In light of the Omicron variant and at the urging of public-health experts, the CDC has updated its mask guidelines. The agency’s new standards stress that fabric masks are the least protective against COVID-19, whereas well-fitting N95, KN95, and KF94 masks — which use special nonwoven materials with an electric charge to block tiny aerosol particles — do a much better job of stopping the virus’s spread. Of course, any mask is better than no mask, but since this article was last updated in January 2021, we’ve talked to doctors, scientists, and public-health experts to help you find the best and most protective of the bunch. So whether you’re looking for a comfortable N95 you can wear on a plane, a child-size KF94, KN95 masks your teenager can wear to school, or advice on double masking, we can help.
More than 30 states now mandate wearing face masks in public. But what if one’s face happens to be sprouting a beard the size of a Persian cat?
Depending on the shape and girthiness of your facial hair, finding an appropriate face covering can be tricky. The mask that works for a guy with a Wyatt Earp mustache won’t necessarily work for the guitarist in ZZ Top. The list of potential complications is a long one: Some masks are too loose, others too scrunched or smothering. Masks ride up, masks fall down, masks pull on your ears and give you a headache. And the most common gripe we hear from our bearded pals: Masks cause divots (the beard equivalent of hat hair).
“Let’s be honest — wearing a mask of any kind doesn’t make your beard look better,” says Greg Schoenwolf, the heavily bewhiskered president of Salt Lake City’s Salty Saints Social Club and Facial Hair Society. “A mask smashes and dents your beard, and trains mustache hairs to go up your nose and tickle your cheeks. It also leaves your beard wet from breath and sweat.” That said, Schoenwolf would never leave home without one. His wife has been sewing him custom masks; for everyone else, we asked 15 hirsute gentlemen, including many who’ve won national and international competitions for their prizewinning facial hair, which masks are the most comfortable, protective, and best suit their personal style.
One last thing to keep in mind if you’re bearded: The CDC has cautioned that some facial hair can render masks useless, and when we spoke to Dr. Sten Vermund, infectious-disease epidemiologist and dean of the Yale School of Public Health, he told us he trimmed his own facial hair down “so that the mask could completely cover my beard.” The key, he added, is to make sure there are no gaps and that the mask is hugging your skin, not your facial hair. But, as many experts have said, any mask is better than no mask.
The best pleated face masks for voluminous beards
Bryan Nelson, president of the World Beard and Moustache Association as well as the Austin Facial Hair Club, has also experimented with several styles. Some masks had a pouch he could tuck his beard into; others had a split seam down the middle with a shapable nose bridge. The one that worked best, however, was a pleated variety from Tultex. “It looks like a cloth surgeon’s mask and ties around the back in two places: behind the ears and at the top of the neck,” says Nelson. “It’s washable and reusable and, at under $2 each, quite affordable.” To wear it, he ties the top straps behind his head first, then ties the bottom straps to ensure the mask is snug under his chin, with his beard “being smashed as tightly as possible.” Though the pleated style feels more secure, Nelson also likes Tultex’s ear-loop mask because it’s easy to slip on and off.