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MASKED BEARDS

How people with beards are dealing with wearing masks

Facial hair that lies along the sealing area risks interfering with respirators because they rely on a tight facepiece seal to achieve maximum protection

In Summary

• People with beards juggle between keeping their masks on and beard well groomed

A man shows off a mask covering his beard
A man shows off a mask covering his beard
Image: COURTESY

Victor gently removes a small red comb from his side pockets and starts combing his beard. 

Describing it as a family trademark, he slowly grooms it back into proper shape before heading into the office.

The photographer, 26, has been growing his beard for three years. He has found his comb an essential item to look good after walking around with a mask all day. 

 
 
 

"For the short breaks in between wearing my mask and removing it, I walk with my comb just so I can groom my beard because wearing the mask messes it up," he said. 

For Victor, the rule to have a mask on at all times places a dent in his grooming process. 

"I do not use any grooming products but after taking a shower, I neatly comb my beard. However, putting on a mask becomes a challenge because I have to tuck the beard into the mask, which also makes wearing the mask uncomfortable," he said.

"I also have to keep removing the mask because the facial hair keeps entering my mouth."

Due to the Covid-19 social distancing guidelines, Victor prefers not to visit his barber for a shave because he does not feel comfortable with the close contact. 

"The option is to cut it yourself during this period. Going to the barber during this  Covid-19 period is somehow tricky because they have to come really close to your face and touch your chin, and it makes me uncomfortable, knowing that no social distancing is observed," he said.

"Plus a beard is a fashion statement."

 
 
 

FAMILY AND IDENTITY

Apart from making a fashion statement, his beard for him is also a sign of 'manhood'.

"I bet if I shaved you would think I am just a small boy, a young, soft boy," he says, laughing. "I also have my beard because it is kind of a family thing, all the men in my family have one, it's a trademark."

Victor, however, feels even with the masks, people with beards are not completely protected from droplets that could lead to contracting Covid-19.

"Some parts of the face end up not being properly sealed, hence becoming a risk. The facial hair can block complete sealing around the nose and mouth, thus defeating the purpose of the mask," he said. 

Douglas began his beard journey more than a decade ago because he liked the way his barber would trim his facial hair and shave his head as he went back to school. 

"As time went by and I started getting more independent, I started allowing my facial hair to keep growing and slowly it started filling the gaps on my chin and cheeks," he said. 

A journalist by profession, Douglas is constantly in the field and has also found that his beard comb is an essential item to carry. 

"I do not do much. I wash it daily and I am constantly combing it so it does not become tangled because when it does, it becomes itchy," he said.

A visit to the barber is not an option for him because his beard has become a part of his identity. 

"People are already used to me having a beard and I wouldn't want to shave it because of the current situation. I value my beard very much since it has been with me for a long time," he said.

"It also helps me remain natural and authentic, it's similar to those who decide to keep dreadlocks."

To prevent his facial hair from overgrowing, he trims it on a regular basis. 

"I don't apply any beard products, which makes it more comfortable when putting on a mask. If the heat is excessive, I opt to remove my mask and wipe any sweat from my face and beard then comb it," he said.

A person with a beard wearing a standard face mask
A person with a beard wearing a standard face mask
Image: COURTESY

CLEAN CHINS?

In April, the government directed all the barbershops and salon operators to ensure they wear masks while attending to clients.

Health CAS Mercy Mwangangi said the measure is meant to protect both the operators and their clients from being exposed to the coronavirus.

When Covid-19 started spreading, beards came under scrutiny after a post from the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention website led to claims that authorities were telling people to shave off beards and moustaches to avoid contracting the virus. 

However, the CDC stated the image was from a 2017 workplace safety infographic intended for workers who wear tight-fitting respirators. 

In a blog post, the CDC explained that facial hair that lies along the sealing area of a respirator, such as beards, sideburns or some moustaches, will interfere with respirators because they rely on a tight facepiece seal to achieve maximum protection. 

"The reason for this is simple: gases, vapours 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," it said.

"While human hair appears 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 vapours like the carbon bed in a respirator cartridge. "

Therefore, the vast majority of particles, gases and vapours follow the air stream right through the facial hair and into the respiratory tract of the wearer.

According to Science Alert, a respirator is actually required to be fit-tested to be deemed fully effective in which case facial hair can pose various problems, hence the infographic.

"Since respiratory viruses typically spread among close contacts, the current advice is mostly standard stuff, and basically the same thing we are told every flu season: avoid sick people, stay at home if you are sick, avoid touching your eyes or nose, and cover your coughs and sneezes, ideally with a tissue," they wrote. 

Edited by T Jalio