What to Know Before Buying a Face Mask, According to Health Experts
For your safety, and for the safety of others, the best thing you can possibly do during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is to stay home, or at least maintain social distancing. Obviously, for people with essential jobs, staying home isn't an option, and society can't thank them enough for their service.
What's more, the unavoidable fact is that many of us will need to leave the house to buy groceries. And, as long as you take proper precautions, health experts believe it's okay to go for a walk outside if you're starting to feel anxious and cooped up.
We all (hopefully) know the standard precautions by heart at this point, but a quick review is always helpful:
• Maintain a social distance of six feet from other people.
• Wash your hands and clothes, just to be extra safe, as soon as you get home.
• Wear a mask that covers your mouth and nose.
It’s that last part that gets a bit tricky, and not only because the decision to wear a mask (or not) has become a point of tension in our politically divided times. The internet is filled with pictures of people, particularly at the start of the coronavirus pandemic when masks were relatively rare, making the best of the situation by wearing inappropriate masks, or even silly dinosaur costumes. If you want a mask that's safer — and you'll be required to wear one when flying with certain airlines and shopping at many stores, including Costco and Apple stores — here are a few things to keep in mind.
"When buying a reusable cloth mask, the thickness is most important. A trial has revealed that regular thin cloth masks are highly susceptible to the virus. They can get penetrated by up to 97% of the viral particles from the air," says Dr. Dimitar Marinov, Assistant Professor at the Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology at the Medical University of Varna, in Bulgaria.
"This mask will not protect you, nor the others. This is why the material is very important. The best is quilted cotton or another thicker fabric – they can offer protection comparable to surgical masks."
Dr. Marinov also says you should pay attention to fit. "Loose-fitting masks get easily contaminated on the outside when you sneeze or cough," he says. "Choose a mask that fits tightly around your face and covers both your nose and mouth."
As for the fit of your mask, Regina Riggs, a registered nurse based in Edgewood, Kentucky, says, "I have been fitting N95 masks at work for all staff in our hospital. There should be no gaps anywhere around the mask with any type of movement. You should not be able to taste anything through the mask. You should be able to breathe normal, have a deep breath and turn your head side to side and up and down without tasting a bitter spray." In fact, as a test she sprays the masks with a bitter liquid to make sure they work. "You should also be able to bend over with no mask movement. You should be able to hold a conversation without any changes in the position of the mask."
You might have read about N95 masks, and perhaps you're wondering where to buy one. The truth is that it's best to leave N95 masks to those who truly need them the most. Dr. Gary Linkov is a New York-based ENT and facial plastic surgeon, and he points out that "in many hospitals, there is still an ongoing concern for adequate personal protective equipment, thus N95 and surgical masks should be reserved for healthcare providers," he says. "Cloth face masks should be used for the general population. The mask should be able to be washed and dried without resulting in any damage to the mask such as holes or tears."
To rehash, here are some guidelines for buying a face mask that will help prevent the spread of COVID-19:
• Avoid thin masks. Quilted cotton and other thicker materials are good.
• Make sure your mask fits properly. There should be no gaps, and your mask should stay in place as you move.
• N95 masks should be reserved for professionals who really need them.
• Wash your cloth mask after using it — and make sure it hasn't been damaged after cleaning.
With that in mind, here are some of best options available on the internet. Many of these masks are made by companies outside the medical supply field doing their best in our collective time of need, and in some cases proceeds from sales go to good causes. (And once again, wash your hands as soon as you get home.)
Best Face Masks for Coronavirus
Naturepedic Organic Cotton Face Mask: 6 for $49
The Ohio-based organic mattress and bedding manufacturer Naturepedic has also thrown its hat in the mask ring with the Organic Cotton Face Mask. Toxin-free, reusable, the masks are made with two layers of 100% certified organic fabric, and are sold at cost and are not for profit. The company has donated masks to the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals and other area facilities.
Excelsus Solutions Face Mask: $9.88
Ryan Spadafora works for the Rochester, New York, format printing company Excelsus Solutions, which has suddenly found itself making face masks to help prevent the coronavirus. He's proud not only that his company is making face masks, but they've been donating them to people in need as well.
"Face masks are not a product that we ever thought we’d produce in a million years, but when this crisis hit we realized that we had the technology and resources at our disposal to help out," he says. "Specifically, we had digital die-cutting machines and an industrial sewing machine for large projects – this allowed us to cut patterns and sew quickly. To date we have donated over 500 masks to local nursing homes, and we’ve also taken bulk orders from many local businesses to help them protect their workers.”
Titil is a New York City-based hospitality workwear brand that has outfitted chefs like Missy Robbins and Tom Colicchio, and is now trying to keep everyone else safe. The company had its seamstresses create 8oz. machine washable masks from a recycled hemp and organic cotton blend, with latex-free elastic ear straps. For every purchase, the company will donate one to a food service worker or a medical professional.
Sadly, you aren't going to any IRL parties for quite a while. But if you want to feel fashionable while safely walking your dog, try the face masks from the online jewelry and fashion store The Sis Kiss. The cotton masks are available in leopard print and camo, for $12 each. The Sis Kiss will allow you to choose a charity of your choice to donate to a portion of the proceeds to, such as the CDC Foundation and Feeding America.
The Florida-based online apparel company XSuit specializes in technology-enhanced suits that are designed to be wrinkle-resistant, and now they're offering masks with enhanced filtering capability. They are available as $16.99 cloth versions, or pricier custom designs.
If you've ever worn a custom-made t-shirt for a corporate retreat or bachelorette party, there's a good chance that someone ordered it through Custom Ink. Now the popular internet apparel seller is offering masks made from a single piece of cotton-spandex fabric, and a bulk rate is available (120 masks for $240) if you want one for, say, everyone who works at your restaurant. The masks are currently available only in black, but true to their name, the company plans to offer customizable options in the future.
The Orange County, California, company Oura specializes in sustainable, top-of-the-line aprons, hats and clothes. Like many companies they are responding to the growing need for masks with their own product, which has a high price tag to go alongside the high-quality materials. The Oura Air Mask features germ-killing compounds embedded into every thread and have been tested by independent third-party laboratories to ensure the masks filter out 97% of viral particles and 96% of bacteria from the air.