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Dublin: 11 °C Wednesday 19 June, 2019

'At first I didn't want anyone to know': Model Amber Jean Rowan shared her alopecia story - and now she's helping others

‘If you have support and good people in your life, you can do and be more than one thing,’ says Rowan.

Image: Lee Malone

“AT 15, SEEING someone like me on the Late Late Show would have helped. Seeing someone like me on the cover of a magazine would have helped.”

As an actress and a model, Amber Jean Rowan is used to being in the public eye. She’s confident sharing the many different sides of herself with the world, be it on a shoot, on a film set or in a candid Instagram post.

The 26-year-old starred in her first commercial while still in primary school, and started modelling professionally in her late teens after finishing as a finalist on RTÉ’s The Model Agent.

But late last year, she opened up in a new, more vulnerable way, with the launch of Hair Free – a community platform offering information and support to other people with alopecia.

Rowan’s own alopecia journey began when she was 15, with a small bald patch on the back of her head that developed into almost total hair loss within a year. From her late teens she was wearing wigs full time.

“I didn’t want anyone to know,” she says of the first few months of her condition.

I wanted it to be private. Even going to a therapist was daunting. I thought people would ask why I was there and then I’d have to explain. I didn’t want anyone to see me.

As time went on, Rowan slowly began to open up more about her alopecia – viewers of The Model Agent will remember her discussing it on air – but it wasn’t until her mid-twenties that she realised her own experience could potentially help other young people. 

And as someone with a following already due to her modelling and acting work, she was in a position to make a real impact. “I knew I had a lot of information to share,” she says.

I had people contacting me asking for advice about wigs, or how to cope with losing their eyebrows. But in truth it was simply people wanting a connection from someone who had been through the same thing as them.

Rowan’s project, Hair Free, launched as an online space for her to offer advice, take questions and also to share the experiences of other people with alopecia.

Since then, the project has grown legs. In February 2019, Rowan appeared on the cover of Irish Tatler wig-free, her first professional magazine shoot without a wig. Later that month, she shared her story on The Late Late Show – again, wig-free.

It was a “nerve-wracking” time, says Rowan, but each new step was “something to help the 15-year-old me”. She adds:

“With Hair Free and everything I’ve done around it, I’m sharing a voice I would have loved to have heard back then.”

Along with her work on Hair Free, Rowan continues to work regularly as a model and actress. Most recently she completed work on Nocturnal, a drama starring Sadie Frost, due to be released in June 2019. Is it a struggle, fitting it all in, and dedicating the right amount of mental energy to each?

It’s more of a balance than a struggle, says Rowan:

If I’m on an acting gig, I know Hair Free can take a rest, and vice versa. I used to think you had to be a purist to succeed at something like acting. But I’m starting to disagree with that. If you have support and good people in your life, you can do and be more than one thing.

One of the most powerful lessons Rowan has learned on her journey is the value of being “healthy and happy” above all.

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What a journey the last few weeks have been... I went Hair Free! I felt rain on my head for the first time! I swam and dunked my head in the ocean. I learnt a new wonderful skill that I love and that I can now share with my friends and family. I learnt so much about myself. I made some gorgeous friends:) I cried I felt uncomfortable/ insecure I laughed my ass off I got some freckles on my head 🙏🏼❤️🙏🏼👩🏻‍🦲💕🌹 And I truly felt complete free. I am so happy I did it. I would recommend it to anyone!! The teachers here are incredible. Thank you all @sampoorna_yoga Goa your a ride 🤘🏻🧘🏼‍♀️🙏🏼🌹🌹🌹🤘🏻💕❤️💕❤️🧘🏼‍♀️🧘🏼‍♀️🧘🏼‍♀️🧘🏼‍♀️

A post shared by HAIR FREE (@hairfreelife) on

She’s recently completed her training as a yoga teacher, putting three weeks aside to study full-time in India. It’s something she wouldn’t have allowed herself the time to do a few years ago, when being as busy as possible with acting and modelling work was her main aim: 

In the early stages of my career, I equated being really successful to being happy. But in the last few years, I’ve realised that my career doesn’t need to be my one defining thing. Being happy in myself, in my relationship, with my friends – that’s what life is all about.

Rowan’s work with Hair Free continues to evolve – she has beauty and fashion collaborations in the pipeline, along with some work with a UK mental health charity – but she’s willing to take it whatever direction feels best.

“I didn’t have any expectations for it when I started, and I still don’t, but I know it’s had a positive effect on people out there.”

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