Shaving Waivers: Breaking the Stigma

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Miranda Loera
  • 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Shaving waivers in the Air Force have been a constant topic of debate, with Airmen and leaders wondering whether or not facial hair detracts from a “professional” image.

Many Airmen have experienced or witnessed reactions to facial hair in uniform such as verbal reprimand despite proper documentation, or seen peers and leaders acquire unnecessary waivers in order to defy dress and appearance standards. These reactions and abuses have contributed to a stigma of the shaving waiver system as a whole.

Capt. Noah Russell, 380th Expeditionary Medical Group physician assistant, began holding shaving waiver clinics upon arriving at Al Dhafra Air Base in an effort to put a stop to any negativity associated with these waivers.

“The best way to counter the stigma is to ensure that 100 percent of individuals with a waiver have a true medical necessity,” said Russell. “This is the primary goal of the shaving clinic; to provide a single, consistent approach to shaving waivers. Additionally, educating all Airmen on the nature of pseudofolliculitis barbae (PFB) and the need for shaving waivers may help to reduce stigma.”

Educating Airmen on the purpose and benefits of shaving waivers while providing them with additional information such as shaving techniques and available topical treatments helps them understand products and behaviors that can help or worsen their PFB.

Staff Sgt. Hasim Scipio, 380th EMDG radiology technician, is one of many servicemembers who suffer from PFB. His experience with severe skin irritation caused him to seek out a shaving waiver at Russell’s clinic.

“It’s paramount to answer the fundamental question as to why folks need the waiver in the first place,” said Scipio. “The waiver isn’t an excuse not to shave, it’s there to treat the condition known as PFB and it does so very effectively. Too many times we see standards being dropped simply because of a lack of understanding when it comes to the rules. A leader who is versed in the understanding of the rules is more likely to be better at enforcing them.”

Russell not only holds clinics to help Airmen, he supports anyone in need of a waiver as long as it is medically necessary. During his check-ups, his primary assessment is to ensure the patient has the proper skin condition for a waiver and does not simply suffer from shaving irritation or “razor burn.”

Due to the stigma and unwanted attention that come with sporting facial hair in the military, Airmen with PFB sometimes shy away from pursuing shaving waivers and continue to shave, which can lead to skin irritation and long-term side effects.

“Essentially, Airmen should understand the severe dermatologic effects of shaving that can occur amongst certain demographics,” said Russell. “Having a shaving waiver is sometimes frowned upon. However, many Airmen serving today may not otherwise be able to serve without it. It’s important that the shaving waiver is understood to be a medical necessity and not viewed as a lack of professionalism.

We at the EMDG must be consistent and objective with how we issue waivers. It also means that Airmen must have the integrity to seek a waiver only for true medical concerns.”

Those interested in pursuing a shaving waiver at Al Dhafra can attend shaving waiver clinic walk-in hours on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., or schedule an appointment at the 380th EMDG clinic during walk-in hours from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.