Why your beard could be putting you at greater risk of COVID-19

Is your BEARD putting you at risk of coronavirus? Virologist explains why ‘hipster’ facial hair can stop face masks from working properly

  • Professor Nigel McMillan researches viruses at Griffith University in Queensland
  • He said most common styles of beard stop face masks from working properly
  • Beards and thick moustaches prevent masks from sealing fully against the skin
  • If they are not sealed, airborne droplets containing COVID-19 can pass through
  • Professor McMillan said there is no evidence to suggest coronavirus can be carried in strands of beards or thick facial hair
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Professor Nigel McMillan researches infectious diseases at Griffith University in Queensland

A virologist who researches the cause of deadly viruses has revealed that beards and trendy moustaches prevent even the highest quality face masks from working properly, rendering them useless in protecting you against COVID-19.

Professor Nigel McMillan studies infectious diseases at Griffith University in Queensland and is monitoring the spread of coronavirus in Australia as nationwide infections top 2,793 and the death toll climbs to 12 after three people died in Victoria overnight.

Professor McMillan told Daily Mail Australia that popular styles of facial hair like the ‘hipster beard’ and ‘designer stubble’ dramatically reduce the effectiveness of surgical grade face masks because they stop them from sealing against the skin which allows airborne respiratory droplets to pass through. 

Professor McMillan said frontline healthcare workers – like South Australian paramedic Zebedee Schulz who is pictured before and after shaving his beard – should be clean shaven to ensure their face masks provide proper protection as they treat patients with COVID-19

He said men working in frontline healthcare or retail jobs which require them to wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic should be clean shaven, or at least trim their facial hair into a neat moustache, to ensure the devices provide proper protection.

There is no evidence to suggest coronavirus can be carried in strands of beards or thick facial hair, Professor McMillan said.

He added doctors will never apply a respirator or ventilator to a patient until they are clean shaven because the breathing apparatus cannot sit as it should over facial hair. 


New South Wales: 1,219

Victoria: 520

Queensland: 443

Western Australia: 231

South Australia: 235

Australian Capital Territory: 53

Tasmania: 42 

Northern Territory: 8


DEAD: 13

‘P2 hospital grade masks – the ones with filters at the front that doctors and healthcare professionals wear – only work if you have a secure seal around the edge of the mask, so you need to be clean shaven,’ he said.

Neat moustaches can be worn provided they do not extend beyond the corners of the mouth to the area a mask would sit.

‘If you’ve got a slim little moustache shaped nicely around the lips, the facial hair won’t impede the mask sealing against the face so that’s no problem,’ he said. 

Paper and cloth masks, which have become symbolic of the global COVID-19 pandemic since it began in Wuhan, China in December, offer little to no protection against contracting the virus, but Professor McMillan said dense facial hair will eliminate any good they might do.

1. Clean shaven

2. The Soul Patch – a single small patch of hair between the lower lip and chin.

3. Sideburns – strips of hair grown on either side of the face.

4. The Pencil – a strip of hair just above the upper lip.

5. The Toothbrush – a narrow strip of hair between three to five centimetres wide above the upper lip, made famous by Adolf Hitler.

6. The Lampshade – a neat strip of hair which does not extend beyond the corners of the lips.

7. The Zorro – two slanted lines of thin hair, separated in the middle, made famous by the fictional character Zorro.

8. The Zappa – a combination of a full moustache stretching below the corners of the lips and a soul patch on the chin, named after American musician Frank Zappa.

9. The Walrus – a thick, bushy strip of hair that runs the length of the upper lip.

10. The Painter’s Brush – a thick strip of hair similar to a lampshade which never reaches wider than the mouth.

11. The Chevron – a moustache shaped to angle downwards towards the corners of the mouth.

12. The Handlebar – a long moustache with upwardly curved ends.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

‘They’re probably not going to be effective anyway, so it doesn’t really matter if you have facial hair or not.

‘But they are good for people who have a cough or a cold, to stop them spreading their illness to others.

‘If you sneeze into the mask, it stops the virus from spreading, so again it would be better to be clean shaven in order to contain the largest volume of airborne droplets possible.’

P2 hospital masks and other medical grade devices with built-in filters provide significantly more protection than paper face masks because they block larger respiratory droplets from travelling through the air where they can infect others.

Pictured: The coronavirus which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19, symptoms of which include fever, shortness of breath, dry cough, sore throat and fatigue

This CDC infographic with 36 facial hairstyles shows which ones fit under a mask or respirator and which ones interfere with masks’ effectiveness

Professor McMillan’s warning comes one month after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published an infographic showing how different styles of facial hair can prevent masks and respirators from working.

The infographic reveals thin moustaches can be worn under a mask so long as they are shaped neatly around the mouth and within the area the device is worn.

Thick, textured styles including full beards and mutton chops, which are long sideburns that stretch along the lower jawline to the chin, reduce the effectiveness of breathing apparatus and should be removed before using any kind of mask. 

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