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COVID-19 Masks Reviewed

Home > Adelaide > Health and Fitness | How To | Lists
by Roy Chambers (subscribe)
Lover of all things interesting and new
Published August 4th 2020
Face masks are the 'not die for' fashion item of 2020
Maybe you live in a place where masks are mandated, or perhaps you just want to stay with the latest fashion trends, then you need a face mask. But not all masks are equal in how they protect you, how they feel and how they look. Welcome to the COVID-19 fashion/try not to die guide of 2020.

Image courtesy of John Perivolaris @ flickr
Image courtesy of John Perivolaris @ flickr


The following article is written with the latest health and medical information available, but as both health advice is often being updated and the rules in every location are changing, it is up to the reader to ensure that they keep up to date with what their local health authorities and governments are advising them to do.

Surgical Masks

Everyone's go-to COVID-19 mask is the basic surgical mask. They are cheap, around $2 retail per mask, though you can find them being sold for as little as a $1 each online. Most come in basic light blue, with white being another common colour. If you shop around, you can find other colours, though mostly pastels, they also come in black (which goes with everything).

Image courtesy of Jernej Furman @ Flickr
Image courtesy of Jernej Furman @ Flickr

These are the cotton t-shirt of face masks, in that they are cheap, comfortable and easy to wear. The pleated design helps them spread out over your face and stay spread out. Look for the ones with a little bit of underwire at the top. This can be used to shape the mask to fit your nose and stop your breath come up out of the top of the mask. This is useful for people who wear glasses.

This season, surgical masks are something everyone everywhere should have at home. They can be for everyday wear, but remember, only wear them for about an hour at a time or until they become damp. They are also good for occasions, such as when you find your temperature rising and you want to visit a doctor without spreading anything to people around you.

If you wear these masks often, you can buy little clips that hold the straps together. This way, instead of going over your ears, they will be held by the strap around the back of your head. This makes it more comfortable for wearing for long periods.

Because they don't provide a tight seal and complete filtration, look for something better when the risk of COVID019 infection is high.

Disposable P2/N95 Masks

For added protection, seek out a P2/N95 mask, also known by all the cool kids as respirators. This is a tight-fitting mask that has a filter designed to stop small particles getting through the mask. Similarly there are the N97, N99 and N100 standards, which are similar in design, but are certified to filter out even more particles from the air.

Image courtesy of Debora Cartagena, USCDCP @ Pixnio
Image courtesy of Debora Cartagena, USCDCP @ Pixnio

These masks are not cheap. You might find the cheapest disposable ones for around $10 each retail, though they are typically more expensive. Unless you are a medical professional, they are not everyday wear because these are designed to be used once and then thrown away.

Also, they are not comfortable. The trick to making them work is for them to have a tight seal on your face. Not only is this uncomfortable, but they can leave marks on your face if worn for long periods of time.

In addition, they don't often fit everyone's face. For myself, a gentleman with a large, proud and prominent nose, it is hard to find one that fits. So these are not for everyone.

The disposable respirators only come in limited colours. Most are white, but if you shop around, you can find some in medical blue. You might be protected, but the look is more functional over fashion. Everyone should have a P2/N95 mask in their cupboard for that special need or occasion, such as having to spend time in an enclosed space with lots of people. Otherwise, this is professional wear.

Reusable P2/N95 Masks

If you want to step up your P2/N95 mask game in terms of both comfort and style, then you want to invest in a reusable mask. Most of these are made of a airtight material and a place for a filter through which you breath.

These come in a wide variety of colours and styles, so you can find one that matches your outfits or style, as well as one that fits the contours of your face comfortably. Look for one that has underwire at the top, so you can mould the top to more tightly fit your face. I had one, that was comfortable, but didn't fit my face, but comfortably fit my friend who has a much smaller nose

With the filters, you need to replace them regularly, but most can be washed. Check the washing instructions on your filters, but soak in bleach, boiling in water or putting them through a wash cycle with detergent will kill viruses and of course, wash any living viruses away.

While you won't need more than one reusable mask, you can easily buy a couple in different colours and styles for different occasions and outfits. Customer service is going to be easier if you wear a bright friendly coloured mask, while security professionals seem to love basic black.

Cloth Masks

More and more people are turning to cloth masks. These provide a wide range of comfort and fashion choices, but also vary a lot into the level of protection. If you go for the cloth mask or make your own, there is a lot to consider.

Image Courtesy Quinn Dombrowski @ Flickr
Image Courtesy Quinn Dombrowski @ Flickr

First of all, the positives. Lovely cotton or other natural fibre masks are comfortable against your skin. Some styles will fit snugly providing optimum protection. They are cheap, reusable and easy to make yourself. They come in an endless variety of colours and patterns, so you can easily find different ones for different moods, situations and fashion needs. You can find ones printed with all sorts of symbols and slogans. Companies can even add their logo to the masks that they give employees as part of their brand.

However, the quality of the masks varies a lot. The ideal mask should be triple-layered, combining an outer synthetic layer that will repel water to some extent, an inner natural fibre layer that will be comfortable, and a middle layer of something like silk or even a filter layer, that will act as an effective filter of finer water droplets. Most masks online don't even tell you how many layers or the thread count of the fabric. But a big clue is, when they advertise the mask as breathable, it means they put comfort before protection.

Focus on finding or making masks that will be more effective over fashionable. Remember to wear them for around an hour at a time or until they are damp. Store in plastic bags when not in use. Depending on what they are made of, you can clean then with a wash cycle with plenty of detergent. Some masks, such as pure cotton ones, can be boiled or soaked in bleach to kill any virus.

Valve Masks

For breathing comfort, there are valve masks, but I will explain why these are not recommended. Now don't confuse the valve with the basic filter of a P2/N95 respirator. Rather they have a one-way valve that will close when you breathe in, so that the incoming air is filtered, but opens when you breathe out.

The main problem here is that while this protects you, it is not stopping water droplets being expelled from your breath going into the air. Yes, you can breathe easier, but you are a danger to the community. The most important etiquette rule for this fashion season is, try not be the reason why others die.

Also, the cheap valves are hardly going to be reliable. If they don't close perfectly, you are still exposing yourself to possibly infected air around you. The second most important thing in 2020 etiquette is, try not to die yourself.

Paper Masks

If you are looking for the cheapest, nastiest and most useless type of COVID-19 mask, then get a paper mask. They have appeared in Asia from time to time, often printed with nice patterns. However, they provide only a passing chance of protection from airborne viral infection.

This is the fashion choice that says, not only do you not care if you live or die, but that you don't even want to look good dying. They are both a medical and fashion faux pas. I would say, that nobody would want to be caught dead wearing them, but if you do wear one, you are more likely to be caught dead.

The only way you can possibly save this fashion item would be to make your own out of colourful paper and fashion them into origami shapes. Otherwise, these are out for 2020 and hopefully beyond.

Face Shields

While a face shield might make you look like you are dressed up for a cheap riot squad cosplay, they are highly practical for some very specific purposes. A face shield is essentially a clear plastic material such as perspex, which creates a screen between your face and the world.

While a face shield is not airtight, what it does is create an impenetrable barrier between you and a spray of water droplets that might come from a person you are dealing with. Face shields should never be unpaired, and you will always see healthcare professionals wearing this along with a face mask together.

Most people won't need one of these, but they are good for anyone unable to wear a face mask, such as very young kids or people with respiratory problems that make wearing a mask difficult. In other words, they are the latest in baby fashion when out and about in public.

The average person will want these for very special occasions, such providing help and assistance to someone in need of medical assistance. This is definitely a item for need rather than looks.

Bandana, Scarf & Tea Towel Facemasks

When you have no other choice, wrapping a bandanna, scarf or even a tea towel around your face will give you some protection. Bandannas, of course, give you some semblance of cool, especially when you combine them with skin-tight Wranglers and those cowboy boots from the back of your closet that your partner told you to throw out years ago, but you didn't. A scarf isn't too bad either. While a tea towel makes you just look desperate.

Worn correctly, these options do have the possibility of cool combined with a make-do attitude, but if you haven't found a mask for sale online that looks better, then you are not really trying. The problem isn't just the way they look, the issue is the minimum amount of protection they provide.

Image courtesy of the US CDC
Image courtesy of the US CDC

However, the US CDC has provided handy tips for folding your bandana into a multilayered face masks. So if this is all you have, at least do it right.

Stepping Up Your Mask Game

There are plenty of options to really step up your mask game. These include decorative masks that will make your mask suitable for special occasions, whether it is a slogan adorned mask for a protest, a happy smiley mask to put people at ease or a studded leather because you just love wearing masks. Remember, function beats form for the 2020 season, so make sure it does the job first and looks cool second.

Image courtesy of Tim Dennell @ Flickr
Image courtesy of Tim Dennell @ Flickr

Another useful mask type are the ones with a clear face panel. Obviously this lets people see your facial expressions more easily, but it also helps deaf people read your lips. The main problem is how quickly the clear plastic panel fogs up. Try these if you have a need.

Face Masktakes (It is a pun, get it).

The most common mistake is the "just good enough" attitude of some mask wearers. There are lots of people looking to find the cheapest and most comfortable mask to meet minimum mask requirements. There are even companies selling masks that are nothing but some thin see-through gauze to technically meet the requirements of a face covering. You might technically get away with this or be refused entry to shops or fined on a technicality.

The main mask fashion mistakes are how people are wearing them. Don't wear white shoes after Labor Day. Don't wear the same formal dress twice. Don't wear your mask once it gets damp from the rain or your breath. Don't touch your face while wearing mask. Wash your hands right after removing your mask. Follow the right rules now and you will be safe from dying from embarrassment and Coronavirus.

Must have accessories for the pandemic

No ensemble is complete without the right accessories. It is also vital to avoid the wrong ones. The most obvious accessory to eschew are gloves. When worn properly in clinical settings, they can be the must-wear fashion item, but for the ordinary everyday life, they just don't match. You can't get Coronavirus through your hands, and while you can pick it up on your hands, the gloves are not going to stop you transferring it elsewhere. In addition, they can create a false sense of security making the situation worse.

The main thing that everyone should be carrying is a little bottle of hand sanitiser. They come in bottles of all shapes and sizes, but the discerning person cares only that there have at least 80% ethanol or other active ingredients. While most places now have hand sanitiser dispensers and they give it away for free, we can't rely on the quality of those dispensers (they are better than nothing) or the cleanliness of the dispenser.

Image courtesy of Jernej Furman @ Flickr
Image courtesy of Jernej Furman @ Flickr


Whether you have to wear a mask or you want to wear a mask, you want to wear the right mask. There are lots of masks out there, and they differ in price, comfort and effectiveness, so find the right one for your situation and we can beat COVID-19.
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Why? Face masks are the not die for fashion item of 2020
Your Comment
They are becoming quite a fashion statement! Makes one look at Burka’s a different way, but a very necessary clothing item in this situation. Great article Roy, but them your articles are thorough.
by Susan J Bowes (score: 3|1685) 44 days ago
Don't dismiss the deaf in the community so fast. The clear face masks WILL fog quickly however by smearing a dab of toothpaste on the inside of the mask and wipe off the excess, you allow them not to fog, but after washing them you may have to apply the toothpaste again. There are ways to help everyone.
by rctho (score: 0|4) 43 days ago
This genuinely has to be one of the best articles I've read about masks...anywhere !
Thanks Roy, you were informative & fun. Was a joy to read it !
by clare (score: 1|62) 45 days ago
Thank you for this great article on masks Roy. Very comprehensive, useful and amusing as well.
I have forwarded it onto some friends and a family member overseas.
by Barb Jeffs (score: 1|88) 44 days ago
Great article Roy! 👏
by maria (score: 1|91) 44 days ago
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