Medical Beard Waivers Nearly Double in Air Force and Space Force in Just 3 Years

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force David Flosi greets airmen preparing to depart for Exercise Agile Reaper at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force David Flosi greets airmen preparing to depart for Exercise Agile Reaper at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, April 1, 2024. (Staff Sgt. Alan Ricker/U.S. Air Force photo)

Shaving waivers for medical conditions have skyrocketed for Air Force airmen and Space Force Guardians over the past three years, allowing more service members to grow beards, according to service data provided to

Between 2021 and 2023, the number of active-duty airmen with shaving waivers due to pseudofolliculitis barbae, a skin condition causing frequent and painful razor burn that disproportionately affects Black men, has grown from 10,965 to 18,991, the Department of the Air Force data shows.

The data did not include shaving waivers for religious reasons, which may include Sikhs, Muslims and others who grow beards as part of their faith. Data on those waivers is managed at the local installation level, Master Sgt. Deana Heitzman, an Air Force spokeswoman, told

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The increased number of shaving waivers between 2021 and last year was also seen outside of the active-duty Air Force.

Waivers in the Air Force Reserve rose to 1,983 in 2023, up from 1,208 two years prior. The Air National Guard gave out 2,094 waivers last year, up from 958.

Even the Space Force's relatively small number of medical shaving waivers for Guardians nearly doubled just between 2022 and 2023, going from 151 to 288, the data shows. Notably, that service's waivers were not separately broken out from overall active-duty Air Force numbers for 2021.

If granted a shaving waiver for medical reasons, airmen are required to "keep all facial hair trimmed to the same length and it may not to exceed 1/4-inch in length," according to the Department of the Air Force instruction, which also says they "may shave or trim their facial hair to present a neat, clean, professional military image."

Beards are one of the most requested changes in the Department of the Air Force, as well as the military at large. Pseudofolliculitis barbae is typically found in curly-haired men and occurs in about 60% of Black men, according to studies by the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology.

Black service members reported as recently as three years ago that obtaining a shaving waiver harmed their careers.

A survey conducted in a 2021 study for the journal Military Medicine detailed that 21.4% of service members with shaving waivers said it had a negative impact on their careers. An alarming 63% of those service members who said it had harmed their careers or created negative bias within their unit were Black.

Now, as beard waivers become more commonplace in the service, some commanders are taking extra precautions to inform airmen about the medical condition itself.

A March 12 memo from the Air Force's 1st Special Operations Wing, which was leaked online and confirmed as authentic by the service, required special operations airmen to attend a "Shaving Patient Education Course" prior to a waiver being issued.

Col. Patrick Dierig, the commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing, defended the class in an emailed statement.

"We are fully supportive of shaving waivers for both religious and medical purposes, and I support the class because it educates airmen on proper shaving techniques and skin care routines to both address and prevent skin conditions," Dierig said. "If we can help one person with a temporary medical condition learn a new technique to reduce facial skin problems, then I think it is worth the effort. Especially for members who are more susceptible to skin conditions."

In 2022, reported that the Department of the Air Force was discussing a pilot program that would allow airmen and Guardians to grow beards. It was floated as an idea with the department's Black/African American Employment Strategy Team.

"It continues to be a discussion item among military volunteers within the Black/African American Employment Strategy Team," an Air Force official told in an emailed statement last month.

In late 2022, also reported that the Air Force Honor Guard, the outward-facing group of service members whose mission is to represent the ideal airman to the American public, started allowing those with shaving waivers to sport beards while presenting.

News of the increase in shaving waivers comes after the British Army approved beards for its soldiers late last month, the BBC reported.

Related: Nearly Two Dozen Air Force Honor Guardsmen Are Sporting Beards Following Policy Change

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