Do you love your facial hair? Do you have a beautiful ‘stache that cannot be contained? Are you constantly trying to wrestle as much of your luxurious beard inside your mask as you can and then hoping for the best? If so, you’re a long way from the best, unfortunately. If you have facial hair but still want to be as safe from Covid-19 as possible, here’s how much of it needs to be tucked in: All of it.
A mask works best — and, arguably, only works — if it forms a complete seal around your face. You should be breathing through the mask itself, not through the small gaps between your flesh and the mask’s fabric at the sides or bottom. While wearing a loose mask is better than not wearing a mask at all, those gaps are still open doors through which an infected person’s breath, spit, sneeze, cough and other droplets can sneak through. As tight as it might seem, if you have facial hair that runs underneath a mask, it’s going to be propping up the edges just enough to let air through the bristles. Even worse, any facial hair not covered by the mask could catch and trap virus-containing droplets directly on your face, just waiting for you to inhale them in.
First, the Center for Disease Control released a shockingly expansive infographic detailing exactly what beard and mustache styles could be properly contained inside a mask, and it’s not a lot. Now, admittedly, that graph was made in 2017 and talks specifically about the N95 respirator. “If you’re looking at wearing a medical N95 mask to protect yourself, then it has to be totally sealed, and any hair under the edge of the mask is going to break that seal,” says Dr. Harry F. Hull, a longtime epidemiologist who has worked with both the CDC and the Worth Health Organization. These masks are high in demand, but they’re also best saved for the doctors and hospital workers who need them most. (Also, medical professionals usually need to take classes just to make sure they can properly seal the mask to their face.)
But although it’s focused on the N95, the CDC’s infographic is still equally correct about what hairstyles can be contained by normal surgical masks. “You could have a goatee or a soul patch, and that’s going to be okay,” says Hull. “Again, any [other facial hairstyles] that disrupt a seal at the edge of the mask is going to reduce its efficacy.” The same is true of cloth masks, which have the additional caveat that people rarely wear them tight enough, especially if they’re trying to cram a beard inside one.
But don’t run and grab your razor just yet! Given that the pandemic has lasted six full months, you probably won’t be surprised to know that you are not the first man to have this concern, and there are now several companies who have begun making masks specifically for the beard-inclined. Some of these merely add a pouch to a traditional mask for a beard to be tucked in; better ones extend the mask past the jaw, underneath the chin and down to the neck, where there’s plenty of skin to help close those germ doors. Others run straight from your nose to your shoulders, like a turtleneck sweater that suddenly decided it wanted to eat your head.
Just remember, that mask needs to sit snugly against your skin. If you’re worried about keeping your beard and ‘stache, don’t forget to be concerned about the rest of you, too.