Masked Asian-American male wearing a t-shirt and smiling.

Five things to consider when picking a mask

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) means washing our hands, physical distancing and wearing masks to keep yourself and others safe. But which mask is best for you? That depends on the mask material and the activities you are doing when you’re wearing your protective face covering.

If you’re working out or playing sports, look for masks with soft, stretchy material like spandex and polyester,” said Lori Grooms, director of infection prevention for OSF HealthCare. “Masks with those materials help wick away sweat during intense physical activity or when you are sweating.”

What if the goal is to breathe easier while wearing a mask?

“For masks with the best breathability, look for masks made from multiple (about two to three layers) of tight woven cotton, cotton-polyester blends or linen materials,” Lori said.

Masks to avoid

Some masks can do more harm than good and should be avoided.

“Do not use masks made out of fleece. A recent study shows that wearing a fleece mask actually increases the number of respiratory droplets being released into the air,” Lori said. During this colder season, it’s important that you continue to wear your mask under your scarf or other cold weather gear. Scarves are not intended to provide protection from droplets and aerosols.

During this colder season, it’s important you continue to wear your mask under your scarf or other cold-weather gear. Scarves are not intended to provide protection from droplets and aerosols.

“Neck gaiters, in general, should also not be considered to provide prevention because they are made from thinner material than masks and are ‘stretchier’ materials, which may not assist with trapping droplets.” If your only option is to wear a neck gaiter it should be made of multiple layers or folded over to provide at least two layers covering the nose and mouth.

If your only option is to wear a neck gaiter it should be made of multiple layers or folded over to provide at least two layers covering the nose and mouth.

How to pick the mask that’s best for you

If you’re shopping for a mask, making your own or choosing from masks that are donated, Lori said there are five things to always consider when selecting a mask that is best for you:

  1. Stylish cloth face masksBest fitting: Does the mask fit snuggly around your face but isn’t too constricting? The mask should cover your nose and fit across the bridge of your nose and cheeks, sit comfortably under your chin and hug the sides of your face and cheeks without gaps.  The CDC offers this guidance on ensuring a proper fit.
  2. Breathability: Look for multi-layered tight woven cotton, cotton-polyester blends or linen. Do not wear masks made out of fleece, because fleece may not provide as much filtration as other multi-layered coverings according to a recent study.
  3. Moisture wicking: Fabrics with soft stretchy material, such as spandex or polyester, pull moisture away from your skin, helping to keep you cooler
  4. Stays in place and easy to put on: The mask should be secured by the use of earloops or ties
  5. Long-term use: Is the mask washable and will it retain its shape without damage after washing?

Make it personal: Mask in style!

If you are making your own mask, of course it’s important to construct and wear the mask properly. However, make sure to pick a mask that resonates with you – like a team logo or picking colors that match your clothes or your personality.

When you try on clothes, sometimes it takes a few tries to find something with the perfect fit and comfort. It’s the same for masks.

You may need to purchase a couple different styles or types to find the one you’re most comfortable wearing. Then, rock that mask with style.

Tips for parents: Picking a mask for your child

What should parents know about picking a mask for their child? Children under the age of 2 should refrain from wearing masks and those who are unable to remove a mask themselves should also not wear a mask.

“You may want to introduce the masks slowly, and start out at home with short intervals of time, then take trips that require the masks for longer periods of time,” Lori said. “For young children, consider ways you can include it into play, such as having them teach a doll or stuffed animal about wearing a mask and putting it on.”

Size and fit for kids

Young masked boy playing on playground equipment.

When it comes to the proper fit and size for your child’s mask, the same guidelines apply as for adults: It should fit over the nose and under the chin without gapping at the sides.

“You may have to experiment before you find the right one. In general, the children’s sized face masks will fit someone from age 3 through around age 10 and sometimes up to 14 years of age. But if you child is larger for their age, you may need to try a small adult size,” Lori said.

Keep it fun for kids

The key is to relax and have fun with your child, Lori said. “If they see you upset or not wearing your mask, they will do the same thing. If you make it fun and allow them to choose fun colors or prints or even make their own mask with proper material, they are more likely to wear their masks.”

Explain when no mask is OK

Children understand there’s a time and place for certain things. That goes for masks, too.

“Teach your children when and how it is appropriate to take breaks from wearing their masks, such as when they’re outdoors and at a safe distance from other people,” Lori said. “Also make sure your kids have a place to store their used masks when they are not wearing them and that they have a way to clean their hands before and after handling their mask.”

Want to make sure you’re wearing your mask safely? Learn more.

Last Updated: February 26, 2021

About Author: Alex Rusciano

Alex Rusciano is a writing coordinator for OSF HealthCare, where he has worked since January 2016. A Michigan native, he is a graduate of Michigan State University with a degree in journalism. Previously, he worked as a radio news reporter in Iowa and for 89.9-FM WCBU in Peoria.

He lives in Peoria with his wife and their pets. In his free time he likes to read, run and bake. He freely admits that freshly-brewed coffee is his greatest weakness.

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Categories: COVID-19