Face masks can be an important tool in combating some pathogens, but when questions come up like “Do face makes work?” or “Do antiviral face masks work?” the answer is, “It depends.” The first thing to know is that not all face masks are the same; no one face mask does everything. Different ones have different properties, and are designed to do different things, so you must select the proper mask for the job.
You must consider the specific pathogen, how it spreads, where the mask will be used and whom you're trying to protect — you, or the people around you. Once you've thought this through, you'll have a better idea if you need a face mask, and in that case, what kind you should choose.
When you ask yourself, "Should I wear a face mask?” the answer may not be very simple or straightforward. But, if you are looking to protect yourself or your community from the pandemic, wearing a face mask has proven to be effective.
Here, we break down what you need to know.
Respirator Masks Protect the Wearer
Respirator masks, also called filtering facepiece respirators, FFPs, N95 and N99, are firmer and thicker. These masks are meant to protect the wearer. Their specialized material filters out mists, dusts and aerosol droplets that can carry viruses and bacteria. Respirators are shaped like a bowl and are specially fitted to each user to form a tight seal around the nose and mouth. They are intended for healthcare workers in specialized settings like hospital wards — not the general public.
Some of these masks have valves, which allow easier exhalation. Respirator masks are regulated by the FDA as Personal Protection Equipment, or PPE.
Medical Masks Protect People Around You
Medical masks, also called surgical masks, mainly help prevent the transmission of respiratory viruses or bacteria, which spread via larger droplets from coughing, sneezing and talking. These droplets are considered to be the primary transmission route of COVID-19. Medical masks are mainly designed to protect other people from the wearer, so it's a good choice if you're infected or suspect you're infected.
However, since these masks fit loosely around the lower face, there's some leakage. They're thin and flat and consist of at least three layers of synthetic material with filters in between. You can get them in different thicknesses. Medical masks are regulated by the FDA as medical devices.
Non-Medical Masks Protect People Around You
Non-medical, homemade fabric DIY masks act as a physical barrier to block transmission of respiratory droplets. Because these masks are not regulated and include basically anything you can cover your face with, the variety you can choose from is staggering. Since you can't always distance yourself at least 6 feet away from other people, especially in public settings, this sort of mask can offer at least some protection.
As respirator and medical masks are best reserved for healthcare workers, the WHO and the CDC both encourage the use of non-medical fabric masks by the general public, along with frequent handwashing and physical distancing.
The WHO recommends that these masks have at least three layers: An inner layer of absorbent material, such as cotton; a middle layer of non-woven material such as polypropylene; and an outer layer of non-absorbent material, such as polyester or a polyester blend. They should cover the nose, mouth, and chin, and be secured with elastic loops or ties. You should be able to wash and reuse them. This is the best choice for those looking to do their part to keep their communities and loved ones safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Right Mask for You
Boomer Naturals offers soft, reusable, lightweight masks that conform to recommended guidelines. They have an inner hydrophilic layer, a middle filter layer and an outer hydrophobic layer. They come in child and adult sizes and are made of a 65% cotton/35% polyester blend. They’re comfortable enough for daily wear, easy to breathe and talk through and can be washed 30 times. What's more, the fabric has been treated with silver nanoparticles, which has been shown to have antibacterial activity.
Keep in mind that just using a mask is not as effective as combining it with handwashing and social/physical distancing. It's all about decreasing your exposure as much as possible.