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Here’s how to unlock your phone with Face ID while wearing a mask

We’re 18 months into the pandemic, and we all know that face masks are critical to help slow the spread of COVID-19. 

But we also know that it’s impossible to unlock our phones in public using facial recognition while wearing our masks. While this sounds like a problem of privilege, there are many people who must wear masks in their workplaces all day (think nurses, food service workers and other essential employees) and need to use their phones without removing their masks.

If you’re still struggling to quickly unlock your phone in public while wearing a face mask, we’ve got you covered. In this week’s tip, we’ll show you how to unlock your iPhone or Android device while wearing a face mask using facial recognition or Face ID.

How to unlock your iPhone using Face ID while wearing a mask

Instructions if you own an Apple Watch

Early in the pandemic, there were few good solutions for Apple users who wanted to unlock their phones with Face ID while wearing a face mask. In the months since, Apple has introduced a clever solution, but it requires an extra Apple device — an Apple Watch — which will act as a secondary authentication device to unlock your phone. Here’s how to enable this feature:

Before you begin:

  1. You must own an iPhone that uses Face ID (iPhone X or later) and has iOS 14.5 or later, as well as an Apple Watch Series 3 or later with watchOS 7.4 or later
  2. Make sure your Apple Watch and iPhone are paired and that both have Bluetooth and WiFi enabled.
  3. Ensure your Apple Watch has a passcode, and wrist detection is turned on.

How to enable & use the feature:

  1. Put on your Apple Watch & unlock it. Then, put on your mask.
  2. Go to Settings > tap Face ID & Passcode and type your passcode.
  3. Find Unlock with Apple Watch, then turn on the feature next to your watch’s name.
  4. To unlock your phone while wearing your mask, raise or touch your phone to wake it up.
  5. Glance at the screen, which should unlock it. Then, you can slide the screen up to begin using it.

If you’re having trouble, visit this help page at Apple. If you have a new iPhone 13, you may need to update your iOS. If all else fails, you can still use a passcode to unlock your device.

Train your phone to recognize your mask (maybe)

This is an unofficial tip, but you may be able to train your iPhone to recognize your face while wearing a mask. There are many anecdotes and YouTube videos claiming this is possible. You’ll need to set up an alternate appearance with your mask on or partially on. 

We haven’t tried this for ourselves, so we can’t vouch for its effectiveness. The folks at 9to5mac detail some possible steps you can take if you’d like to reset your Face ID or set up an alternate appearance using this method. Give it a try and let us know how it goes!

Unlock your Android with facial recognition while wearing a mask

We must preface this by saying this is also an unofficial tip so we cannot guarantee success. However, Android also has a version of facial recognition that can unlock your phone without entering a passcode or pattern — and may work if you’re wearing a mask.

To enable it, you have to set up an alternate appearance similar to the steps for the iPhone noted above. Here’s how, but please note that these instructions may vary or not work depending on your device’s manufacturer or version of Android OS.

  1. Unlock your device and put on your mask.
  2. Go to Settings > Security (or Security & Location, or Biometric & Security) 
  3. Tap Face Recognition
  4. Tap Add Alternative look
  5. Follow the on-screen instructions to add a new trusted appearance