Where is the Navy’s beard study? When, if ever, will it be made public, and will its findings lead to a sea change in allowed sailor stubble?

These questions aren’t new.

From online forums to all-hands calls, many active duty sailors have said they’d like to grow a beard, even as some who sport them for medical reasons say they are sometimes ostracized for their facial hair.

Big Navy has said no to beards for all, citing concerns that sailors can’t get a snug oxygen mask seal with facial hair, should they have to fight a shipboard fire.

Still, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro directed that the service conduct a fresh assessment of the issue in 2022 as part of the department’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Officials said they expected the study to wrap in 2023.

With 2023 now largely in the rearview mirror, whether the fleet will get the study’s results or substantial facial hair policy changes in 2024 remains to be seen. Del Toro’s office did not respond to multiple emails seeking the status of the beard study.

Navy officials have previously cited two Naval Safety Center reviews that found even a few days’ stubble might impact a mask’s seal. But the service’s safety records show just one incident over the past few decades in which a beard prevented a proper seal. That instance involved a civilian shipyard worker.

A 2021 Military Medicine article also referenced assessments showing that half-face respirators were 98% effective with an 1/8-inch beard and 100% effective with a 1/16-inch beard. The Navy’s current beard waiver policy limits the hair to 1/4-inch in length.

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 geoffz@militarytimes.com.

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