Can’t seem to find a reliable bespoke face mask? You’re not alone. Many people have invested in countless face masks ever since they became a daily essential. Unfortunately, most of these masks don’t last the long haul due to poor quality and craftsmanship.

To help you find the ideal mask, here’s a science-backed guide to mask shopping.

Why are face coverings mandatory?

Face masks are designed to prevent large and small aerosol particles and droplets from spreading by capturing them when you sneeze, cough, or talk. A good quality face mask can act as an effective barrier, preventing the spread of the coronavirus. Therefore, skipping out on a face mask while in public isn’t an option to ensure your safety.

Which mask should you choose?

Wading through the mountains of mask options in the market today can be difficult and overwhelming. To ease the process, here are some factors to consider when shopping for masks.

1. Disposable vs reusable

When it comes to disposable and reusable masks, both can be equally effective and safe, depending on the material and quality. Generally, disposable masks perform well in blocking respiratory droplets and breathability. But, since you’re supposed to wear them once, they become less effective with each wear.

Due to their single-use, disposable face masks adversely affect the environment, with thousands washing up on shorelines.

Unlike disposable face masks, reusable face masks are more sustainable and eco-friendly because they’re washable. They’re also cost-effective and breathable, ensuring your comfort throughout the day.

2. Face mask fabric

There are numerous factors to consider when selecting the ideal face mask material, from breathability to effectiveness in blocking droplets from passing through. Generally, higher-quality fabrics have a thicker thread and tighter weave, creating a barrier against aerosol droplets.

Some popular face mask fabric options include cotton, silk, polyester, and polypropylene. Despite having some individual shortcomings, all these materials are good at filtering particles. Cotton and polyester, for instance, need multiple layers to increase effectiveness. Ideally, manufacturers combine different fabrics to create a reliable face mask.

3. Face mask features

Face mask features can significantly improve your mask experience, especially if you have to wear one throughout the day. Some of the features to look for when mask shopping include:

Filters and filter pockets

To add an extra layer of protection, buy face masks with a pocket where you can slip in a replaceable filter. You can purchase these filters separately or use a coffee filter or kitchen paper. The downside with filters is they make it harder to breathe, and they aren’t sustainable as you have to dispose of your filters often.

Multiple layers

According to studies, you’re better off with a mask that has at least two layers. WHO recommends masks with three layers; an innermost layer of hydrophilic, a middle hydrophobic, and an outermost layer made out of polyester or polypropylene.

Nose wire

Always buy face masks with a built-in metal wire across the bridge of your nose as they help mould the mask to your face. The nose wire also prevents your glasses from steaming up and closes up gaps where air can leak out.

Ear loops

For many, wearing a face mask for long periods can be uncomfortable and cause irritation. Luckily, you can avoid this by choosing masks with comfortable straps and a snug fit. If you’re worried about tightness, look for adjustable ear loops to maximize your comfort.

Alternatively, buy masks that go around your head instead of sitting behind your ears, but ensure they fit closely to your face.

Although many say any face mask is better than no face mask, it’s your responsibility to find one that’s breathable, reliable, and effective.