The world of masks and respiratory protection is so complicated that keeping up can feel like a full-time job! Luckily it IS our full-time job at Breathe99, and we’ve laid out the basics in this four-part Mask Buying Guide.
This post explains the aspect that is often overlooked until it’s a problem - fit and comfort. The other parts of the Mask Buying Guide can be found here:
Why does fit matter?
The whole point of wearing a mask is that you breathe through the filtration material. So of course, if there are gaps where air flows freely in or out when you breathe, then your protection is compromised. Not all types of masks offer a full seal, but the more air flowing through your mask, instead of the gaps around the side, the better. Another reason why fit is so important is so that the mask feels comfortable to wear it. That one is self-explanatory!
How to tell a poor fit
Jets of air when you exhale
If you exhale strongly and most of the air is going out around your mask, then there’s a fit issue. Perhaps the shape of the mask and the shape of your face are incompatible, or you just need to adjust something to reduce the gap.
It’s too breathable...
Loose fabric masks can have large gaps between the fabric and your face. While this makes them immensely comfortable, the air flowing freely around the sides, means that your mask is providing very limited protection!
Your glasses are fogging
This is a very noticeable way to tell if your mask leaks air around the nose. It is especially prominent in the winter, where even the smallest leak will fog your glasses. You can reduce this by having a wire around your nose, but the only real way around this is to use a mask with an airtight seal around the nose, like our B2 Mask. See our post on the different types of masks (link) for more on that.
A mask should fit snugly, but not so tight that it hurts. If your ears, nose, cheeks, or anywhere else hurts when you wear a mask, it’s not a good fit. Aside from just being unpleasant, irritation increases the chance of touching your mask unnecessarily.
How to get the best fit
Cover the essentials
This can’t be said enough - if your nose is not inside your mask, then your mask isn’t doing a thing! The mask must cover your nose and mouth. If the mask does not have a complete seal, then it should cover from your nose bridge to under your chin.
Since people come in many shapes and sizes, it’s a good idea to get a mask that is adjustable. This goes a long way to preventing air leaks and enhancing your wearing comfort. If your mask has a metal nose clip, use it to close gaps near the nose. Additionally, you should either tighten or loosen the straps to find the right balance of protection and comfort.
Use a mask with a seal
We had to say it - a fully sealed respirator like the B2 Mask is leagues above a surgical or fabric mask in terms of protective fit. A full seal is the only way to filter 100% of the air you breathe.
Proper seals should be made of either silicone or a medical-grade thermoplastic material (like the B2 Mask). Some products use high-density foams to create a seal near the bridge of the nose, but these do not provide a full seal around the nose and mouth.
How to stay comfortable
Save your ears
Masks with over-the-head and behind-the-neck straps are more comfortable over the long term than the over-ear style. So if you are wearing your mask for more than 30 minutes at a time you definitely want to consider it.
Manage humidity and heat
Wearing a mask in extreme hot or cold conditions can cause a lot of humidity to build up inside the mask. If at all possible, take short frequent breaks to remove your mask. This allows the mask and your skin to dry a bit. Just make sure you are socially distant and that your hands are clean.
Choose the right style
Styles where the bulk of the masks sits off of your face, only touching around the sides, are more comfortable for long-term wear. This includes styles like the duckbill, the dome, and of course, our B2 Mask. This is especially important in situations where there is condensation buildup because it keeps the water off your skin.
Fit and comfort are key elements of creating a comfortable and protective mask that people will be more likely to wear. Here are a couple of useful links for achieving better fits with a range of masks:
At Breathe99 we envision a world in which public health goods like facemasks with quality, ergonomic design and low environmental impact are scalable and accessible. We want the best of both worlds: the protection and top-notch filtration efficiency of the N95 along with the reusable nature and style of cloth masks. If that sounds like the right choice, shop here. If not, do not settle or give up -- demand the highest level of protection to keep yourself, the ones you love and our communities Healthy Together.
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