Handlebar mustache? Good. Mutton chops? Not so much.

By Leah Groth
February 27, 2020
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Most of the time, facial hairstyles are a personal choice—that is, until a new viral outbreak makes headlines, and even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seems to weigh in on grooming choices.

Earlier this week, a newly resurfaced CDC infographic from 2017 popped up, showing 36 potential facial hair looks on men (some of which are unknown to even the savviest barbers) in order to demonstrate how beards, mustaches, and even sideburns can interfere with the face masks.

The infographic, originally created for the CDC's National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), provides 36 different facial hair looks on men to show which ones work best with filtering facepiece respirators, like the N95 respirator mask currently popular among those looking to (not-so-successfully) protect themselves from the coronavirus.

CDC

Per the CDC, face hair "should not cross under the respirator sealing surface," which ultimately deems only 13 of the 36 styles as face mask-appropriate. Those include the "Zappa," soul patch, "Zorro," and walrus—most of which are simple mustache styles. Of course, the clean-shaven look is also totally OK for those interested in using a respirator.

Unfortunately, hairier styles—like mutton chops, chin curtains, and the super-bushy "Bandholz" are off-limits for mask-wearers. Even stubble can interfere with a mask's protectiveness, per the CDC.

But—and this is important—keep in mind that the CDC only recommends facial masks and facepiece respirators for those who work in the healthcare industry and are coming into contact with people who could be potentially infected with the disease, as well as individuals with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19. For these people, the only recommended mask is the N95 designed to achieve "a very close facial fit," according to the Food and Drug Administration. If properly fitted, those respirators block "at least 95%" of very small test particles, but even they don't completely eliminate the risk of illness, per the FDA. (FYI: N95 respirators are different than surgical masks, which can only stop larger droplets.)

Also important: There's no situation in which a face mask or respirator might provide increased protection to the general public—even during air travel. “Masks are not highly effective for the general public, who often don’t wear them correctly,” Infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, previously told Health. And just in case you're inspired by celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, who recently modeled an N95 during a flight, resist the urge to buy one. Dr. Adalja stressed that the demand for the N95 and other face masks by the public may create supply problems for those who actually need them, like medical professionals.

At this point, the best way to protect yourself against coronavirus doesn’t cost a dime: Preventive measures recommended by the CDC include avoiding close contact with people who are sick; not touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; staying home when you are sick; cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces; and washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom and before eating—you know, the stuff you should be doing this time of year anyway to protect yourself from the flu. 

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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