We have had many people reach out asking for ways to use a gas mask with their beards. Is there a beard gas mask? Are those of us that choose to grow a magnificent beard cursed when circumstances call for a gas mask? The military has referenced the need for a clean-shaven face to support a long-time regulation. A hairless face seals properly with a gas mask to provide respiratory protection. Beard hair can break the seal, causing issues as one might expect.
But gas masks have been around for a long time- and beards even longer! Why has a solution not been hammered out for this oversight? We will take a look at what progress has been made on the beard-gas mask front and if there are any masks at all that can handle the challenge.
The Problem with Beards
Beards have a long history of throwing wrenches into gas protection plans. Negative pressure is created when a mask is sealed to the skin and breathed through. This is what protects the gas mask user from being exposed to the air around the edge of the mask. When the user has a beard, the mask does not create that important airtight seal, and leaks along the edge are likely to occur.
The military realized this pretty quickly, and one of the reasons for facial hair regulations is the practical use of gas masks. Shaving does not always work for everyone, however. Some men have bad cases of ingrown hair when they shave. Others cannot shave due to religious regions. Some people just love a good beard and don’t want to let it go for the small chance that they will need a gas mask. It just is not worth the tradeoff for them.
But what if there wasn’t a tradeoff?
The Beard Compatible Gas Mask
The Canadian Defense Minister is a Sikh, which means he has to keep his beard for his religion. For this reason, he actually patented a gas mask that works with beards. The mask has extra room on the chin and throat for the beard, and even on top of the head to accommodate large hair coverings. Before you get too excited: It only exists on paper at the patent office. One has yet to be made or practically tested.
Avon Protection Systems, the manufacturer of the popular M50 mask used by the military, is looking into developing a wider range of masks that are compatible with beards. They currently manufacture escape hoods, which let the wearer bug out of a chemical environment within 15 minutes. The military would need a more robust solution to use in the field. Until suppliers develop that solution, we will have to look elsewhere for gas masks and beards.
The Options for Those with Beards:
- Shaving. Beards can be shaved, and a shaved face provides a sealable surface for a gas mask. This doesn’t solve the problem but is a better solution than not wearing a mask when you need it or wearing one with a very poor seal. Shaving also takes a large amount of time if you are talking about the seconds you need to put on a gas mask. Nicks from shaving quickly are also not great to have when you are dealing with deadly CBRN substances.
- Escape Hoods. Escape hoods do not use a seal and negative pressure to protect the wearer, since they drape over the head. They are typically designed to protect for 15 minutes. The hoods are also fragile and prone to fogging- but they can still protect you temporarily.
- Positive Pressure. Similar to escape hoods (but much more effective), positive pressure masks are the best option. Recent studies have shown that beards do little to interfere with the face seal letting external air in because any gap is compensated for with positive air pressure forcing air out. A positive pressure system, like a PAPR or SCBA, is much more expensive than conventional masks though.
- Vaseline. It is a pretty messy solution, but lathering your mask and beard with Vaseline can help those surfaces seal. You can’t just rub a little dab into your beard though- you need to saturate your beard with gobs of the stuff. You will be making a slippery mess with it all, but it can be a much faster solution than shaving your beard in an emergency.
The Final Word
Beards and gas masks are both pretty awesome, so we hope that product development and testing will continue for those bearded preppers. We laid out a few tricks and other options in the meantime to keep you protected in case you need a mask. If you are looking to learn even more about gas masks, check out our Ultimate Gas Mask Guide.
Here are some other guides our subscribers have found helpful:
- Military eBay | Get Surplus Military Equipment Online
- The Ultimate Gas Mask User Guide for Preppers
- Nuclear Survival Kit Guide, Gear, and Checklist
Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.
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