- Beards may increase your risk for developing COVID-19.
- A heavy beard makes it more difficult to get a good seal between the mask and your face.
- This creates a gap where virus-containing droplets can enter your mask.
- Certain styles of facial hair are better than others when it comes to getting a proper fit for your mask.
If you've been working at home or not getting out that much during the pandemic, it may have seemed like the perfect time to grow out a beard. Why go through the bother of shaving if you don't have to, right?
Experts say, however, that your added facial hair might just be increasing your risk for developing COVID-19.
Why beards affect your risk
It's all about getting a good seal between the mask and your face, according to Dr. Anthony M. Rossi, FAAD, a board certified dermatologist and a member of the American Academy of Dermatology.
“The thing about beards and masking,” said Rossi, “is that if you have a very bushy beard that goes in the area where a mask covers and over your jaw line and onto your neck, it can create an improper seal with the mask, thereby allowing particles and airflow to go between you and the mask.”
This means that any virus-containing droplets that you breathe out when speaking, coughing, or sneezing can escape through the opening around the edges of your mask.
This also means that any droplets breathed out by those around you could make their way inside your mask.
If these droplets enter your mouth or nose, it makes it more likely that you'll contract the virus.
What if you don’t want to shave?
Dr. Adam Friedman, a board certified dermatologist and a member of the American Academy of Dermatology, says that he sees this issue a lot in his practice.
He explains that double masking can potentially help if someone doesn't wish to shave, since it creates a tighter fit.
However, it can also lead to other issues, like pressure or frictional irritant contact rashes behind the ear.
“In the hospital setting, where a fit-tested N95 mask is required, those with thick beards can use what’s called a PAPR (powered air purifying respirator),” said Friedman, “which is almost like a helmet that goes over your head/face.”
Rossi adds that you can also pinch the nose bite of your mask to ensure there's a good seal around the nose.
He points out that the size of people's faces varies, so you want to make sure that the mask has a tight seal around the whole mouth, nose, and chin area.
“Sometimes the use of tape around the nose area will help create a tighter seal, or even tape under the jaw line will help create a tighter seal, especially if you’re in a high-risk area such as the hospital,” he said.
Finally, certain beard styles will work better than others when it comes to getting a proper seal. Opt for these styles in order to get the best fit.
What style of beard works best?
Rossi notes that there's a guide provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that outlines which specific facial hair styles work best when it comes to getting a good mask seal.
In general, however, being clean shaven or having facial hair that doesn't cross the line where the mask must seal on your face are the best options, according to the CDC.
Friedman further explains that the density of the beard will play a big role in how good of a seal that your mask can create with your face.
“A well-groomed, thin beard should not interfere with standard mask wearing,” he said.