Contractors often have to wear a disposable or reusable respirator for their job. One of the most common questions they ask about these respirators is, “Can I have a beard when I wear one?” The simple answer to this is, “no”. The reason why is because the seal of the respirator to the face is one of the most important factors. Disposable and reusable respirators (also known as tight-fitting respirators) are designed to seal to the wearer’s face so that air entering the facepiece is forced through the filter media, and leakage between the facepiece seal and the face is reduced. Anything that prevents the edge of the respirator from creating a seal with the skin on the face can reduce the protection afforded by the respirator. One of the big culprits of this is facial hair. The U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) addresses this question in their blog post “To Beard or not to Beard? That’s a good Question!” which states, “some studies have shown that even a day or two of stubble can begin to reduce protection.” This is why it’s so critical to be clean shaven where the respirator seal contacts the face prior to wearing a respirator, each and every time.

Remember though that shaving alone won’t ensure a good seal. The respirator still needs to be worn properly in order to help achieve a proper seal and provide effective protection. To make sure you are taking the right steps to put a respirator on correctly, you need to read and follow the manufacturer’s user instructions fully. Once you put the respirator on, you still need to make sure you obtained a proper seal by performing a user seal check. The user seal check is a set of procedures you must do to check to see if you have air leakage around the edges of the respirator. This must be performed each and every time you put on a tight-fitting respirator and before entering the hazardous area. If you cannot achieve a tight seal, you need to readjust the respirator and straps and then redo the user seal check. If you still cannot obtain a good seal, then you will need to try another model of respirator. Manufacturers usually offer a variety of models with different designs and features so you have a better chance at finding one that fits your facial shape and size to help achieve a proper fit. So, take a look at what’s out there. If a certain model isn’t giving you a good seal, try out a different one. As a bonus, you may even find it to be more comfortable. And, of course, remember to shave.

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