The Impact of Facial Hair on Photo ID VerificationBy Jack Shaw (Guest Post) | Last updated 18th January 2024
Your ID photo will last a while, so you go through your grooming routine and look professional when it’s time to take one. Some guys keep their beards and simply trim them to look spiffy, while others might shave completely to look their best or comply with workplace rules. However, consider what happens when you need to verify your ID — will you get through without trouble or must you prove your identity further?
Does Facial Hair Affect Your ID Verification?
You look and feel like a much different person with a beard. The clean-shaven man is ready for his job as a sales associate, whereas the bearded guy looks like a lumberjack who just chopped wood for the winter. Thankfully, advanced technology means your facial hair doesn’t significantly affect biometrics.
Leveraging Artificial Intelligence
Facial recognition systems have improved thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), which researchers train using algorithms and extensive data sets. Experts feed their systems with pictures of bearded and beardless men, so newer software can detect your identity regardless of your face’s status.
However, you might have a different luck with older facial recognition systems. These devices might hone in on specific features — such as your lips, cheeks and chin — but growing facial hair will inhibit the machine.
While modern devices have come a long way, they’re far from perfect. Research shows variations in facial hair may cause accuracy issues, with moustaches having a more significant impact than the hair on your cheeks or chin.
All in all, beard growth won’t significantly affect facial recognition devices if the technology is up to date. You may run into problems initially if you go from clean-shaven to Gandalf, but modern technology is intelligent enough to adapt. Just remember to use a wooden folding comb to make your beard look good in any picture when the moment strikes. Your facial hair won’t be an issue for biometrics, so you only need to work on how well-groomed you are.
What Can Affect Your ID Verification
Facial recognition technology has improved over the years, but it has work to do before it’s entirely resilient to what humans throw at it. Here are a few ways this software can mess up based on what you’re wearing or what’s happening to you.
The camera operator will ask you to remove your glasses when taking a passport or licence photo. While your bifocals are necessary to see, you can’t wear them in an ID picture because they’ll create a glare. Thus, it’s nearly impossible to determine someone’s eye colour — a necessary part of your identification.
Hats are another article most governments don’t allow in your photographs. Donning your favourite sports team’s ballcap would be nice, but you can only have headgear for medical or religious purposes. Your face and entire head must be discernible unless you qualify for one of the exceptions.
Significant Bodily Changes
Brits only need a licence and passport renewal once every 10 years, so significant bodily changes could occur in this long span. You might get bigger, smaller or see other changes as you age. These signs of getting older are common but can have minor effects on your identification.
You could do everything correctly in your identification pictures but still fall short because of the camera’s resolution. The photographer must ensure there’s no glare or weird lighting to mess up your picture. Passport printers let you send your own photo, so ensure it looks clear so officials can readily identify your face and facial hair.
Can You Sport a Beard on Your ID?
Your identification cards — whether your passport, driving licence or work badge — are a must. So, can you sport a beard when taking pictures for these forms of identification? Let’s look at a few instances where you might question whether beards will interfere with facial recognition technology.
First, look at your driving licence. When you’re a teenager, getting one is a massive deal. You can drive to see your friends and family whenever you want with a licence, prompting many to get theirs as soon as they become eligible. In fact, more than 60% of teens obtain theirs before turning 18.
You’ll need to renew your licence every few years and your appearance will likely change each time you do so. For instance, imagine getting one at 16 and renewing it when you’re 26. You may look unrecognisable after a decade has passed! Luckily, you can wear a beard in your driving licence picture without issues.
You only get one picture every 10 years, so make it count. Use your favourite finishing wax to shape your beard how you like and avoid looking unkempt.
Passports are a bit more delicate than a driving licence because you’re dealing with foreign countries instead of your local driver and vehicle licencing agency. However, the good news is the United Kingdom permits beards in passport photos, as the government has not issued restrictions on beards in their regulations.
The only exception for your passport photo is fringe hair covering the eyes. Your eyes are integral to biometric data, so keeping them open and clear of intrusions is a must. There are some passport rules the government requires you to follow, such as no hair accessories, hats or shadows in your picture.
You know the struggle of opening your device with Face ID if you have an iPhone. While it has some flaws, this feature is excellent at adapting to your facial hair. The device may only need an attempt or two to recognise your new look if you go from a large beard to a clean face.
When Can Beards Become a Liability for Your Identity?
Growing facial hair is standard practise for many guys and should be embraced worldwide. However, there are some instances where your beard can be a liability for your identification.
Drinking at a Pub
When you go to a pub, you should always have your ID on you. The bartender will likely ask for it to ensure you’re old enough to drink at the establishment. If you’re at your regular stop, you won’t have many issues, considering the employees know you by name — but problems may arise if you’re at a new establishment.
You walk with a clean-shaven face but show the bartender your ID with a full beard. There’s a chance they’ll question your identity, or accuse you of using a fake ID and impersonating an older gentleman. Bartenders must be careful about who they serve to avoid getting in trouble, so a drastic difference in your ID could lead to trouble at the pub.
Getting Pulled Over
Imagine you drive home one night and see police lights flashing behind you. They pull you over for speeding, careless driving or using your mobile phone. Regardless of the infraction, your beard could be a liability when an officer checks your ID.
If you have a beard now but look shaved in your picture, that could be an issue. They might not initially recognise you from the image and need further proof to ensure you have a legal licence. Additionally, a drastic change in appearance may come across as suspicious because changing your looks is sometimes a tactic to be unspottable.
Border patrols and airport security teams are other groups that don’t mess around with fake identities. Leaving the country by train or plane warrants strict scrutiny regarding your appearance.
Altering your facial hair structure usually won’t cause concerns for these agencies. However, a significant change could make them wary of your identity. Humans aren’t as quick as AI when verifying you via biometrics, so be patient with the employees as they do their jobs.
Living in Other Countries
Most countries let you wear a beard with no questions asked. However, your beard could be a struggle when living in other countries with strict laws on facial hair. For example, Turkmenistan has made beards illegal for men in the country and gone as far as forcibly shaving their facial hair.
A May 2023 Radio Free Europe report says the authorities forbade a man from boarding a plane because he had facial hair. The official reportedly told him he didn’t match his passport photo, requiring him to shave before boarding the plane. Then, they confiscated his passport and said it would be returned once the facial hair was gone.
Nearby Tajikistan has also enacted strict policies against wearing beards in the country. Visiting or living in these nations requires adequate research to ensure you won’t be ruffling any feathers. Err on the side of caution and shave your beard to ensure it matches your passport photo.
Renting a Car
If you don’t want to use mass transit, you can always take your own vehicle on your summer holiday. Some guys like to don beards during the summer despite the temperatures because of how good they look. When renting a car, your facial hair could be a liability when confirming your ID.
Some rental car establishments use facial recognition software to verify identities, whereas other businesses may use their employees. Regardless, a significant change in facial hair could cause confusion and require ID confirmation through another step.
How Facial Hair Affects Your ID Verification
Technology has come a long way — good news for the guys who sport beards. We can worry less about facial recognition software not remembering us because researchers have trained AI to look past facial hair. Other facial features — such as your eyes and scalp hair — matter much more than a moustache.
While technology has progressed, you still should be wary of outdated software. Some devices may have trouble recognising you if you have undergone drastic changes in your facial features. Additionally, you may run into trouble with your beards when travelling to particular locations.
Jack Shaw is a writer, editor and grooming enthusiast. His explorations of men’s health, fitness and fashion can all be found on Modded, a men’s lifestyle publication on which he serves as the senior writer.