Which face masks should you buy? Comprehensive face mask buying guide & review of different types

Which face masks should you buy? Comprehensive face mask buying guide & review of different types

It is already a requirement to wear a mask on public transport in the UK. However, on the 24th July 2020, it will also be mandatory to wear face masks in shops and supermarkets too. With so many face mask choices out there, which one is the best one to buy?

After hours of researching and trying on multiple types of masks. I thought I’d share (in my opinion), which type face mask should you should buy to give you the best protection, whilst also offering most comfort.

So what makes the N95 face masks the “best”?

N95 face masks (a.k.a. N95 respirators) are the main masks that health care professionals wear. What makes these masks so the “best”?

  1. Filter
    Normal surgical masks mainly block large particles whilst the N95 mask is able to block large and small particles. The mask can block up to 95% small particles (hence the name) thus offering more protection than the standard surgical mask.
  2. The fit
    Unlike surgical masks, which are loose fitting, the N95 masks offer a good seal against the face. Please note, health care professionals must past a fit test to ensure they can produce a proper seal before they can wear them in the workplace. Therefore by not wearing the mask correctly, reduces the filtration capability of the mask.

Why cloth masks?

Due to the short supply of N95 masks (which should be reserved for front line health professionals), it is recommended that the general public use cloth masks as an alternative.

But this won’t give the the best protection! Will it?

No it won’t, no mask is 100% against Covid-19. You have to remember that you are not a front line health care professional workers, where you come in very close contact with patients with the Coronavirus.

However, if you practice a combination of social distancing with cloth face mask, it is sufficient enough to protect yourself and others from the spread of Covid-19.

What to consider when buying a face mask?

I believe there are 3 main things when you are looking for a face mask.

The material

The best material for a face mask is either tightly woven cotton/linen (when you hold it up to the light, you shouldn’t see any light shine through it). Or a polyester-spandex mix which can create an electrostatic barrier to help attract particles.

It’s also best to have multi-layers of material. Research shows that layering material will filter out most particles. So look out for masks which have multiple layers, not just a single layer of fabric.

Fabric mixes such as cotton–silk, cotton–chiffon, cotton–flannel, was able to filter out >80% small particles and >90% larger particles in test.

The fit

The fit around your face is important. This is one of the key features of the N95 mask. Scientist have said that having gaps around your mask can result in over a 60 percent decrease in the filtration efficiency.

If it doesn’t fit on your face properly, the air you breath in will not go through the mask. Instead the air will go through any gaps and into your mouth and nose.

Ideally you need to look for a mask they sits just below your chin and up to the top of your nose and just below your eyes. This is because this give you the best chance to get the mask to sit flat against your face and reduce gaps.

If the mask sits too low, you will find there will be some large gaps between your nose and cheeks. You also want to make sure the mask sits flat against the side of your face towards your ears. Most surgical masks are large thus when you wear them, you tend to find that the side splays out. This is not an ideal fit.

A filter

By using multi layer fabric, you are already creating a good filtration barrier. However you can also add an additional filter layer that can help lift the filtration properties of your face mask. Typically in the market, you have:

  • PM2.5 filters – these work better than the non-woven alternatives. This is because it contains a layer called “melt blown fabric”. This fabric has been treated to produce a static charge which in theory attracts small particles up to 2.5 particle matter (micrometres). One micrometre is 0.001 millimetres. This melt blown layer is also found in surgical masks and N95 masks. On Amazon.co.uk you can get 20 for £12.95 (correct as of 22 Jul 2020).

Though some face masks come with with that looks like a built in filter, however these are exit valves. They are built to help make breathing easier by expelling the air our of the mask as quick as possible, dispersing your vapour to the world around you. Thus resulting in spreading the virus (if you have it) to everyone around. Best option is masks without this feature.

Face mask types review

So with the above knowledge I decided to try on different types of masks from the surgical or disposable to reusable to sports. Here is my review of 4 different types.

Surgical face masks

These face masks offer protection mainly against large particles, mainly due to the loose fit they offer. You can make adjustment to this mask to improve filtration efficiency. Check out my blog post: How to get your surgical mask to fit properly.

Pros
– low cost
– easy to breath through

Cons
– disposable adding to the environmental impact
– not a good fit without adjustment
– only comes in the standard surgical green colour.

Available on Amazon.co.uk, box of 50 for £19.99 (correct as of 22 Jul 2020).

Non-woven face masks

Though these look like the surgical masks, they are not. They do not contain the melt blow layer, instead only additional a non-woven layer. These are really only made for dust protection so large particles.

Pros
– low cost
– easy to breath through
– comes in a few colour variations

Cons
– not a good fit without adjustment
– little filtration against small particles

Available on Amazon.co.uk, box of 50 for £12.99 plus £1.59 delivery (correct as of 22 Jul 2020).

Cotton/Polyester face masks

Variety of Cotton, polyester mix face masks available. They typically come in minimum of 2 layers. The outer layer tends to be thicker with a thinner inner layer that can double as a filter holder. Note, not all masks are the same size, nor fit the same way.

Pros
– low cost (depending on home made vs retail brand)
– reusable – friendly to the environment
– can come in lots of patterns and designs

Cons
– not all come with a good fit (double check!)
– can be hard to breath through in hot weather due to the thick layers.

  1. Stay Safe Reusable Face Mask. Made from 60% Polyester, 40% Cotton. Thick outer later available in 36 funky designs and an 100% cotton inner layer which doubles as a filter pocket. Available on Amazon.co.uk for £12.99 (correct as of 22 Jul 2020).
  2. Complex® Reusable Face Mask. 95% combed cotton, 5% elastane content. Available in 6 colours. Inner layer doubles as a filter pocket. Available on Amazon.co.uk for £13.90 (correct as of 22 Jul 2020).
  3. GENTSY HQ Face Mask. The outer layer is cotton. The inner layer is 55%cotton and 45%polyester. Adjustable straps, available in black or white. Available on Amazon.co.uk for £11.99 (correct as of 22 Jul 2020).

Sports face masks

Sports face masks then to be made from polyester/elastane mix. This allows the mask to be light and thin. As it comes in the stretchy material, it sits snugly against your skin.

Pros
– provides a good fit on the face
– easy to breath through
– reusable – friendly to the environment

Cons
– mid range to high (depending on retail sports brand)
– limited designs available

Adidas Face mask

The one I’m wearing is the Adidas face mask which comes in XS/S or M/L (I’m wearing the XS/S). Comes in 2 colours, blue or black. Made of 93% Recycled polyester and 7% elastane. Has 2 layers, the inner layer doubles as a filter pocket. Available on the Adidas website for £14.95 for 3 masks (correct as of 22 Jul 2020). If you sign up for a free account you’ll get free delivery.

Reebok face mask

Reebox do practically the same one as Adidas. Same colours, material and sizes. Available to buy on Reeboks website for £14.95 for 3 masks (Correct as of 22 Jul 2020.

Under Amour face mask

The other sports face mask to look out for is the Under Amour one. It’s supposed to be extremely breathable. Made up of 3 layers. Outer layer: 100% Polyester | Insert: 100% Polyurethane | Interior: 77% Nylon/23% Spandex Available on Under Armours website for £26.00 for 1 mask (correct as of 22 Jul 2020)

Conclusion

All face masks including the N95, offer some protection. No mask is 100% against Covid-19. However if you keep to social distancing (2m) and wear a form of mask. Not only on public transport, shops and supermarkets, but also in any public space with strangers/crowds. Then you will have given yourself the best protection for yourself, family and others.

By wearing a mask and keeping to social distancing rules, it will aid us to stop the virus from spreading any more and to minimise the risk of any potential second wave of lock down. So wear a mask!

References:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-mask/art-20485449

https://cambridgemask.com/blog/6-things-you-need-to-know-about-pm2-5/

https://www.womenshealthmag.com/uk/health/a32218152/face-mask-coronavirus

https://www.purakamasks.com/learn

https://www.sciencealert.com/if-you-re-making-your-own-mask-at-home-researchers-show-the-best-materials-to-use