Facial Hair Justification

Face fit testing service Sundstrom SR100

Do I need to be clean shaven when wearing a respirator?

Yes. If you are wearing a tight-fitting respirator, you must be clean shaven wherever the mask touches your face. Facial hair touching the sealing surface of the mask may create leaks large enough for contaminants to enter the respirator.

This usually means that a moustache or a small “soul patch” is not an issue, however any more may be.

Gap, hair and respirator mask seal illustration

We use many 3M products, and direct customers to this handy 3M Facial Hair Guide as examples of what is acceptable facial hair or not.

We have conducted (for experimental purposes) some tests on workers with stubble and a full beard, and compared their results before and after shaving. The evidence shows that facial hair significantly impacts the seal, and all respirators must be worn clean shaven, as this is the only way to ensure consistency of seal.

Says who?

Respirator guidance material also discuss and prohibit facial hair. Common masks we use are made by Sundstrom and 3M. The instructions for use for the Sundstrom SR100 and the Technical Data Sheet for the 3M 6000 Half Face Series and 9322A+ all warn users to ensure that no facial hair crosses the sealing area of the respirator.

All standards relevant to fit testing also discuss and prohibit facial hair. Firstly, the AS/NZS 1715:2009, Section 2.7 “Wearing of RPE” directs RPE users to wear the mask in accordance with manufacturer specifications. Additionally, Section “General” specifies that RPE should not be used by males who are not clean shaven about the cheeks, neck and jaw, or by those with moustaches with any chance of hair coming between the facepiece and the skin, or the valves. This section also discusses positive pressure RPE, that might minimise this effect, but may not eliminate it, and will increase air consumption and decrease usage time.

This is restated in sections:

  • 4.5.5 Limitations of close fitting facepieces
    • Negative pressure or negative pressure demand devices
    • Continuous flow PAPRs or air-supplied RPE
    • Positive pressure demand devices
  • Half facepiece RPE (b) Limitations
  • Full facepiece RPE (b) Limitations

Another relevant standard is ISO/TS 16975-1- Respiratory protective devices — Selection, use and maintenance — Part 1: Establishing and implementing a respiratory protective device programme. Section “Wearer (c) Hair” discusses that the suitability of the RPD for the wearer will take into consideration the wearer’s facial hair, ensuring no hair comes between the sealing surfaces and the skin, or interferes with the function of the RPD. This is further discussed in:

  • 7.4 Fit Testing
  • 7.4.1 General
  • Annex A.3.2 Limitations of respiratory interfaces
  • Annex D.2.2 Facial characteristics of the wearer

While there are many standards that are relevant to fit testing, the final one to be discussed in this post is ISO/TS 16975-3- Respiratory protective devices — Selection, use and maintenance — Part 3: Fit Testing Procedures. Section 4 “General”, says that the wearer shall be free from hair in the respiratory interface sealing surface area, and is also restated in:

  • 6.3 Interference concerns
    • 6.3.1 Facial Hair
    • 6.3.4 Other conditions that can adversely affect fit
  • 8 Fit-testing Procedures
    • 8.1 General

What if I cannot shave or just don’t want to?

If being clean shaven is an issue for you or your workers, remember that loose-fitting units with a powered air purifying respirator (PAPR) system in place may be an option. As these do not rely on a seal to keep the wearer safe, they may be worn with more facial hair, and they do not require fit testing, although they are significantly more expensive than tight-fitting respirators. Keep in mind that there are tight-fitting PAPR systems as well, and as these are designed to be tight-fitting, they must be fit tested and worn clean shaven.

All evidence, instructions and standards point to the same conclusion: no hair may interfere with the respirator’s seal or function, so they must always be worn clean shaven. If you have any specific questions about fit testing please contact us here, or call us on 1300 336 003.


3M Safety

AS/NZS 1715:2009

ISO/TS 16975-1:2016

ISO 16975-3:2017