Before the crazy year that was 2020, face masks and coverings might have been something you would only see in places like hospitals or dental practices. But over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, masks have become an everyday sight and a must-have for us all, whether we’re traveling by public transport or paying a visit to the grocery store.
From simple bandanas to futuristic-looking face shields, there are a huge variety of face coverings to choose between. And this begs the question: which is really the right kind of mask to wear?
Let’s start by ruling out a couple of options to narrow the field…
DON’T Choose a Mask With a Valve
Some people might think that a mask with a valve looks stylish, but the reality is that it simply allows virus particles to escape. Pretty useless during a pandemic then!
Indeed, many US airlines ban the use of these types of masks on their flights, as it means that the wearer can still pass on coronavirus to other travelers.
DON’T Choose a Mask That Makes it Hard to Breathe
Of course, it’s crucial that your mask prevents the flow of any bad particles between you and the air you breathe. That said - you do still need to get a good flow of oxygen particles into your lungs!
For this reason, it’s best not to choose a mask made of a non-permeable material that could make breathing tricky - like clear plastic vinyl.
OK, so those are some face coverings to definitely avoid. But we know that some protection is better than none at all, so let’s explore some other options.
OK rockstar, we know that image is important, but really?
While bandanas might block liquids and vapors, they don’t have fine particle filters for that extra protection. Another issue is that bandanas could fit loosely, or have gaps, which again hinders their effectiveness.
All in all, it’s probably best to keep the bandana on your head!
While a cloth mask might have fewer gaps than a loosely tied bandana, they’re still not ideal in terms of providing excellent protection. A cloth mask lacks a filter for small (and potentially nasty) particles that can sneak through.
Like we said, it’s better than nothing, but we can definitely do better!
To the untrained eye, a face shield might look as though it would give a super high level of protection. However, this is not necessarily the case.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doesn’t currently recommend the use of face shields, as evaluations into their effectiveness are ongoing.
The New York Times explains that ‘droplets can seep in through the back and sides of a face shield’. As such, they’re a good idea as a supplementary addition to a cloth face mask, but shouldn’t be worn instead of a closer-fitting covering.
Finally, let’s look at the top players in the face mask game.
You might have heard of Medical Grade N95 masks, as these have been in particularly high demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. They block liquid and vapors, with a fine particle filter that boasts ≥95% filter efficiency of .3 microns. As well as this, they seal closely to the face, making them pretty top notch in terms of protection!
For this reason though, they are in low supply, as they’re generally needed for medics dealing with the pandemic on the frontline.
So if you can’t get your hands on an N95 mask, or if we all take the view that it’s best to save those kind for the medics in any case, then what’s the next best option?
Good news - there are certain face masks that meet the requirements of N95 masks, but simply don’t have the same US certification; getting this certification can be a long process, but it doesn’t mean that the masks that don’t have it are less effective!
So if you don’t see the N95 certification, but if the mask you choose still meets many of the same particle filtration requirements, you’re likely onto a winner.
To summarise: you’re best off avoiding masks with valves, or non-breathable types, but it’s still better to wear some face covering than none at all - so you could choose a bandana, simple cloth mask or visor. However, these options aren’t always the most effective, and for top grade protection the experts would recommend an N95 medical grade mask.
In today’s times, though, these are hard to come by, and are best saved for medical professionals in any case. So, us regular citizens can still get high level protection by choosing a mask that meets the same requirements as an N95, but just doesn’t have the same certification.
Shop our range of ORÅ masks, filters and accessories, and for even more information, check out the CDC‘s guide to face masks.