May 8, 2020

How to buy face masks, according to medical experts


Shopping for face masks? We consulted medical experts on how to shop for face masks and rounded up those adhering to the CDC’s guidelines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised Americans last month to wear face masks while in public to minimize the spread of COVID-19 — guidance which seems to grow more popular each day: JetBlue is now requiring passengers to wear face masks. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order requiring anyone in the state must wear a face mask if they can’t socially distance. And Costco now requires shoppers wear face coverings.

In response, many clothing retailers and brands have turned to creating and selling their take on cloth masks to the public. If you’re looking for places to shop for masks, we consulted experts on how to buy the best face mask for your needs. Some clothing companies are pursuing an additional element of good with their face mask offering, donating to relief funds or donating personal protective equipment to healthcare workers. We’ve rounded up some of those brands using their resources to give back.

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Should you get a face mask?

The CDC has advised wearing a cloth face covering for those out in public spaces, like grocery stores and pharmacies, where it could be hard to properly socially distance. While the CDC recommends wearing a face mask, experts agree that cloth face masks do not replace the need for washing hands or social distancing, and they absolutely do not alone prevent the spread of COVID-19. Most cloth masks will work to help prevent the spread of droplets that the wearer is emitting, explains John-Martin Lowe, PhD, the assistant vice chancellor for interprofessional health security training and education at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. It can help reduce the chance of infecting others if you’re sick, and will not fully protect you from contracting the virus from someone else.



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“Cloth masks should not give wearers the confidence to ignore social distancing,” said Lowe, adding, “If you’re sick or have an infection and don’t know it, the virus will hopefully be reduced by you wearing a mask.”

Some types of masks, specifically N95 or surgical masks, which offer the most protection and are highly in demand, should be reserved for health care workers who are most exposed to infected patients, according to the CDC.How to shop for the best face masks

In guiding the proper way to wear a face mask or “cloth face covering,” the CDC outlined five criteria:

  1. They must fit snugly (but comfortably) against your face
  2. They must be secured with ties or ear loops
  3. They must include multiple layers of fabric
  4. They must allow for breathing without restriction
  5. They must be washable without damage or shape change

If you’re shopping for a cloth mask, pay attention to its fabric, advises Scott Segal, MD, MHCM, chair of anesthesiology at Wake Forest School of Medicine. Segal led a recent study that found different types of cloth affected the ability to filter out particulate in different ways. The researchers discovered wide variations in the quality of homemade face masks, some of them demonstrating as little as one-percent filtration. The research from Wake Forest has not been peer-reviewed or submitted for publication.


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Cloth masks should not give wearers the confidence to ignore social distancing


  • The most effective design, according to the study, was a dual-layer and heavyweight cotton mask with a thread count of 180 or more.
  • A double-layer mask with a simple cotton outer layer and inner layer also performed well, said Segal.
  • Poor performers in the study: single-layer masks and double-layer masks of low-quality, lightweight cotton.

“Some of these cloth items being sold are focused only on the decorative or artistic aspect,” Segal said. “You need to think about the effectiveness and the public health aspect of it. We don’t want people to think just any material is enough and give them a false sense of security.”



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Some masks also allow for the ability to insert an additional filter, like a high efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, filter. HEPA filters are designed to clear out at least 99.7 percent of particulates that are 0.3 microns or larger in size. For reference, a micron, or micrometer, is about one twenty-five thousandth of an inch and designated with an μm. That can add an additional layer of filtration, said Segal.

Additionally, shoppers should look for masks that can be easily washed and are comfortable, said Anna Davies, a research facilitator who previously worked in the Infectious Diseases department at the University of Cambridge. “If you can’t breathe through it very well, you’re not going to want to wear it very long. And air takes the path of least resistance so it’ll just bypass the material and go out the sides,” she said. “The wearer shouldn’t be touching their mask once on, so ideally a soft fabric is good.”

While shopping for a face mask, here’s the bottom line: Comfort, washability and dual-filtration is key. But above all else, keep practicing social distancing, washing your hands and other precautions, no matter what type of mask you have on.



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Where to shop face masks giving back to relief efforts

There are numerous companies making and selling face masks online. If you’re shopping for your own face mask, we’ve compiled those face masks whose listed features and materials adhere to the CDC’s criteria on what you should be looking for, as well as to the expert guidance we share above. On top of that, we narrowed the options down to only those brands who say they plan to give back a portion of their supply or proceeds to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Vida Protective Mask

Each protective mask is made of two layers of 100-percent cotton, with adjustable straps and a multi-layer filter. Masks are sold individually or in a multi-pack. In addition, the company has pledged to donate 10 percent of profits from the sale to SF-Marin Food Bank and Food Bank NYC.

Vida Protective Mask$10.00VIDA

2. Reformation 5X Mask

The sustainable fashion brand Reformation has partnered with LA Protects, an initiative created to produce five million non-medical grade masks for community members. The company is also separately selling packs of five face masks for donation for communities in need (including essential workers). Their cloth masks are reusable with ties and come in different prints.

3. Avocado Green Mattress Organic Cotton Face Mask

The maker of eco-friendly mattresses is making 100-percent organic cotton fabric face masks available in packs of four. They can additionally allow for a separate filter to be inserted. The brand has so far made more than 130,000 non-medical grade masks, and will be donating on percent of sales to the EcoHealth Alliance.

4. Rails Non-Medical Mask

Rails has paused production to produce packs of five non-medical grade cotton masks that are reusable, machine-washable and made with assorted fabrics, including cotton. For every pack purchased, the company will donate a pack to essential workers in need in Los Angeles. Additionally, the company is donating 10,000 medical-grade masks to hospitals in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, New Orleans and Detroit.

5. Micheal Stars Mask and Face Covering

The fashion company is producing cloth masks in packs of two. The reusable 100-percent cotton masks are made with a double layer of fabric. The company is also participating in the LA Protects program, which helps to produce face masks for those in need in Los Angeles.

6. Onzie Mindful Mask

The company is creating non-medical, reusable face masks using up-cycled fabrics. Onzie has additionally donated thousands of masks to local hospitals in Los Angeles and will donate proceeds from every purchase to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. They are also a member of LA Protects.

7. Buck Mason Face Mask for America

Available in packs of five, Buck Mason’s masks are designed to last up to 30 wash cycles and will ship out the week of May 18th. For every mask purchased, the brand will donate one. So far, they’ve been able to donate more than 150,000 masks to healthcare workers.

8. New Republic Cotton Face Mask

The company has pivoted to create cotton face masks in packs of three. For every mask sold, the company will donate a mask to those in need in the Los Angeles community, specifically the West Los Angeles Hospital and local senior centers. The masks are made with 100-percent cotton and are machine washable.

9. Hedley & Bennett The Wake Up & Fight Mask

These reusable masks come in plenty of different styles and are designed to be used with a filter, such as a HEPA filter, inserted within the fabric. The masks were developed with a pediatric orthopedic surgeon and are one-size-fits-most. Each purchase provides a mask for you and a donation of one for a frontline worker

10. Citizens of Humanity Cotton Mask

The clothing company has repurposed their sewing facility to produce masks for front line responders. They’re also making masks available to the public, which are currently on pre-order. The masks are machine-washable and are double-layered with cotton fabrics — you can get them in packs of five.

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