!

LUPE: When I first started coloring my hair, I would always go for shades of light brown hair. Keep in my mind my natural hair color is jet black so my hair would always turn a coppery medium brown and I hated it. One time I tried a light ashy blonde—it was a disaster. I had bright orange roots. After that I just went back to my natural hair color.

When did you first become interested in being a professional colorist?

SHARLYNN: When I was young, my mom would blow out my bangs to give them that big 80's look and I would always cry because I didn't want big bangs. That inspired me to learn to do my own hair. I used to cut my Barbies’ hair, and "highlight" or "dye" their hair with nail polish. I had a collection of 20 Barbies with hack jobs.

ERICKA: I spent most of my summer in a salon where my cousin worked, watching people get their hair done. I knew it was something I could do for hours and never got bored.

MADISON: My mom’s best friend when I was growing up was a hair stylist so she always did my hair. When I told her I wanted to go blonde she wouldn’t do it because I was too young. So I decided to take matters into my own hands and used a store bought bleaching kit. That’s when I started doing all my friends’ hair and ultimately decided to become a professional colorist.

SONJA: I was working as a massage therapist at a spa and was also working on my undergraduate degree in psychology/holistic studies. All of my coworkers kept asking me, "why aren't you in beauty school?!" I guess I thought I had to finish college first? Color was always a fun hobby for me, and somehow I didn't realize I could also make money doing it. Once that sunk in, I enrolled in beauty school.

What is your favorite hair color ever?

SHARLYNN: My favorite hair color was when I bleached the front section of my hair/bangs a platinum blonde, transitioning to turquoise, and then to a dark blue, and the rest of my hair was a dark brown/black.

ERICKA: Any fashion shade, and a good blonde with some dimension.

SONJA: My go-to color for myself is soft shades of pink. This is the longest running color I have ever had. But on clients, my favorite color to apply is natural-looking balayage highlights.

LUPE: My favorite hair color ever would be medium chestnut to light brown. I also really love colorful ombré hair, like purple and blue on the ends. If I were able to pull that off and it didn’t take so much upkeep, I would totally change my color to purple and blue.

What are your must have products for your hair?

SHARLYNN: My must have products are the Lanza Trauma Treatment, and Keratin Shampoo and Conditioner. I lost almost all my hair and these products did an amazing restorative job. My hair grew back fuller, and thicker than it has ever been in my life, and also grew extremely fast.

ERICKA: Tame!!!!! And a heat protector.

MADISON: A good hydrating deep conditioner as well as a gentle brush to use on wet hair.

SONJA: Color-safe shampoo and conditioner, and finishing products (texture spray, sea salt spray and serums).

LUPE: Color Reviving Gloss in Espresso, Tune Up Shampoo and Pro Boost: Shine! Can’t go wrong with adding some extra shine and tone to my hair.

Can you let us in on any hair colorist secrets?

SHARLYNN: A good secret is when I have red, or any other vivid color in my hair—and I’m too lazy to recolor it—I mix semi-permanent color in with my shampoo, let it sit for a few minutes, and then rinse it out.

ERICKA: If you love your color, ROCK it! Who cares who doesn't like it?

MADISON: If you get some color staining on your skin, wait until your hair and skin has dried a bit to remove it. Also, only apply shampoo to the roots and conditioner to the ends, not all over for both.

What is your #1 hair coloring tip?

ERICKA: Less is more! Sometimes just doing roots is all you need.

SONJA: A tip that most colorists recommend to people coloring at home is to only apply color to the new growth for the full length of time (with a shorter time on the ends). Most people tend to apply color all-over on hair that is already color-treated for the full timing.That’s why we see those over-pigmented ends where the color has become too dark.

Spill any pet peeves about being a colorist...

SHARLYNN: My biggest pet peeve is people who want to go to a cooler ash blonde from a dark brown or even black, and expecting it to happen in one sitting.

ERICKA: Color in my nails and standing up too long.

MADISON: When I used to work in the salon full time I could never keep a nice manicure because of all of the washing and color stains.

SONJA: Definitely bleach spots on my clothes⁠—it splatters everywhere. Tiny dots of bleach over everything. This is why can't wear nice things at work!

What is the best part about being a colorist?

SHARLYNN: The best part of being a colorist is helping to give someone confidence. The perfect color, cut, and style can instill so much more confidence in a person. A little change in appearance can go a long way for people.

ERICKA: Making people feel good about themselves and giving them more confidence.

MADISON: Seeing how happy beautiful hair can change someone’s confidence. When I have fresh great color, it’s hard to shake my good mood.

SONJA: Working creatively with chemistry, and sharing stories with other people. It's never a dull day at work.

LUPE: The best part about being a colorist, is being able to share my knowledge with everyone and helping others feel better about themselves and have confidence.

What would you do if you weren’t a colorist?

SHARLYNN: If I wasn’t a colorist I would have pursued a career in law. I’ve always been interested in criminal justice.

ERICKA: Something in the medical field.

MADISON: I’ve always wanted to have my own YouTube food channel. I love to bake!

SONJA: Psychiatrist (if I had continued with graduate studies), but I also have mad skills with event planning.

LUPE: If I wasn’t a colorist, I would still be in the beauty industry and be an esthetician. I currently have both licenses. Working with skin and hair is something that I admire doing, and I wouldn’t change that.

Who is your hair color icon?

SHARLYNN: I wouldn't say I have one hair color icon, but anyone who isn’t afraid to do things outside of the normal basic hair colors or beauty standards are icons to me. They are doing what they love, and not worried about what anyone else thinks.

ERICKA: Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé.
MADISON: I love Justin Anderson. He has taken a mansion in LA and turned it into a hair house where clients and celebrities come to get amazing hair. He is also a killer blonde expert and that’s kind of my thing.

LUPE: My hair color icon is anyone who is willing to go for change no matter what. I wished I had the nerve to change my color all the time. So I admire anyone who does that, and doesn’t care what anyone thinks.

What inspires you?

SHARLYNN: Helping give others confidence is what inspires me. My best friend went through cancer and lost her hair from chemo⁠—this caused her to lose her confidence. Even after her hair grew back she struggled, but I’ve been able to consult with her on hair color, and it has helped her regain confidence. Nothing is more meaningful than lifting someone up and making them feel confident again.

ERICKA: Bold and beautiful colors!

MADISON: Knowing that I am not perfect and there is always room to learn and grow professionally and personally really keeps me inspired to keep going.

SONJA: Time alone, being in nature.

LUPE: Helping others with color advice and gaining confidence is what truly inspires me.

Thanks for getting to know these women. And remember⁠—they are always available to help! Call, chat or email the Color Crew with any of your questions, or just to say hi. :)