Unmasking facemasks: Homemade or high-tech?
When it comes to choosing a face mask, there are a lot of options available. In the past months, conflicting advice from governments and the World Health Organisation has led to more confusion than ever on which mask we should be wearing, or even whether we need to wear one at all.
The best protection of course, is to stay away from others and hide until Covid19 has disappeared. But in situations where this is not possible (work, public transport, shops etc), the question is does a homemade or surgical face mask really provide sufficient protection? Or should we be opting for something a bit more ‘high tech’? Let’s take a look.
Homemade and surgical face coverings
With Governments worldwide having mandated the use of face coverings in public spaces, there has been a sharp increase in the production of hand-sewn masks for sale to the general public. The pretty patterns and low prices make these attractive to the buyer, and that’s aside from the brownie points on offer for supporting a small business. But the million-dollar question is, do these low-cost masks actually work? To answer this, we need to look at how coronavirus is spread.
The virus leaves the mouth in large water droplets and disperses into smaller particles in the air. A homemade or surgical mask (generally consisting of one to three layers of fabric) will catch some of these droplets as they leave your mouth, meaning they offer some protection to those around you. On the flip side, this type of mask will not protect the wearer from inhaling smaller dispersed particles exhaled by others, leaving them vulnerable to a false sense of security and subsequent infection. So basically, homemade and surgical masks only have a chance of working if absolutely everyone is wearing one, which in a lot of countries, is unlikely.
So, what about the more high-tech options on the market?
N99 Face Coverings
N99 face-coverings were originally designed to protect against air pollution but have more recently become a popular choice for protection against coronavirus. These masks contain filter technology which removes particulate matter – including viruses and bacteria - from the air before it can be inhaled. Key players in the N99 face mask sphere include Respilon and Cambridge Mask, well-known for their R-Shield and PRO Series product lines respectively.
The Respilon R-Shield is a face scarf with an inbuilt nanofiber filter around the nose and mouth that removes 99% of all particulate matter in the air. The adjustable clip on the back of the R-Shield allows the scarf to be resized at any time to keep a tight fit and achieve the best possible protection. The adjustable nose clip creates a tight seal to ensure inhaled air consistently filters through the nanofiber membrane.
The Cambridge Mask PRO Series uses a unique, triple layer filtration system to filter air before inhalation. The first layer catches larger pollution particles such as dust, followed by a particulate filter which stops nearly 100% of smaller particulate matter. The third layer is made of active carbon and filters out viruses, bacteria and gas pollution. All Cambridge Mask PRO Series (except size XS) have an adjustable nose-clip and toggles at the jawline to help you achieve a better fit and the perfect seal.
The ability to adjust to size is a key feature that sets the R Shield and the PRO apart from lower quality masks. Adjustability is of vital importance as, logically, the effectiveness of any mask will be severely compromised by ‘gapping’ allowing inhaled and exhaled air to escape. The effectiveness claims of Respilon and Cambridge Mask are not unsubstantiated. Both the R Shield and the PRO have been independently tested by Nelson Laboratories (USA) and certified to live up to their 99% filtration credentials.
So, to conclude. If you want something cheap and cheerful, there are plenty of surgical and homemade masks around at the moment (or you could even make your own from an old t-shirt!) But, if you want something that is higher quality and offers protection to both you and those around you, the N99 face coverings are the clear winner. Huge demand has meant these coverings are currently unavailable on the company websites so you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled online. Both products are available to buy at