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In order to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, the CDC now recommends everyone wear nonmedical face masks in public. This is especially important in settings where social distancing can be difficult, like grocery stores, pharmacies, and on subways and buses (which are still being used on a daily basis by essential workers). According to Dr. Sten Vermund, an infectious-disease epidemiologist and dean of the Yale School of Public Health who recently published a study on the subject, “many types of masks can essentially block droplet transmission. If you aerosolized the virus it might seep through a lot of masks, but when most people cough, the aerosol released is a small volume and the droplet is a large volume. So if you block the droplets, you may substantially reduce exposure.”
Though nonmedical masks are most effective when worn by an infected person, new studies out of China and South Korea show that somewhere between 25 to 50 percent of infectious people are either pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic. “So if we have widespread, or near universal mask use, then those people are limiting their spread to others,” Vermund says. He warns, however, that face masks are not a silver bullet, and only work when combined with other public-health measures, including washing your hands, remaining at home as much as possible, and staying at least six feet away from others when you have to go outside.
But what kind of face masks do the best job? And if you’re looking to order some, where can you buy them right now? We asked Vermund and Dr. Scott Segal, chairman of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health, for insight into those questions and a few others.
Because there is a shortage, and because they are the ones most at risk, health-care workers like doctors and nurses should be the only group of people wearing N95 masks. That leaves fabric masks and hobby masks, often used for painting or to block out dust, to the rest of us. Segal, who recently conducted a study of the efficacy of different materials used for homemade masks, says that you want thick, tightly woven cotton like the kinds used for quilting or batik. They are better at filtering small particles close to the size of a virus (0.3 to 0.5 microns). “Our general guidance is to do a quick light test,” Segal says. If you can see light passing through the material, when you hold it up to a bright light or the sun, it’s less likely to be a good filter.
Both Segal and Vermund note that your mask should be both comfortable and fit tightly to your face, but it obviously should not be so tight or so thick as to impede your breathing. And if you’ve been growing a quarantine beard, you may want to rethink it. According to Vermund, facial hair can get in the way of how well your mask fits and thus how well it works. Vermund, who recently had to trim his facial hair very short to make sure his mask was fitting tightly against his face, says, “If I put the mask over my beard and it was hugging my facial hair not my skin, then there would be big gaps that particles could move through.”
So trim those beards (if you have them) and check out our list below to find the right mask for you, whether you’re waiting in line at Trader Joe’s, walking your dog around the block, or continuing to go into a job that has been deemed essential. (And if that last one is you, thank you!)
There are tons of tutorials online for making your own mask at home. In a pinch you can do it with a pair of hair ties and a bandana. But if you don’t feel like making your own, don’t worry. Many fashion brands (and others) have chosen to pivot to manufacturing face masks. Quite a few of them are donating one mask for every one they sell, so buying a few for yourself also helps someone in need. Often these masks feature a pocket for an additional filter. Dr. Laszlo Mechtler, Professor of Neurology and Neuro-Oncology at SUNY Buffalo tells us that a coffee filter, a section of a non-fiberglass HEPA vacuum bag, a swatch of flannel, or any other material that passes the light test but does not restrict your breathing would make a viable added filter. Whatever mask you select, our experts stress the importance of removing them the right way. “Try to handle it by the ties or ear loops, not the fabric front,” Segal says. “Wash your hands after taking it off, and then either hang the mask up to dry, wash it, or do as we do in the hospital, put it in a paper bag (which allows drying) until the next use.”
Editors’ note: Given that these masks are extremely in-demand and made by super-small teams (sometimes just one person), stock is constantly fluctuating. We’ll be updating this post frequently with new places to buy, so if you don’t see an option you like, check in later for more.
Sasha Koehn and Erik Allen Ford, co-founders of Buck Mason, make masks using three layers of the heavyweight cotton they usually use to make T-shirts. Initially they were planning to donate the masks to nonmedical essential workers at grocery stores and warehouses in their community. But so far the biggest request has actually come from health-care workers. “The medical community is requesting them for things like sending patients home and going to and from work,” Koehn says. The brand’s original goal was to sell and donate 100,000 masks. They have already sold double that number and have set a new goal of 1 million. Availability: pre-orders ship starting the week of May 18th.
For $25 dollars you get a pack of five reusable masks. Plus, Caraa will donate a pack of five to New York State’s COVID-19 Response Fund. Availability: Pre-orders ship between May 3rd and June 1st.
Etsy is full of affordable handmade cotton mask options, many of which offer vibrant patterns or customizable decoration. All of the above are made using tightly woven fabric and a pleated design to help them conform to many different face shapes. Availability: Most orders ship three to five business days after purchase. (Also, sellers are working hard to keep up with demand, so if a particular mask is sold out now, you might be able to check back later and find them in stock.)
Los Angeles Apparel sells its masks in threes (and also donates a mask for every one sold), which makes it easier to do what our experts suggest and wash your mask after every use. Its thick cotton masks feature an adjustable nose bridge to ensure proper fit and come in a variety of bright colors and prints like camo or leopard. Availability: Certain colors are sold out but the one pictured and a few others are still available and ready to ship.
San Francisco fashion brand Vida is making double-layer cotton face masks with adjustable ear loops. Ten percent of profits will be donated to SF-Marin Food Bank and Food Bank NYC to support COVID-19 relief efforts. Availability: Delivery dates are estimated starting mid June.
Food52 has partnered with Steele Canvas Basket Corp., a company that normally makes handsome canvas products, to sell the brand’s non-medical face masks. Buy one and they will donate a second to medical facilities across the U.S. Availability: Now.
Sustainable clothing brand Christy Dawn is using their striped, floral, and solid dead-stock cotton to make two-ply face masks. Thirty dollars gets you a pack of five masks and allows Christy Dawn to donate another five. Availability: Ships 1 to 3 weeks from purchase.
For something with a little more flair, Disney just launched a collection of cloth face masks featuring Baby Yoda, R2-D2, and the rest of the Star Wars gang. All profits from sales of their masks in the U.S. (up to $1 million) will be donated to Medshare helping children and families in underserved and vulnerable communities across the country. Availability: Masks are available for pre-order and are expected to arrive by July 29th.
From L.A.-based womenswear brand Amadi, this set of two fabric face masks is made from soft cotton for breathability and has elastic straps that secure around the ears. The masks also feature an open pocket for adding a filter. Availability: Now.
Nili Lotan is donating 100 percent of profits from the sale of these striped masks to NYU Langone Hospital in NYC. Your purchase of a mask also helps keep their employees working while contributing to the well-being of some of New York’s most vital essential workers. Availability: Now.
Women’s fashion brand Tanya Taylor is offering sets of three colorful masks made with a double lining of fabric for added protection, elastic ear loops, and a nose clip to secure around your face. With every pack purchase, the company is donating funds to create one nonmedical-grade mask for health-care workers in the U.S. and Canada. Availability: Shipping starts May 30.
Vista Prints masks are made with four layers to ensure proper filtration, breathability, and comfort. Their masks feature adjustable ear straps. For every mask you buy, they’ll give 10 percent to support local small businesses impacted by the coronavirus. Availability: Pre-orders ship starting May 28.
Known for its beautifully crafted (and statusy) dog leashes and collars, Found My Animal has started offering a slew of masks in solid and tie-dye fabrics. This mask features elastic ear loops and an adjustable nose bridge. Availability: Now.
Before the coronavirus, Tilit was outfitting chefs and restaurant staff in aprons and coveralls. Now they’ve added masks to their collection of durable everyday clothing. Each mask is made of recycled hemp and organic cotton blend with non-latex ear straps. For every mask purchase, they’ll donate one mask to a food-service volunteer or medical professional. Availability: Ships five to seven business days from the date of purchase.
Rag & Bone is making limited runs of their upcycled fabric face masks in Los Angeles to support local workers. For each $21 purchase of a nonmedical mask, Rag & Bone will donate $15 to City Harvest and those most affected by COVID-19. Availability: Pre-orders ship starting May 29.
These washable cotton masks come fitted with an activated charcoal filter and are available in five colors. For each mask sold they are donating a surgical mask to health-care workers on the front lines. Availability: Now.
As seen on Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, these masks come in assorted packs of five and feature a built-in nose wire for a tighter fit. Each mask purchase allows them to donate a mask to someone in need. Availability: Pre-orders expected to ship two weeks from order date.
Baggu’s color-block masks feature adjustable cloth straps, nose wire to ensure a comfortable fit, and a pocket for a filter insert. For every pack of masks sold, the company is donating a pack of surgical masks to health-care workers through Masks4Medicine. Availability: Shipping starts early June.
MIT-founded fashion brand Ministry of Supply initially developed its masks for frontline workers. But they are now available to anyone. By quickly 3-D-printing samples, the brand was able to test a ton of variations before settling on a final mask design. Each mask is made of washable woven fabric and contains a pocket for a single-use filter. The price is significantly higher than a lot of other masks, but it includes 10 filters independently tested by Nelson Labs to provide higher than 95% bacterial filtration efficiency. And for every purchase, Ministry of Supply will donate a mask to health-care professionals. Availability: Preorders will start shipping in three to six weeks.
Detroit-based clothing label Diop is making face masks inspired by mud cloth from Mali. Masks feature elastic straps that go around the head instead of the ears for a more secure fit. For each mask sold, Diop is donating a portion of mask proceeds to a handful of coronavirus relief initiatives, including Feed the Frontlines, which supports Detroit restaurants and provides meals to emergency and health-care workers. Availability: Now.
Los Angeles–based yoga-clothing brand Onzie is making face masks using upcycled fabrics from their yoga collections. Masks are stretchy, comfortable, quick-drying, and breathable. Proceeds from your purchase will be donated to health-care workers across America through a donation to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. Availability: Masks ship five to ten days after purchase.
Rendall Co. founder Deirdra Jones has been outfitting the hospitality industry with aprons and other stylish an functional workwear since 2012. Now, like many other designers, she has pivoted to making protective fabric face masks. Each one is made with two layers of pleated cotton and you can choose between ties, as seen here, or over-the-ear elastics. For each mask sold Rendall & Co. will donate one mask to essential workers and nonprofit organizations serving people experiencing homelessness. Availability: Masks ship three weeks from date of purchase.
California-based surf brand Birdwell Beach Britches is making two-ply fabric masks from their signature Surf Stretch material. For each mask you purchase, one will be donated to CORE, a nonprofit founded by Sean Penn that is working with the L.A. Mayor’s Office and the L.A. Fire Department to provide free drive-through testing for high-risk individuals. Availability: Now.
The purchase of two Beyond Yoga masks means the donation of another two to essential workers. Handmade in LA, the masks are washable and feature non-elastic adjustable straps that tie on each side. Availability: Now.
Hedley & Bennett is transitioning from making professional grade aprons and chef’s gear to making two-ply cotton face masks. With each purchase they will donate a mask to essential workers in need. Availability: Now.
Like Buck Mason, Alice & Olivia is also donating one mask for every mask sold. Their masks have the added benefit of cool illustrated prints like this and go for a mere $10 bucks. Availability: Pre-orders ship starting June 10th.
Designer Christine Alcalay is making masks using an inner cotton lining and outer layer featuring stylish prints from the brand’s seasonal collection. They don’t use the same buy-one-give-one approach as the manufacturers above, but proceeds from the sales of these masks do help the company offset the cost of making and donating masks to health professionals. Availability: Pre-orders ship starting May 4th.
These dual layer adjustable face masks feature a wire insert above the nose for a tighter fit. Availability: Orders ship from 7 to 10 business days from purchase date.
Take Care’s precision masks are designed to fit snuggly over your nose and under your chin. The brand claims that this fit should keep glasses from fogging up. There is also room between the two layers for adding a filter. Availability: Masks are available for pre-order and will ship starting 2 weeks from order date.
Though not made of tightly woven cotton, these masks are made in California and support local workers. Plus by buying 10 at a time you’re only paying $2.50 a piece. Availability: Now.
Made by hand in Brooklyn, these double-layer masks are made using cotton bandanas and tightly woven muslin. Choose from pink or black and with or without a pocket to add a filter. All proceeds go help the designer make more masks to donate to essential workers in New York and New Jersey. Availability: Now.
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Every product is independently selected by (obsessive) editors. Things you buy through our links may earn us a commission.
Post time: May-12-2020