In a case-control study we sought to assess the potential effectiveness of helmets in preventing facial injuries. Our study included 212 bicyclists with facial injuries and 319 controls with injuries to other body areas, who were treated in emergency rooms of five Seattle area hospitals over a one-year period. Using regression analyses to control for age, sex, education and income, accident severity, and cycling experience we found no definite effect of helmets on the risk of serious facial injury (odds ratio 0.81; 95 percent confidence interval = 0.45, 1.5), but protection against serious injuries to the upper face (odds ratio 0.27; 95% CI = 0.1, 0.8). No protection was found against serious injuries to the lower face. The independent effect of helmet use on facial injury was difficult to isolate due to the association of head and facial injuries. Our results suggest that bicycle helmets as presently designed may have some protective effect against serious upper facial injuries.