Objective: The objective of this study was to determine the effect of body hair (scalp and facial) on air displacement plethysmography (BOD POD) estimates of percentage of body fat.
Research Methods and Procedures: A total of 25 men (31.4 ± 8.0 years, 83.4 ± 12.2 kg, 181.8 ± 6.9 cm) agreed to grow a beard for 3 weeks to participate in the study. Total body density (g/cm3) and percentage of body fat were evaluated by BOD POD. To observe the effect of trapped isothermal air in body hair, BOD POD measures were performed in four conditions: criterion method (the beard was shaven and a swimcap was worn), facial hair and swimcap, facial hair and no swimcap, and no facial hair and no swimcap.
Results: The presence of only a beard (facial hair and swimcap) resulted in a significant underestimation of percentage of body fat (16.2%, 1.0618 g/cm3) vs. the criterion method (17.1%, 1.0597 g/cm3, p < 0.001). The effect of scalp hair (no swim cap worn) resulted in a significant underestimation in percentage of body fat relative to the criterion method, either with facial hair (facial hair and no swimcap; 14.8%, 1.0649 g/cm3) or without facial hair (no facial hair and no swimcap; 14.8%, 1.0650 g/cm3, p < 0.001 for both).
Discussion: A significant underestimation of percentage of body fat was observed with the presence of facial hair (∼1%) and scalp hair (∼2.3%). This underestimation in percentage of body fat may be caused by the effect of trapped isothermal air in body hair on body-volume estimates. Thus, excess facial hair should be kept to a minimum and a swimcap should be worn at all times to ensure accurate estimates of body fat when using the BOD POD.