When Amber Jean Rowan was diagnosed with alopecia, an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its own hair follicles and causes hair loss, 13 years ago, she developed an understandable thirst for knowledge on the subject. She went to medical professionals regarding possible treatments, of course, but despite a thriving internet, the more nuanced information she sought — the community, the first-hand experiences, the honest first-person perspectives — just weren't there.
"All we could find were a few dire medical information sites — that was about it," she tells Allure. "I never got a chance to meet or connect with any other Alopecians. My head was full of questions, and I would have loved to have been able to talk to someone else who had been through it all before."
Out of a sense of isolation and a lack of representation came an awesome idea: Hair Free, Rowan's web-based community and blog for others searching for alopecia answers. And not just answers to questions you might expect, like "Will my hair grow back?" or "Where do I buy a wig?" Much like when Rowan was younger, a lot of the Hair Free community wants advice on alopecia and relationships — if, when, and how should someone with alopecia tell their partner about it.
"This was one of the trickiest issues for me," Rowan tells Allure. "It's difficult to tell someone that the you they see is not actually the real you, particularly when you're just starting a relationship. Exposing your bare head to someone for the first time leaves you feeling totally vulnerable, raw, and the most naked you've ever felt. You really must trust and feel comfortable with that person."
Rowan's Hair Free community trusts her with beauty questions, too, and it's no surprise: the model is an absolute wiz at creating a natural brow look with just a little powder and a skinny makeup brush — something she's been perfecting over the course of a decade. (It's totally safe to use makeup on skin that has experience alopecia hair loss, according to New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Shari Marchbein.) Rowan even prefers it over microblading, the semipermanent tattooing option that creates realistic-looking hair strokes.
"Microblading is fab! I got it done years ago. and I found it really handy," she says. "I do recommend it to people, but personally, I like the freedom I have without the microblading, as I can always have the 'no brows' look whenever I please."
The fact that she sometimes prefers the "no brows" look is proof that she has come a long way in her self-confidence. "Losing my eyebrows was hands-down the hardest part of my journey thus far," she recalls. "I adored my eyebrows. They were my signature — thick and luscious — and I never thought I would lose them."
Rowan's alopecia journey can now benefit others going through a similar experience, whether that's asking personal or seemingly silly questions on Hair Free ("Can I still go on a rollercoaster now that I wear wig?" being one of them) or learning from her well-honed makeup techniques like the ones she shared on Allure's Instagram Stories. Check it out below.
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