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To Beard or not to Beard? That’s a good Question!

Posted on by Jaclyn Krah Cichowicz, MA; Ron Shaffer, PhD; and Markee Shamblin

 

The month of November is full of fun, interesting, and thought-provoking observances. November is National Raisin Bread Month, Historic Bridge Awareness Month, and Inspirational Role Models Month among so much more. November is also the host month to campaigns like No-Shave November and Movember. Campaigns such as these are working hard to raise money for important causes such as cancer research, education, and awareness. These increasingly popular campaigns are a great way to demonstrate your support … unless you need to wear a tight-fitting respirator for your job.

Don’t despair! We will not completely ruin your plans to compete for facial hair bragging rights. But we’re going to have to get creative about it…

 

It’s about to get a bit “hairy”…

So, you want to grow out your beard, but wear a tight-fitting respirator at work? Ensuring the respirator seal is a vital part of respiratory protection practices. Facial hair that lies along the sealing area of a respirator, such as beards, sideburns, or some mustaches, will interfere with respirators that rely on a tight facepiece seal to achieve maximum protection. Facial hair is a common reason that someone cannot be fit tested.

The reason for this is simple – gases, vapors, and particles in the air will take the path of least resistance and bypass the part of the respirator that captures or filters hazards out. So then, why can’t facial hair act as a crude filter to capture particles that pass between the respirator sealing area and the skin?  While human hair appears to be very thin to the naked eye, hair is much larger in size than the particles inhaled. Facial hair is just not dense enough and the individual hairs are too large to capture particles like an air filter does; nor will a beard trap gases and vapors like the carbon bed in a respirator cartridge.  Therefore, the vast majority of particles, gases, and vapors follow the air stream right through the facial hair and into respiratory tract of the wearer.  In fact, some studies have shown that even a day or two of stubble can begin to reduce protection.  Research tells us that the presence of facial hair under the sealing surface causes 20 to 1000 times more leakage compared to clean-shaven individuals.

So then, how are you going to participate? Luckily, the rules of No Shave November state, “Strict dress-code at work? Don’t worry about it! We encourage participation of any kind; grooming and trimming are perfectly acceptable.” And Movember is all about the mustaches.

Ok. Now we can have some fun. Instead of gunning for the title of “most hairy”, how about being the “most creative” this November?

Halloween is over. So put away those werewolf, Forrest Gump, and Rubeus Hagrid costumes. Instead, if you are going to participate in one of these facial-hair frenzied campaigns, channel your inner Frank Zappa, Rhett Butler, or Zorro. When’s the last time you rocked a good soul patch? (The official NIOSH recommendation is to listen to some classic jazz while trimming this particular style.) Not sure what kinds of facial hairstyles will work with a tight-sealing respirator? We’ve provided a chart below with our best guesses, complete with a line representing a typical sealing surface.

A second option is to consult with your Respiratory Protection Program Manager about respirator selection options. In some work environments, a loose-fitting respirator, such as a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR), is an option. As we mentioned in another recent NIOSH Science Blog, Understanding respiratory protection options in Healthcare: The Overlooked Elastomeric, loose-fitting PAPRs may be used when fit testing fails or when facial hair is present. However, this may not be a feasible option for all beard-eager professionals out there.

Finally, we must stress the importance of the user seal check. The user seal check can be either  a positive pressure or negative pressure check. During a positive pressure user seal check, the respirator user exhales gently while blocking the paths for exhaled breath to exit the facepiece. If the check is successful, the facepiece will be slightly pressurized before increased pressure causes outward leakage. During a negative pressure user seal check, the respirator user inhales sharply while blocking the paths for inhaled breath to enter the facepiece. If this version of the check is successful, the facepiece will collapse slightly under the negative pressure that is created with this procedure. A user seal check is sometimes referred to as a fit check. Once a fit test has been done to determine the best model and size of respirator for a particular user, a user seal check should be done by the user every time the respirator is to be worn to ensure an adequate seal is achieved, regardless of your facial hair status. Check out the OSHA/NIOSH video on donning/doffing and how to conduct a proper user seal check.

For anyone participating in one of these campaigns, we wish you best of luck with your creative facial hair endeavors!

Jaclyn Krah Cichowicz, MA, is a  Health Communications Specialist in the in the NIOSH National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory.

Ronald Shaffer, PhD, is Chief of Technology Research Branch at NIOSH’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory.

Markee Shamblin is a Health Communication intern in NIOSH’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory .

 

Reference:

Stobbe, T.J., daRoza, R.A. and Watkins, M.A., 1988. Facial hair and respirator fit: a review of the literature. The American Industrial Hygiene Association Journal, 49(4), pp.199-204.

 

Posted on by Jaclyn Krah Cichowicz, MA; Ron Shaffer, PhD; and Markee Shamblin

14 comments on “To Beard or not to Beard? That’s a good Question!”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    Hi, everybody.
    In the Brazil, we have a book (by deceased Dr Maurício Torlini), that wich brings great informations about this issues. PROGRAMA DE PROTEÇÃO RESPIRATÓRIA – Recomendação, seleção e uso de respiradores.

    Great resource to assist those that are in need of ensuring they remain protected! Thanks and please repost again ahead of Every Movember!

    Facial hair of our some packer is one of our concern here, at our flour packing section in Saudi Arabia, we can not impose of policy not to have a beard because it is their culture in Islam country like KSA. My question is, is there a protection for this beard to prevent fallen hair into the bag of flour?

    This is a great article and the graphic is very useful for showing the facial hair styles that are, are not, and may be acceptable. It is an constant battle with the popularity of facial hair and all the TV shows that feature highly talented guys with beards and goatees wearing tight-fitting respirators while they sand and paint cool cars and trucks. The public sees this and assumes it must be OK, or else how would they be allowed on TV?

    The problem is getting acute. More so, where highly toxic gases, like hydrogen sulphide, are involved. Therefore, those who are very conscious of their looks should rather think of quitting “hazardous” professions and enter some clerical or similar jobs. By doing so,, they will be helping their fellow workers, also.
    K. N. Krishna Prasad, Chartered engineer; OHS Consultant & Trainer, Mysuru, India.

    Why don’t you consider the alternatives to close fitting face masks rather than imposing restrictions on workers?

    Thank you for your comment. The blog notes “A second option is to consult with your Respiratory Protection Program Manager about respirator selection options. In some work environments, a loose-fitting respirator, such as a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR), is an option. As we mentioned in another recent NIOSH Science Blog, Understanding respiratory protection options in Healthcare: The Overlooked Elastomeric, loose-fitting PAPRs may be used when fit testing fails or when facial hair is present. However, this may not be a feasible option for all beard-eager professionals out there.”

    PAPRs cost more and involve additional logistical challenges compared to disposable N95 filtering facepiece respirators. Some loose-fitting PAPR models provide less protection (APF = 25) than other types of respirators (e.g., full facepiece APR with APF = 50).

    Hello, I am an occupationnal Hygienist and I am in charge of the respiratory program for the maritime employer association in Montreal (MEA). Can I get a high resolution picture of your brilliant infographic : facial air style ?

    It will be perfect to show to my employee (mainly french speaking lognshoremen) what is acceptable and what is not ?

    Thank you

    Comments are very good, but we have to take into account the work colleagues, their personal appearance when using a beard that is everyone’s question, but not for the use of tight masks, sometimes we are working with highly dangerous materials, and the mask that they would also use the men does not keep it from contamination,

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