We’ve been discussing fit testing a lot recently in our blogs. We come across so many different questions from our customers when it comes to their respiratory protection program. One of the most popular questions has to be the relationship between facial hair and its effect on respirator fit.

It’s All About the Seal

You wear a respirator for a reason. Regardless of the type of respirator you wear (an N95 filtering facepiece, a half-mask respirator, or a full facepiece respirator), the facial seal is critical to protecting you from exposure to harmful substances. Any break in that seal can put you at risk, and one of the most common causes for a breached seal is – you guessed it – facial hair.

Facial hair should not interfere with the respirator sealing surface or inhalation and exhalation valves required for proper respirator function. For many, this requires that a respirator user be clean-shaven within the last 12-24 hours prior to respirator use.

Clean-shaven policies are common in many workplaces today. Their importance should be reinforced during training, with regular reminders, and during fit test instruction.

Are There Options?

Yes, individuals with facial hair that interferes with a respirator’s seal can look to other types of respiratory protection. Loose-fitting respirators offer one alternative. These respirators allow for the whole head to be covered and the seal to be under the chin or around the neck.  They are available configured as a hood or a helmet with attached visor. Breathing air can be delivered via a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) with appropriate filters or cartridges or a supplied airline maintaining positive pressure inside the respirator. This option requires additional planning and investment, but can also offer additional comfort for respirator users.

What About a Full Facepiece Respirator?

A full facepiece respirator may be a solution for an individual with facial hair that interferes with a filtering facepiece or half-mask respirator. One benefit of this option is the added eye protection provided by the lens. Most respirator manufactures offer full and half-mask respirator options that use the same cartridges and filters.

Don’t Take the Risk

It’s pretty obvious – respiratory fit testing and the accepted amount of facial hair is an important topic.  What might seem like a small amount of facial hair can compromise your respirator’s facial seal and expose you to harmful substances.  If you have questions, additional guidance can be found in our Respiratory Protection Guide. You can download it for free here.

Jonathan McCallum

Market Segment Manager: Occupational Health, Industrial Hygiene & Environmental Monitoring

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