When wearing a face mask, to get maximum protection, it is important that the seal has maximum contact with the face. All employees should get face fit tested to ensure that the respirator used gives the correct protection for the work they are carrying out. We need to find out whether facial hair affects a respirator mask seal.
Facial hair is back and fashion and even small amounts of stubble can affect the face seal of a respirator mask. Any hair that is grown in the seal area of the mask has the potential to break the seal and let in harmful vapors, fumes, and dusts.
The reason that facial hair interferes with the seal is that it isn’t dense enough to block the harmful substances that the wearer may be exposed to. It is for this reason that wearers should be clean-shaven or have facial hairstyle that doesn’t interfere with the seal.
If there is any doubt whatsoever, you should consult with a trained safety practitioner who can offer advice on the best respirators suited for the work environment.
Research carried out in 1988* concluded that a small amount of stubble can allow 20-1000 more times leakage compared to an individual who is clean-shaven wearing a respirator
Seal checks should be carried out on respirators each time they are worn to test the seal tightness and effectiveness of the respirator.
Facial Hair Types and Face Fit Seal [infographic]
Here are some popular facial hairstyles and whether the seal should fit effectively on the respirator this is mostly for disposable models and half face fit mask respirators. Some full-face models and air assist may allow some facial hairstyles, but double-check with your safety advisors.
*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