Do Masks Hurt My Beard Growth?

bearded barber wearing mask with bearded customer

Mask wearing in metro Melbourne (where we're currently located) has been mandatory in public since the middle of July 2020.  Similar mandates have been made to varying degrees in over 50 countries worldwide, such as Colombia, Israel, France and Honduras. In some cases (like Melbourne) masks must be used everywhere publicly, whereas others only require masks in taxis and public transport or in crowded areas.

Concerns about Wearing a Mask with a Beard

We recently received an email from a customer (let’s call him “John”) who was having issues with his beard since wearing a mask where his beard had become “a dry and tangled mess, even with product.”  Prior to masks being mandatory, he expressed that his “usually mega frizzy and dry” beard became ” thicker and far healthier” after regularly using beard shampoo and beard oil. But now this mask wearing mandate was setting his beard goals waaaay back.  So, we did a little research and wanted to share why masks cause this beardastrophy!

The Science

There do not appear to be any formal scientific studies on the effect of mask wearing on beards. However, there are some assumptions we can make about what happened to John’s beard based on what we know about humidity. Every time you breathe in, the air is saturated to 100% humidity by your airways so that oxygen can more easily pass into your blood. When you breathe out, this saturated air is expelled out into the environment.

Wearing a mask however, traps that humid air around your face and beard. It’s like walking around on a hot humid day in summer or on those tropical holidays we all miss since March. You can imagine what this does to your beard.  Humidity = frizz and tangles! But why?

Your beard hairs contain keratin which are tubular structures that form bundles.  There are 2 types of bonds holding these bundles together, strong disulphide bonds and weak hydrogen bonds.  These weaker hydrogen bonds are easily broken by the presence of water – hence when you wet your beard in the shower it changes shape and it no longer stays firm. 

When these bonds are broken, the beard is more tameable BUT when the beard hairs dry, the hydrogen bonds will form in this new position.  Imagine this happening under your mask, where you beard is not so neatly tucked in, resulting in an absolute bird’s nest under there.  So, you ask, how do I stop this? Well…

How to Protect Your Beard from Damage when Wearing a Mask

Step 1: Make sure your beard is dry

Never put a mask on over a wet beard – just like you wouldn’t leave the house on those aforementioned humid days with wet hair, take the same care with your beard.  Putting a mask on over a wet beard will only result in the tangles that are bound to happen being just that much worse. 

Step 2: Apply your beard oil

In a study analysing the effect of oils on hair in humid environments, it was discovered that the presence of oil limited the % moisture regain when compared to untreated hair.  As seen in the figure below, all oils tested (coconut, mineral and sunflower oil) resulted in over a 5% decrease in moisture regain at over 90% humidity, equivalent to that mask environment, compared to untreated hair. 

effect of pre treating hair with oil on humidity

This means that applying that beard oil could be the difference between a luscious looking beard or actually wanting to keep that mask on all day to hide your tangled mess.  Side note: don’t add too much oil, a light splash is all that’s needed for day long protection.

Step 3: Tame that beard

It is so important that once that mask comes off at the end of the day, you follow it up with a brush and wash to remove any knots and nasties that have built up with all that moisture.  Otherwise, next time that mask goes on for another day, you’ll be facing a big mess of regret with even more tangles.

Step 4: Invest in a Face Shield

A face shield is a great alternative to save your beard during this mask madness.  A face shield is a covering made from plastic or other transparent material that is worn like a visor.  It covers from the forehead to below the chin AND wraps around the face. 

Face shields prevent that excess moisture build up that is experienced when wearing a mask so your beard should stay looking luscious, with proper care of course! Even if you can just replace some of your mask wearing time with face shield time, you're allowing the beard to de-humidify & lose some of that built up moisture.

Whilst some government agencies recommend masks as the best face covering to protect you from COVID-19, a face shield may be a great alternative for your daily walk or trip to the park, but it may not be ideal for situations when you’re in contact with lots of people – such as at the supermarket. Especially if you have symptoms, folks might get a bit paranoid or even hostile towards you. 

Note also, that recently these are banned as an approved type of face covering in some of the more dictatorial restrictions, such as in Melbourne. Check your local regulations before going this route.

If you have any COVID beard saviour solutions, post them in the comments below to help out your fellow bearded blokes!


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