Many U.S. sailors want to be able to grow a beard, even as some of those allowed to grow a beard say they are ostracized for their facial hair.
Big Navy has said no to allowing everyone to grow a beard, citing concerns that sailors can’t get a proper oxygen mask seal with facial hair should they have to fight a shipboard fire.
In 2022, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro mandated that the sea service take a fresh look at the Navy’s beard question as part of its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
Roughly 45 percent of Black servicemembers grapple to varying levels with pseudofolliculitis barbae, known in the military as PFB and to the civilian world as razor bumps. Being allowed to grow short beards would offer them relief from the painful condition.
Officials say they expect the study to wrap up in 2023.
Navy officials have in the past cited two Naval Safety Center reviews that found even a few days’ stubble might impact a mask’s seal.
But safety center records show just one incident in roughly the past 30 years in which a beard affected a mask seal, and it involved a civilian shipyard worker.
Under its existing waiver policy, the Navy limits beards to a quarter-inch length, but a 2021 Military Medicine article referenced assessments showing that half-face respirators were 98 percent effective with an 1/8-inch beard and 100 percent effective with a 1/16-inch beard.
Geoff is the editor of Navy Times, but he still loves writing stories. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.