Amber Rowan by Thea Lovstad

We understand all too well how much the hair on our head can mean to us. Society, tradition, gender - all these things and more have meant that in western society, it’s easy to have a big part of our identity wrapped up in our hair. The way we wear our hair can hold connotations too, from the ‘blondes have more fun’ style of stereotype to the idea that long hair equals femininity or a skinhead equals toughness.

Model and actress Amber Rowan developed alopecia when she was in her teens, losing all of her hair by the age of 15. Over ten years on, she runs her own platform, Hair Free Life, where she aims to speak openly and honestly about a topic she wishes she had access to more relatable advice and information back when she developed the syndrome. Amber has proved that losing your hair doesn’t mean losing your identity - in fact, her strength and true, genuine authenticity has illustrated exactly the opposite.

We spent a Summer morning with Amber and Glasshouse-favourite photographer Thea Lovstad, capturing Amber’s unique beauty and having a chat about her journey with alopecia, mental health and always being true to yourself.

Top + skirt, Cawley Studio; Shoes, By Far
Top + skirt, Cawley Studio; Shoes, By Far
Dress, 31 Chapel Lane; Earrings, Bar Jewellery
Dress, 31 Chapel Lane; Earrings, Bar Jewellery

Tell us about when you lost your hair and what that experience was like.

I lost my hair when I was 15. I was in the middle of a History class when one of my best friends found a corn-sized patch on the back of my head - it was like the smallest patch you’d ever seen. At the time, truly, I did not think anything of it - it was one of those freak things that didn’t panic me.

I was young so I’d never heard the term alopecia, it wasn’t something that was in my realm - when you’re 15 that’s the last thing you’re thinking of. So I literally put it to the back of my mind. In a way, it was an in-joke amongst me and my friends for the first couple of weeks whilst we were still figuring out what it was. It got a little more serious - I went to the doctor and then my mind quickly shifted to ‘oh god what if this gets bigger?’. I looked at it again and I kept looking at it daily, noticing it was getting bigger, which jolted me a bit. Me and Mum decided we might as well go and check it out.

Dress, BITE Studios
Dress, BITE Studios

What happened next?

So we went to the doctor and we were told it was alopecia. The doctors said to me generically ‘look, girls get this when they go through hormonal changes or if they’re stressed’. I was very thin at the time so they thought it was an accumulation of me getting my periods, being thin and going through hormonal changes. I was always very much an anxious kid so perhaps my body was trying to call in for a bit of extra attention.

Then a patch at the top of my head started to form and that started to get bigger, and I couldn’t hide it anymore. Things started getting very problematic. I’d have to use brown spray to cover the patches and there were occasions when that brown spray would run out. I’d be on the way to a disco and would have to run around the house looking for eyeshadow. I had certain ways I tied up my hair to cover up the patches and that wasn’t even covering it anymore. All the while you’re trying to do school and you’re fancying certain boys, you want to have a certain persona - that’s when things became more tricky.

Did you begin using wigs or hair pieces to cover it up?

It got to a point where I got a weave, and the small amount of hair I still had - which was always thin - the weave then pulled all of this out. It was the first time I saw myself bald. This is about a year after the hair started falling out. I remember being with my sister and my mum, looking at myself in the mirror for the first time - that was definitely a moment.

From then on, I started my relationship with hair pieces. They were really helpful - I was lucky enough and fortunate enough to be able to buy good ones, so it didn’t hinder my career and I could hide my alopecia to a certain extent. As a teenager, having anything different from the norm is always going to be challenging. Each teenager has their own shit and mine ended up being a bit more obvious than everyone else’s.

Dress, Cawley Studio
Dress, Cawley Studio
Shoes, By Far
Shoes, By Far

How has it affected your mental health?

Doctors tell you that the main reason people get alopecia is to do with stress and anxiety. Looking back, as a 15 year old, I didn’t think I was anxious or stressed. I was dancing and doing drama nearly every night of the week and I was very underweight as a kid naturally. I genuinely felt that maybe my body was under stress, instead of me being stressed.

But in hindsight, I was always worried as a kid and very socially anxious. I remember not wanting to leave the house all summer - going back to my friend’s houses was sometimes a massive issue. My hair loss didn’t trigger anxiety, I think I was always anxious. And then 3 or 4 years ago I got my first panic attack and first bout of anxiety that I knew was anxiety. That made me look at some stuff and open up plasters that I thought I’d covered. Alopecia made me build amazing walls - I was amazing at blocking shit out. 3 years ago I finally relaxed in my life. Once I let my body relax, it was almost like all this anxiety, fear, stress and trauma that I hadn’t dealt with came to the surface. Which I’m glad it did because I was living a life of blocking and not truly feeling. That’s when yoga really came in, as well as meditation and my diet changed.

Why do you think are we are all so attached to our hair?

It dates back to the beginning of time. Good, strong, silky hair meant royalty, wealth, power and femininity. It’s not our fault why it means so much to us and our identity, because it’s so deep in our psyche. Everything we see in the media and have been fed through film and TV - that’s where we get these pre-conceived ideas from and they’re difficult to get past. It’s all about challenging it in any way we can. I don’t have any answers for it but it’s something I like to challenge.

Dress, 31 Chapel Lane
Dress, 31 Chapel Lane

What’s your aim in sharing your story on Hair Free Life?

I had no expectations for it, no desire. The only desire I had for it is that I wanted to create something that I didn’t have. When I was 15, all I wanted to do was speak to someone in private - how do they do their hair? How do they do their makeup? How do they wear their wigs? Just having a safe space to go to that’s not your mum or your friends. Growing up I didn’t know anyone in the public eye with alopecia. Seeing someone living their life and seeing that it’s not affecting them - they’re still living a happy, true life. A role model for me is seeing someone living their life as they would anyway, they’re getting on and living an authentic life.

Tell us about your experience with wigs over the last 10 years?

It’s so hard to find a good wig and the price is absolutely outrageous. The hair industry itself is quite a dark one. It’s a backwards industry and one that I want to look into and see if there’s a way of doing it in a more sustainable way. I need real hair for my work and I need lace front wigs - therefore you’re talking anywhere between £500 to £2000. They do last a long time. I like to justify it in a sense that if a woman was getting highlights and was getting them done every month then it would equal the same. But it’s an investment and something I feel lucky to be able afford.

People always say ‘oh because you wear a wig you’re not truly accepting of your hair loss’. I don’t think that’s the case at all. I love wearing my wigs and have done for ten years, but sometimes I love not wearing them and going without because it feels truly authentically me as well. It’s just about completely owning whatever you choose to wear that day.

Dress, Cawley Studio
Dress, Cawley Studio

How do you unwind?

I have a few favourite fun things - I hang out with my boyfriend at the weekend, I love watching films, good food, good pasta, a good glass of red wine. But the main thing that truly helps me come back to myself and rewind is yoga and has been for the last couple of years. That sorts out my head and brings in those anxious thoughts.

Model: Amber Rowan @ Linden Staub
Photographer: Thea Lovstad
Makeup: Emily Wouters
Styling: Lucy Vincent

Share this:

More From The Journal

  1. Plastic-Free Periods

    ​As more and more alternative period products become available, we chat to four real women to hear their experiences transitioning from conventional feminine care to more sustainable and healthy options.

    More +
  2. The Glasshouse Guide to Beauty Recycling

    The rules around recycling can be difficult to decipher most of the time, but recycling our beauty products seems to be an even more confusing area. In celebration of Zero Waste Week, we’ve put together the definitive guide to reusing, recycling, and refilling our bathroom waste.

    More +
  3. Astrology with Daliah Roth: Virgo

    As the summer starts winding down, we’re entering into Virgo season. Practical and humble, we find out more about Virgo’s traits as we continue our Astrology series with Daliah Roth, The Highgate Astrologer.

    More +
  4. Work with us at Glasshouse Salon

    Fancy being a part of our close-knit Glasshouse team? We are looking for a talented Hair Stylist to come onboard.

    More +
  5. Beauty Trend: Orange

    Bold and zesty, orange makeup is having a moment this summer. Whether you’re up for experimenting or are a little more reserved, we’ve got some tips on how to wear the shade in a way that suits you with the help of our in-house makeup artist Emily.

    More +
  6. Reads: Moon Lists by Leigh Patterson

    ​With a focus on reflection and perspective, Moon Lists is a new workbook from Leigh Patterson designed to guide readers through a series of prompts, lists and questions for a life experienced more deeply. We sat down with Leigh to gain some more insight about the concept and how it relates to self-care.

    More +
  7. Astrology with Daliah Roth: Leo

    As we enter Leo season, friend of Glasshouse Daliah Roth, aka The Highgate Astrologer, joins us once again to share an in depth analysis of the fiery sun sign and the Leo qualities you might see in yourself or others.

    More +
  8. Summer Beauty SOS

    From oily skin to frizzy hair, the warm summer weather can throw a few different beauty issues our way. We’ve put together a handy guide to dealing with some of the biggest bug-bears of the season so that you can enjoy your summer stress-free.

    More +
  9. Circular Beauty: Part One

    Circular beauty is the beauty trend we hope never goes out of fashion. In part one of this series, we look at how food waste is finding a new home in our skin and hair care.

    More +
  10. Think Piece: Beauty Fasting

    The beauty industry is bigger than ever. But what does that mean for the environment? And what are our overcomplicated regimes doing for our skin? We delve into the world of ‘Beauty Fasting’ to see if there’s any worth in cutting things down and giving our skin, the planet and our wallet a break.

    More +
  11. Minimal Makeup with Maximum Impact

    As things heat up this summer, we’re favouring minimal makeup with maximum impact. From a bold lip to blush-flushed cheeks, this is a simple concept that places the focus on the skin paired with a punchy summer makeup look of your choice.

    More +
  12. Astrology with Daliah Roth: Cancer

    In the second instalment of our Astrology series with Daliah Roth, The Highgate Astrologer, Daliah talks us through the qualities and attributes of the Cancerian. Nurturing, emotional and perhaps prone to grasping onto things and people, find out how much you identify with the sign and what it could mean for you.

    More +
  13. Q&A: Jessica Tremp

    ​Australian-based photographer Jessica Tremp has captivated us with intimate portrayal of nature, sculpture, motherhood and everything in between. We caught up with her to find out more.

    More +
  14. Rituals: Eminé Rushton

    Having left her 9-5 for a slower way of life, writer and therapist Eminé Rushton speaks to Glasshouse on her new lifestyle rooted in Ayurveda and the rituals she has to keep her life balanced from early morning meditation to picking herbs in her garden.

    More +
  15. An Ode To The Ocean

    ​This World Oceans Day, we’re celebrating everything that the sea has to offer, from medicinal breakthroughs to inspirational beauty. With the marine ecosystem under threat from global warming and plastic pollution, we believe it is worth every effort to save our ocean.

    More +
  16. Glasshouse Summer Editorial

    To bring in the new season we’ve partnered with photographer Emma Sweeney for our latest Summer editorial featuring soft pink hues and glowing skin.

    More +
Load more posts