As the nation continues to ramp up COVID-19 vaccine distribution and coronavirus pandemic guidelines continue to be recommended, some health experts have weighed in on how facial hair may be putting bearded individuals at greater risk.
Mask wearing has been touted as one of the biggest protections people have against contracting coronavirus or spreading it to others. Masks, according to a December 2020 study, can reduce new infections by 50%. People with facial hair, depending on the length and thickness, might decrease the effectiveness of the protection that masks give.
Any gap in your facial mask “increases the chance that there is a virus that will get to the orifices, which can then obviously give you the disease,” Dr. Mona Gohara, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine told CNN.
But recommending shaving facial hair isn’t simple since it may be tied to cultural or religious beliefs, a part of your self-expression, or self-esteem. So here’s what is known based on available research.
What the Research Says
There’s some studies about beards collecting bacteria, but the data, according to CNN is inconclusive, and there’s reportedly less information about viruses and bears. However, Gohara emphasizes that ill-fitting masks in general can increase someone’s risk of contracting the virus.
Dr. Suzanne Willard, Associate Dean of Global Health at Rutgers School of Nursing told Insider people with beards should keep them clean and pointed out that just because you’re clean-shaven doesn’t mean you’re germ-free.
Dr. Sara Hogan, a clinical instructor of dermatology and health sciences at UCLA told the outlet beards should be washed as frequently as the hair on a person’s head, or a few times a week. Brushing your beard regularly can also help lift away dead skin cells underneath the facial hair, Hogan said.
The CDC released an infographic in 2017 showing which facial hair styles support proper facial mask wearing.
For Black people with beards, shaving may cause irritation and razor bumps, Gohara said, which may also lead to hyperpigmentation. “Many infectious disease experts will say that if you can eliminate facial hair, or if you can at least trim it just so it fits within the confines of the mask, then that’s advisable,” Gohara told CNN. “There have to be solutions for people where that’s not an option,” she added.
Some Available Options
If going clean-shaven isn’t an option, trimming may be an alternative, as well as getting larger face masks designed to fit over a beard and neck.
Wearing two masks may increase protection for bearded people, too, Gohara said. Start with either an N95 mask or one that has ties “that kind of create a bit more security and tightness,” Gohara explained. Add another mask that can go over your beard and fit closely around your jaw or neck, then secure it in place by putting the strap behind your ears or tying them behind your head.
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