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How to Use Face ID While You Are Wearing a Mask

It works on iPhones but not most Android smartphones

spinner image a man wearing a mask and a blue vest at the airport looks at his phone
Getty Images

IPhone owners who have models with Face ID and people with select Android devices can unlock their phones through facial recognition. But how do you show your face when part of it is covered by a mask?

Apple answered that question for many of its users with the free iOS 15.4 software update that recently became available. But more than likely you’ll have to remove your mask to unlock an Android phone with your mug or ditch face recognition altogether for other secure methods.

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Here’s how to proceed.

spinner image group of screenshots that show how to set up facial recognition on an iphone
Apple allows you to set up your Face ID to account for wearing a mask after you’ve first scanned your face — but not unless you have an iPhone 12 or newer running iOS 15.4.

iPhones need iOS 15.4

You’ll need to download that iOS 15.4 software update. If it’s not already on your phone, grab it by going to Settings | Software Update.

But before going any further, know this important caveat: Face ID while wearing a mask only works with the iPhone 12 or later models but not the recently released third-generation iPhone SE, which has a Touch ID fingerprint sensor instead of Face ID.

If you have a compatible model, visit Settings | Face ID & Passcode. You have to enter the phone’s passcode. Next, tap Set Up Face ID, or Reset Face ID if you previously set up the feature, and tap Get Started. You are instructed to position your face within a camera frame on the screen and slowly move it in a circle to have all the angles of your face recognized. An arrow may appear in the frame to guide you.

After this first scan is completed, you are given the option to use Face ID with or without a mask. Keep in mind that Face ID is more accurate when your entire face can be scanned. But if you go with the mask option, the phone will try to recognize you through the unique features around your eyes.

Either way, you do not have to wear a mask to complete the setup, which involves scanning your face a second time the same way you completed the first scan.

You can also tap Add Glasses in Settings to help the accuracy of Face ID while wearing a mask by having it recognize glasses you wear regularly. If you choose this option, which will only show up if you have enabled the Face ID with a Mask switch in Settings, you’ll have to scan your face again while wearing your favorite glasses. This mask option does not work with sunglasses, however.

In Settings, you can also tap Set Up an Alternate Appearance to have your device recognize you with a different look or even have a family member unlock your phone with their face.

Take note of a couple of other related options in Settings. You can enable a switch to Require Attention for Face ID, which ensures that you are looking at the phone before it will authenticate you. That way a mischievous kid cannot unlock your phone while you sleep. But your full attention is always required if you are wearing a mask.

Besides unlocking your phone, Face ID on an iPhone can be used to complete purchases in stores or online using Apple Pay or auto-filling passwords on apps and in the Safari browser. You will need to enter your passcode the first time you unlock a phone after it has been powered off.

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spinner image set of screenshots that show how to set up face recognition on an android phone
Android smartphone manufacturer Samsung says facial identification is less secure than other ways to unlock your device but acknowledges it’s convenient. Most Android phones want to see your entire face to use the feature.

Android hacks not reliable

Android phones vary widely, and not all of them will let you unlock the device with facial recognition. Nor do Androids have an equivalent to the iPhone feature that lets you unlock a handset with your face while wearing a mask. The workarounds you may come across on the internet won’t necessarily work.

If you want to employ facial recognition — without a mask — to unlock, say, a premium Samsung Galaxy phone, scroll down in Settings to Biometrics and security. From there, tap Face recognition and you will be prompted to enter a passcode, pattern or whatever method you currently use to unlock the device, and that you will continue to use if facial recognition fails.

As you proceed, you have the option to read Samsung disclaimers about facial recognition, including that the company considers it less secure than other lock types “because there is some possibility that someone who looks like you or who uses an image of your face could unlock your phone.”

Tap Continue to proceed and keep your face inside the circle that appears on the screen while it is being registered. A check mark will appear when you are done.

On the next screen you have the option to Stay on Lock screen until swipe, which means you will have to swipe before getting past that lock screen, even if you are recognized. Next, tap Done.

Afterward, you can tap Add alternative appearance to enhance recognition and attempt to don a mask and have it recognized. It did not work for me.

On the Galaxy, you can also tap a Faster recognition switch in Settings, but Samsung cautions that while speedier it is less secure, and a video or photograph someone puts in front of the camera could be recognized as your face.

Finally, for added security, you can enable a Require open eyes setting to make it even more certain that it is you and not someone else trying to get past a lock screen.

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