Humans and Health

The Ultimate Guide To Face Masks And Coverings

During the past few months of the Coronavirus pandemic, there has been a new staple added to everyone’s daily attire: the face mask. With so many different types appearing, it can be hard to know which are the best in terms of efficacy and practicality. Hopefully, a little light can be shed through this guide.

Surgical Masks

This type is most predominantly used in medical circumstances and is an essential form of PPE for the NHS. Typically, these masks are used by medical staff because they are disposable, and therefore germs are not spread through storage of the mask.  Surgical masks are seemingly one of the most practical types, with the paper being designed specifically to act as a filter in short term circumstances. However, it is important to note that they are not designed for prolonged use and should not be repeatedly reused. They are more effective for stopping the wearer spreading their germs than filtering those of others – they usually have 60% filter rate.

Cloth Coverings

Face coverings will be required in shops from the 24th of July

Many whilst in lockdown have been having a go at making their own face coverings with fabric from local shops. These are more handy for everyday wear, and ensure critical PPE such as surgical masks are not diverted from the NHS. These are different in the fact that they have to be washed after every use in order to remain slightly effective, otherwise a build-up of contamination will occur. Homemade masks offer a similar level of prevention of spreading germs as surgical masks. However, they are not very effective in terms of protection from others. They do not have the same level of science in their filtration as masks designed for medical use. Also, the efficacy differs depending on the fabric used. Arguably, this type is the most stylish.

The UK Government has announced that face coverings will be required in shops from the 24th of July. Cloth face coverings are the easiest to get hold of (you can buy them if you don’t want to make your own) and will meet the government’s requirement.

Paper Masks

Usually, this type is used in industrial and maintenance professions for protection against physical dust created from e.g. sanding and sawing metal/wood. Whilst they do act as some sort of barrier for preventing the spread of germs, they provide little filtration against small virus particles. Therefore, they do not act as trustworthy protection from the virus.

N95 Masks

Think of the N95 as the Godfather of masks, if fitted correctly they can offer up to 95% protection from small airborne virus particles and germs. They are the most effective masks in both terms of prevention and protection. At this level of efficacy, they are quite expensive compared to other masks – safety seems to come at a price. We should also aim to let these be mostly available to health care workers on the direct frontline.

No matter which type of face mask you choose to wear, remember all masks can be rendered useless if you wear them incorrectly or you handle them whilst in use and then proceed to touch your face without washing your hands. Keeping clean is the key here!


Rowan Cothliff


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Featured image by cottonbro from Pexels. Article image by August de Richelieu from Pexels. Both images are unchanged. License found here

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