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Men with Facial Hair Beware: Oxygen, Sparks & Mustaches Don’t Mix

Man Shaving Facial HairAttention men with facial hair! If you use supplemental oxygen at home or on the go, grab your shaving gear and read on.  According to a recent report published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, facial hair and home oxygen can be a dangerous combination.  After reviewing patient files in which supplemental oxygen was the catalyst for burn injuries and experimenting with mannequins, nasal oxygen tubing, and sparks, researchers found that having facial hair increases the risk of oxygen therapy-related burns and encourage health care providers everywhere to educate patients about the risk.

Because oxygen supports combustion, things burn more readily in its presence. Mustaches, beards, and other facial hair may as well be kindling on a wood pile when oxygen and plastic oxygen tubing comes in contact with sparks emitted from cigarettes, matches, grills, or other spark-emitting heat sources.

To reach this conclusion, researchers experimented with two mannequins: one outfitted with a human hair mustache and the other, facial hair-free. They drilled nostrils in each mannequin, inserted nasal oxygen tubing, and connected the tubing to a home oxygen tank set at 2 liters per minute. After exposing the mustachioed mannequin to sparks, the oxygen tubing ignited, causing the mustache to burst into flames. When the facial hair-free mannequin was exposed to sparks, the nasal tubing did not ignite, but remained intact.

To support their hypothesis, researchers reviewed Mayo Clinic medical charts between 1994 and 2013. After a thorough evaluation, they found 9 patients who were treated for burn injuries related to supplemental oxygen; of these, 8 had facial hair at the time of their burn injury.

In a Mayo Clinic news release, Dr. Andrew Greenlund, senior study author said this about patients in such cases: “they can have very bad facial burns and airway burns also”. Greenlund, a Mayo Clinic primary care physician, conducted the study in his own garage with wife and fellow Mayo physician, Laura Greenlund, MD., PhD., and Mayo medical resident Dr. Bradley Anderson. “When fire burns the airway, then you have swelling and tissue death. It can be very dangerous.”

An earlier study conducted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) supports Mayo Clinic findings. NASA scientists found that facial hair is only slightly flammable in normal room air; but adding supplemental oxygen to the mix exponentially increases the risk of serious burn injuries.

“It can be what you might think are innocuous or benign things,” Dr. Greenlund added. “But with the facial hair and oxygen, it can be a real risk.”

Preventing Burn Injuries Related to Oxygen Therapy

Whether you use a home or portable oxygen system, oxygen safety is one of the most important aspects of oxygen therapy. To lower your risk of oxygen-related burn injuries, the following guidelines are recommended:

  • Shave all facial hair
  • Use only water-based hair gels as opposed to hair products that contain alcohol or oil
  • Avoid ALL heat sources, including matches, lighters and cigarettes, that emit embers, sparks, or flames

For more information about oxygen safety, read the following:


Author: Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN


Mayo Clinic. Cautionary Tales: Mustaches, Home Oxygen Therapy, Sparks Do Not Mix, Mayo Clinic Study Finds. News Release. June 23, 2014. 

Photo Credit: Flickr, #beard #shave


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