Revisiting the military’s beard policy

| September 15, 2023

Pseudofolliculitis barbae is a condition involving painful inflammation and razor bumps. Cases in the military have increased since 2000, a lot of this increase occurred over the last couple of years. As a result, there is an effort in the military to revisit beard policies for service members.

From the Military Times:

The condition, which causes painful inflammation and razor bumps, affecting some 45% of Black service members, is one of a few reasons for granting a rare military shaving waiver.

In 2000, there were 50 reported cases of pseudofolliculitis barbae, according to the Defense Health Agency’s Medical Surveillance Monthly Report for August. In 2022, there were 2,404 ? an increase of 4,708%.

Just since 2020, the increase in pseudofolliculitis barbae cases has been drastic. They’re up from about 500 Black troops to more than 1,400 among Black troops in that time frame, and from 150 troops to about 400 troops each for White and Hispanic troops.

The report states that Black troops have composed a relatively steady 16%–18% of the total military force over the last 20 years.

The data survey did not address the entire population of troops with beard waivers, which can also be granted in conjunction with religious exemptions.

“The frequency trend is well out of proportion to the change in troop strength,” the short report states, adding that the matter “may warrant further study.”

In light of repeated requests from troops to reexamine the beard prohibition, the Navy in 2022 launched a study to examine whether facial hair impairs an oxygen mask’s ability to seal, a longstanding objection to allowing beards.

The Air Force, meanwhile, in 2022 completed an examination of “inclusive male grooming standards” led by military medical providers that concluded a more permissive facial hair policy would promote equity in the force.

Does the recent sharp rise in pseudofolliculitis barbae cases indicate then a growing awareness of the waiver option or a rising eagerness to exploit a policy loophole? Probably both, said Lt. Col. Simon Ritchie, an Air Force dermatologist at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, who led the service’s inclusive grooming standards study.

The Military Times has additional details here.

Category: Military issues

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

” In 2022, there were 2,404 ? an increase of 4,708%.”

“The report states that Black troops have composed a relatively steady 16%–18% of the total military force over the last 20 years.”

So, why the increase? Is it occurring more? Is there a pandemic-level event beginning? Are doctors afraid of racism accusations if a shaving profile is not granted? I work on a TRADOC post, I see nearly as many beards as I did when I was working on various western ski areas. I have no clue what the beard regs are anymore, there’s a waiver for everything.


I seem to recall mustaches allowed in Viet of the Nam.


Yes indeed. That’s where I started mine. In Germany the policy was you could have a mustache if it was on your ID card. Of course, it couldn’t be on your ID card because you couldn’t have one when the ID picture was taken. We had one or two who tried to alter the picture on their ID card.


Remember a story where Air Force Brig Gen Robin Olds tried to push his luck with his facial hair. After returning from Vietnam for assignment at the Pentagon, he was ordered by Air Force Chief Gen John McConnell to remove his famous handlebar mustache. What a legend. RIP.


A legend with a legendary mustache. I met COL Olds at a March AFB air show, I might’ve been 5 years old if that. I was in complete awe of the man, he just radiated awesome. I still can’t explain it.

President Elect Toxic Deplorable Racist SAH Neande

Let ’em have their shaving waivers.
Then let’s see them writhing on the ground when they get hit with tear gas (at best, during training) or nerve gas (during combat), and their masks don’t seal.

That’s what I was wondering, And if they use a different kind of poison gas mask these day.

I guess my face bones are peculiar, I could always get a whiff of CS gas or chlorine in every mask I put on. I just hoped is wasn’t enough to cause real trouble or that I would never get gassed by poison.


My dad had a similar issue. Standard issue USAF oxygen masks wouldn’t seal on his face due to an overbite condition. Had a custom mask he used for years. Don’t think the Army will go that far on a protective mask.

jeff LPH 3 63-66

Check my below comment SFC D, not every kind of face can get a good seal, My face shape is a good example.

If the mask doesn’t seal because the soldier has a shaving waiver, then the gas can’t be effective, or else the gas would be racist.

Why ol’ Adolf favored the Charlie Chaplin ‘stache like a fetish– being gassed and not getting a good seal made an impression.

Green Thumb

Dudes get them shaving waivers then start lining that shit up.


Bad idea.


“The Air Force, meanwhile, in 2022 completed an examination of “inclusive male grooming standards” led by military medical providers that concluded a more permissive facial hair policy would promote equity in the force.”

I don’t know what this is supposed to mean. If equity is supposed to mean fairness, then say fairness.

Shoehorning in DEI buzzwords does nothing for clarity of thought or communication.


“Fairness” and “Equity” aren’t necessarily interchangeable terms. Fairness would be everyone plays by the same rules, but equal results are not guaranteed. Equity means everyone gets the same result, regardless of the effort expended to achieve it. Fairness = I earned all my shit. Equity = Gimme my Free Shit.


You nailed the distinction between the two.


Many thanks. I’m still waiting for MY free shit.


Thank you for the clarification, SFC D!


For Sale…NIB White Privilege Card. Never used…All offers will be considered.


Not to mention “equity” will turn into this:
comment image

Dennis - not chevy

I have worn a beard for decades and have heard the scoffing of relatives who don’t like beards. The funniest one was from a worthless relative (who hasn’t held a steady job since he graduated high school over 45 years ago) who said only shiftless layabouts wear beards.

I was caught unaware when I saw an active duty Airman in uniform with a beard. Nevertheless, it can be allowed if the person is sincere in his religious practice and the practice requires beards.

Beards are quickly cut and shaved off so if a person is deployed or if a threat level increases, off comes the beard regardless of religious practice.

Not wearing a beard because it’s the military makes as little sense to me as wearing battle or combat dress in CONUS garrison. Give me the cheaper utility uniforms of the past.

As to questions of hygiene; I found a copy of a 1960’s (1966 I think but I’m not certain) manual that informed the reader under garments were to be cleaned and changed at least twice a week. I don’t think lice will become pandemic because men are wearing beards.

Please keep in mind I’m speaking of well trimmed, groomed, and clean beards. If some one wants to appear as a refugee from ZZ Top or the French Foreign Legion; that’s too much and I would never support that.


Now that female Soldiers can wear their hair down for most occasions (with some restrictions), why aren’t we allowing long hair for male Soldiers? At one time, male Soldiers were allowed to wear earrings off duty, on post. No big deal, although I had one guy who consistently forgot to remove his before monday PT. Then one day, it was decreed that had to stop. No reason given, just a Big Army decision. I’m trying very hard to not be that “back in my day” retired Soldier but today’s Army does make me ask a lot of questions I never thought I’d ask. Luckily, I’ve got a great working relationship with a lot of Drill Sergeants that don’t mind the old guy asking questions. Sometimes I get to be the mentor too. Like that guy said, “The Times, they Are a Changin'”.

Dennis - not chevy

When I was on active duty I would get my haircut about every 10 days. One day, as I sat in the barber’s chair, I said to the barber gimme a get-by. The retiree who went into the next chair loudly stated he wanted a real haircut, his hair was to be cut like a real man’s. The retiree said it to me more than to the barber. I felt the retiree’s eyes staring at me whilst I received my get-by.

As I told my troops, at uniform inspections I was more impressed by the troop whose hair was well groomed and within reg’s than by the troop who had the buzz cut.

It was better to me to get a haircut every week or two than to chop it all off every 6 months.


“As I told my troops, at uniform inspections I was more impressed by the troop whose hair was well groomed and within reg’s than by the troop who had the buzz cut.”

Yup. At PLDC in 1990, the commandant pulled me out of formation during a class A inspection, then addressed the class:

“Do you see the sideburns on this Sergeant? I don’t like ’em. But that doesn’t matter. He’s well within the regs. My opinion on the reg or interpretation of it does not matter.” I tried to follow that same line of thinking my entire career.

Prior Service

That’s a rare bird. I hope he did well! My commandant at PLDC was not so common sense. When we showed up with our Old Guard brass, he made us buy new to be IAW 670-1. But when my buddy grew a ‘stache, he was told y theam commandant to shave “because “that’s not allowed in TOG.” Hmmm.


My mustache was a different matter entirely… I pushed the limits my entire career. Ok, I pushed past the limits… a lot.

jeff LPH 3 63-66

Yesterday’s online Navy Times had the Beard article which was very interesting. Shipmates from my former ship have told me that while over in Viet-Nam, the ship had beard growing contests.


Usedtabe only Navy could do beards, everyone else could have at most a mustache. NBC was a major concern then, and policy was that masks would not seal over a beard. As an NBC NCO I was asked by a black EM who had a shaving profile what he could do in case of a gas attack (his mask would NOT seal.) I told him he’d better learn how to shave…fast.

jeff LPH 3 63-66

On Naval ships, we had OBA”s (oxyegen breathing apparatus) that you wear for fire fighting and need a seal over your face. Now the new Navy has SCBA (self contained breathing apparatus) which Fire Depts use. The old OBA’s had an oxygen canister that fit in the unit and a cord was pulled and lit off the candle to activate the canister and then you would pump the left and right rubberized bellows to fill them. Many many years ago, some Long Island NY Volunteer Fire Depts used them. The sides of my face curve in a little and I never could get a good seal but I used the positive pressure inside the mask to keep any kind of products out on the Scott and MSA masks I used when I was a Volly Fire Fighter.


When I was in, many ships allowed grooming standards to become…um…flexible, while at sea. When we pulled into a port, we were (of course) required to be within regs, but when underway for long periods, beard growing contests and such were common.

When I enlisted, NCO’s could have beards. They had to be trimmed properly so as to get a good fit with a gas mask or OBA, but they were authorized. Of course, they did away with that about a week before I made PO3 (I’m sure I’m exaggerating about the time frame, but at the time it sure seemed like they did that just to piss me off).

Even then, moustaches were authorized. There were standards, you couldn’t go crazy, but you could have one. I have a prominent mole on my upper lip that I’d pretty regularly cut off when I shaved and it tended to bleed like crazy, so as soon as I was able, I grew a moustache and have had one ever since. I still keep it pretty much within Navy regs. I can’t stand it tickling my nose or getting in my mouth while I’m trying to eat.

Anyway, if you can get waivers that easily, then uniform standards are neither uniform nor standard, so what’s the point?

Dennis - not chevy

If you let the hairs on your mustache grow long enough they will brush the calories off of your food.

Bubblehead Ray

Beards were allowed when I went in the Navy in 1978, as long as you had a special request chit approved. Then, in about 1982, word came down, no more beards. (There were some irked Chiefs whose chins had been covered for years.). This pic is me receiving my Dolphins from Commander M.P. Gray in 1981. This was NOT a “patrol beard”. It was on my ID and was fine to wear in port as well.


During my time (89-92) we could have mustaches (the joke was that it had to be a “Hitler mustache”) once we arrived at our permanent duty station. We couldn’t have any facial hair at all during BASIC/AIT (I would imagine not in OSUT either).

AT1 ret

50? 50? in 2000, lol we prob had more than 50 just on CV-67 at the time. No way it was that low.

Prior Service

My army career spans from enlistment in 86 to pending retirement in 24. I’ve seen the same four things in the Army Times repeatedly: the army’s new: rifle, dress uniform, PT test, and “will the new SMA approve moustaches?” Now that we have the uniform, ACFT and the next gen combat weapon is real close, can the stache be far behind? Time to hang it up!


In other news Travis King has made “Soldier Of The Month” by USFK….
Welcome to the “anything goes” military.


Most shaving profiles are fraudulent. Way back when, Black soldiers in my unit would shave and then later dab their face with a rag soaked in diesel fuel. Instant irritation followed by a shaving profile. I also remember seeing a National Guard member in uniform with a beard but his scalp was shaved clean. I guess that his shaving profile was for only the lower half of his head.


Shaving every day causes “pseudofahlickdickbarbae” on some people…I wasn’t one of them. Lots of black dudes had shaving waivers when I was in cuz they seem to get it worse. Sound it out and that’s what we used to call it cuz we couldn’t remember the actual term.


In the Canadian Forces, ‘ women ‘ are allowed beards too SMH 🤢

Skivvy Stacker

Back in my day the standards were relaxed in all services but the Marines.
Army, Navy, and Air Force could wear sideburns to the bottom of the earlobe. The hair could be long, but had to be kept off the collar. The Navy allowed beards if you were a Petty Officer or over (when you got your Crow, you got to Grow). Mustaches could extend past the upper lip, and could go below the upper lip, but if memory serves, they had to be trimmed at about a half inch.
In the Corps, we could grow a mustache if we kept it short, trimmed away from the upper lip, and within the sides of the upper lip.


I had a beard in ’73 as a QMSA and QMSN.