Face masks have become a part of our daily lives, and in many cases are required to go outside or to enter public spaces. Here are some of the best masks available today.
Like them or not, face masks are here to stay for the next foreseeable while. Nearly all public spaces that have not already been closed require a properly worn face mask as a condition of entry, including stores, parks, gas stations, and everything in between. Not all masks are equal, though - we singled out a few that are readily available and are of markedly higher quality than the rest.
Disclaimer: The following is not medical advice, and is intended for entertainment purposes only. For official information, please visit the relevant pages on the FDA and CDC websites and take care to perform your own research before purchasing any medical-grade product.
The disposable mask has become a ubiquitous sight in this country, and they come in all kinds of colors and variations. The best ones are the multi-layer type with an adjustable nose bridge support, though these look very similar to cheaper paper masks that provide only cursory protection against unwanted particles such as, say, a virus. A good example of a superior disposable mask is the DermSource 3-layer face mask, which sandwiches a filter layer between two fabric layers. The outer fabric layer is a non-woven hydrophobic material designed to repel particles, while the inner fabric layer features a moisture-absorbent treatment for more comfortable continuous wear by resisting humidity build-up. The nose support is a thin metal plate that can deform to adjust to any face shape, and the elastic ear loops offer a snug fit without exerting pressure that can become painful after extended wear. It's by far one of the best options for casual wear; while other mask types offer better protection against airborne particles, this mask requires minimal investment and is the easiest to use daily.
Reusable cloth masks have soared in popularity in the past few months. As more people realize just how expensive it can be to constantly replace worn-out disposable masks, the washable cloth mask has emerged as a practical alternative. Unfortunately, many of these masks are cheaply made and are downright uncomfortable to wear for longer periods of time; to add insult to injury, they're also not great for filtering particles in or out. Our pick of the bunch avoids all of these pitfalls, though it is a bit more expensive than similar-looking alternatives. Prime Direct Brands reusable masks feature 3-ply construction just like the best disposable masks, with an antimicrobial layer designed to help contain the spread of germs. The ear loops stretch out to accommodate a wide range of sizes, but they aren't so tight that they'll cause strain after a few minutes of wear. As an added bonus, it's made right here in the USA.
In general, masks and heavy breathing don't go very well together. A mask restricts airflow by design in order to provide a degree of protection against airborne particles; on the other hand, many sports cause an increase in heart rate and blood flow, therefore requiring more frequent and intense breathing to supply the body. Some manufacturers cater to this niche with cloth masks designed around working out. While there's really no way around the airflow restriction, many of these masks will stay put during strenuous activities and are constructed using moisture-wicking materials. Safe+Mate's exercise mask deserves a look due to its comfortable design, and the mask also features an elastic tension strap behind the ear loops that make it much more comfortable to wear while working out. They're more expensive than standard cloth face masks, but these are much more of a realistic option for wearing while partaking in sporting activities.
N95 or KN95 masks
Some of the most sought-after masks are the N95/KN95 type, and for good reason. Before we go any further, what's the difference between N95 and KN95? It's definitely confusing, as the two are separated by one letter and appear to provide similar (if not identical) levels of protection. Specifically, the "N95" designation requires approval from the CDC through a stringent process administered by the National Institute for Occupational Health, which is more popularly known as NIOSH. The "KN95" designation represents a similar certification by the government of China, and are much more readily available than NIOSH N95 respirators. Both types filter out 95% of airborne particles; the differences between the two come down to the specific tests performed in order to obtain government approval. Not all masks labeled as "N95" or "KN95" are what they seem, though. The CDC has a page on their website dedicated to identifying counterfeit NIOSH N95 masks.
If you're really worried about being exposed to COVID-19, forget about any of the masks above. While they look ridiculous outside of a job site or professional environment, 3M's cartridge-based respirators provide unmatched protection against harmful particles in the air. These are specialized products that require both negative and positive pressure checks to ensure that they are working properly, and are ideally only used in conjunction with professional training and supervision. Did we mention that they look ridiculous when worn out in public, especially with the bright pink/magenta NIOSH color-coded filter cartridges affixed? These half face masks come in several sizes to accommodate different face types, so make sure to do the proper measurements before purchasing one (if you must) along with the filters that are sold separately.