As stay-at-home orders have popped up across the country during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, a hairy new trend has emerged: the quarantine beard.
Many facial hair-endowed folks are socially distancing from their razors, allowing their beards to grow, and tracking their progress under Twitter hashtags like #coronabeard and #letsgrowtogether. Even some celebrities are getting involved, including funnyman Jim Carrey, who has vowed to grow his whiskers “until we all go back to work.”
But as COVID-19 infections continue to spread, some have wondered: Should we be shaving instead? Here is what you need to know.
Will shaving your beard help prevent getting COVID-19?
Average bearded folks can take a breath, said Carrie L. Kovarik, associate professor of dermatology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. There is currently no evidence that shaving will help prevent you from getting the coronavirus.
“There’s just not,” she said. “Some people have beards for religious reasons, or they have had beards their whole lives. At this point, there is no evidence that they need to shave it.”
Primarily, the coronavirus is thought to spread through respiratory droplets, mainly from the cough or sneeze of an infected person, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. A properly cared-for beard may not have much of an effect either way when it comes to the coronavirus — especially if you are following proper social distancing guidelines and practicing good hygiene.
As John Swartzberg, a clinical professor emeritus at UC Berkley’s School of Public Health, recently told the Los Angeles Times, bearded people could “theoretically” transfer the coronavirus from their facial hair if, for example, an infected person coughed on their beard. However, Swartzberg added that there have been no studies on the topic, and that he knows “of no science to support” that possibility.
“If someone sneezes in your face, it could settle anywhere on it — your nose, your beard, any part,” Kovarik said. “It’s not the beard that is the problem, it’s being in close contact with others or having people sneezing on you or coughing on you.”
But what about that CDC chart?
In February, an infographic from the CDC began making the rounds online, with some outlets and social media accounts claiming that the organization was recommending that people shave their beards. But there’s one problem: It wasn’t.
The graphic, in fact, dates to November 2017 — long before the current coronavirus outbreak — and deals with more than 30 different styles of facial hair and how they may affect respirators such as N95 masks, which require a seal to work properly.
As the CDC wrote in 2017, tight-fitting facewear like N95 masks can be rendered ineffective by facial hair that disrupts the area where it seals along the wearer’s face. Styles such as full beards, sideburns, and some mustaches tend to break that seal with the skin, causing “20 to 1,000 times more leakage compared to clean-shaven individuals.” But if you’re not in the group that should be wearing those masks, remaining bearded is an option.
“Health-care workers who need to wear N95 masks, those people need to have no facial hair for a snug fit,” Kovarik said. “The CDC has been clear about that.”
So can you still wear other types of masks?
Currently, the CDC recommends that people wear cloth face coverings when out in public, echoing a similar recommendation made by the Pennsylvania Department of Health last week. When it comes to that style of mask, those of us with beards may be in luck.
Cloth and homemade masks, like the surgical masks that should be reserved for health-care workers, do not require a seal, and could be used despite the presence of facial hair, Kovarik said. Cloth masks, the CDC notes, can help potentially asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus from transmitting COVID-19 to others by limiting the spread of respiratory droplets from acts like speaking, sneezing, or coughing.
“You don’t need to shave your beard to wear a surgical mask properly,” Kovarik said. “You just need it to fit over your mouth and nose and loop behind your ears. It doesn’t require a tight seal.”
Beard or not, when wearing a cloth mask, users should be careful to “not touch their eyes, nose, and mouth” when removing the garment, and wash their hands after touching it, the CDC advises. Masks should also be washed routinely.
What should you do with your beard if you’re keeping it?
The CDC has touted basic personal hygiene like avoiding touching your face and washing your hands since the coronavirus outbreak started, and the same type of cleanliness can be applied to beards. Additionally, people with beards — like everyone else — should follow social-distancing guidelines.
“Proper hygiene on your beard is the best thing,” Kovarik said. “Wash it like you normally would.”
While also helping to protect your health, proper beard care can also keep your whiskers looking their best. As barber Sean Robinson recently told The Inquirer, a sulfate-free shampoo option would be a good choice because it won’t pull moisture from your beard while keeping it clean.
“You really need to wash it every day,” he said.