Can You Use a Gas Mask With a Beard? [SOLVED]
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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9 thoughts on “Can You Use a Gas Mask With a Beard? [SOLVED]”
The older US M17 mask (or presumably the East German copy) together with its hood ought to provide pretty good protection (with a moderate beard) if you wear your chemical protective suit fastened all the way up and worn OVER the hood.
The hood was intended to be worn over the suit, covering the head and shoulders, but it should keep out contaminated air if worn so the only open areas are inside the chemical protective suit.
This isn’t any extra expense because you really need the suit for proper protection anyway as most modern chemical agents can be absorbed through the skin even in gaseous form at battlefield concentrations — but it would mean donning the mask and hood THEN the jacket. This wouldn’t be a major challenge if you were in a safe area about to go into a contaminated area, but it would add quite a few seconds if you were in the open and suddenly subjected to a chemical attack (It would still be faster than shaving or even Vaseline.
Let me add, though, that the proper hood for the M17 mask is getting hard to find and the East German copies of the M17 mask are apparently all being sold without any hood. You would need a properly fitted hood for this to work, trying to use a generic “escape hood” over the mask won’t work nearly as well. The proper hoods that the military uses with a mask are all fitted so that the hood fits tightly to the mask with the eye lenses and the air inlet and outlet valves are exposed. THIS is what makes having the bottom of the hood inside a chemical protective suit a workable alternative for beards – you are still breathing in and out through the mask while the hood and jacket keep contaminated air from entering the mask.
For ANY of the methods of using a mask with a beard, you can quickly evaluate the effectiveness of your chosen method by doing the same thing soldiers at trained to check their masks — just cover the air inlet and try to inhale: if the mask sucks in and it is hard to inhale you are good; the the mask is unaffected and you inhale easily, then you don’t have an adequate seal.
TomC is right. I was talking about a real military hood together with the specific military mask it was made to fit (or a very close copy). While there are some good civilian masks available, I have never seen one with a matching hood.
All the so-called “escape hoods” that I have seen are too thin for serious use other than for a one-time escape from a building. Even for a single use the escape hoods are limited both by their design and by the filter they provide. Most are basically just a clear plastic bag that goes over your head and the “filter” is usually a particulate filter (barely better than an N95 dust mask) with perhaps some charcoal added to slow down a few chemicals. An “escape hood” is certainly better than nothing if you happen to be trapped by smoke or fumes from a chemical spill, but it is definitely not a substitute for a real mask.
Another alternative for anyone with a beard is to step all the way up to a Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR). These are positive pressure systems rather than attempting to seal a negative pressure. The downside is that PAPR system prices are in the four digit range.
I was wondering if there was any testing done on this. IE: whether is intake pressure has to be a perfect seal or simply the “beard/neck seal” has to be greater than the filter intake and in what circumstances (woodworking, coronavirus… chemical)
The beard/neck seal needs to be leak proof regardless of the filter intake. A mask operates with a pressure differential- any compromise in the seal allows air to be drawn in from the side. Fire escape hoods work the same way, pulling most air in through a filter and a small amount from the side. That is why they are only recommended for 15 minute use or the time needed to ‘escape’. It wouldn’t matter for woodworking, but a solid seal is necessary for chemical and nuclear contamination and preferred for biological events.
How about the Israeli M15 military mask. I just shaved under my chin, and the mask seems to seal using the blocked inlet test, at least unless you suck really hard. The unit has complex internal flaps that seem to be intended to accommodate a beard, but I have not been able to find any documentation making this claim.
The M15 nosecup should allow you to fit a goatee type beard inside of the mask. If you beard is long, it could block the valves on the nosecup and cause it fog up. The inlet and outlet valve should not be interfered with a beard at all, since they are behind the nosecup. If you have any remaining hair or stubble along the outer edge seal of the mask, this could cause problems. You need to be able to cover the end of the filter, inhale sharply, and have the mask pull itself in rather than pull air from the edges.
I’ve found that the Russian gas mask can seal perfectly fine around my throat and neck while I maintain a full 3 inch long beard. Unfortunately no one (that I’ve found yet anyways) makes quality filters that attach to the Russian gas mask. The solution of found for biological threat is using a NATO filter with a rubber gasket at the base where the neck butts up against the mask. Unfortunately there’s no guarantee against chemical threats because the gasket could fail at that point. NATO filters can thread onto Russian masks but don’t make an airtight seal at the threads. Possibly a 3D printed adapter to screw the NATO filter into the adapter and the adapter into the mask, but then that pushes it out a ways and again no guarantee how well the 3D material would hold up to chemical threats.
Alas I’ll keep looking
Good info Caleb. I’ve seen some workarounds with the 40mm as well. The mask the Canadians were working on ended up stalling out. You could always go PAPR: positive pressure and a hood, but then you have the issue of maintaining pumps, power, etc.
Good luck in the hunt and let us know what you find!