Face masks, or face coverings, are on everyone’s shopping list at the moment, as they’re a great way to limit infection rates from viruses like coronavirus while out in public in the UK. But which give anti-viral protection, which are the best for glasses wearers, and what's the difference between blue paper, N95, and reusable masks with valves or filters?
From bulk buys of disposable masks to wear when caring for relatives or medical patients to washable kids cotton masks and even those for running, we’ll tell you everything you need to know. Plus, with our top ten recommendations for sale on eBay, Boots, John Lewis and Amazon, you’re sure to find what you need to give you some extra protection.
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Table of Contents
To make sure that you get the most out of your face mask, you need to know what makes for a reliable one. Whether it's the type, the material, or how long it lasts, this buying guide will help you decide which mask to buy.
A face covering made from thick or layered fabric is the best option for general use when heading to the shops or on public transport. They are lightweight yet durable, and they cover enough of your nose and mouth to lower the risk of catching infections.
This style is generally referred to in the UK as a face 'covering' rather than a mask, as this differentiates them from the medical-grade masks which are certified to protect against viruses. This means that they are simply designed to reduce the transmission of vapour droplets and are therefore not classed as PPE.
If you're going to be wearing your face covering for a long time, you may want to look for products stating they are made from breathable fabrics or with a percentage of natural cotton, especially during hot weather or stuffy commutes. You can also find coverings with two-way valves to further increase breathability.
Surgical masks are what you see the doctors wearing on Grey’s Anatomy, but lately they've been seen less on TV and more on the streets in real life! They’re the rectangular blue masks with pleated paper-like fabric and are cheap to buy, mainly because they're not designed to last more than one usage.
Filtering between 60 and 98% of particles depending on the product, these masks are best for those who have a cough or for someone who has recently been in contact with an infected person, or for healthcare workers who are not working directly with COVID-19 patients.
Respirator masks are durable and fit tightly around the face, and have an additional filter to the fabric itself to stop respiratory droplets from getting through or around it. They can block up to 95% of both small and large particles, which is why they are classified as 'N95' masks.
Though they are available to the public nowadays, these masks are recommended to be left for people who come into contact with large doses of a virus, which at the moment, of course, is COVID-19.
This means that if you’re a medical worker who visits and cares for the infected, this is the best option for you.
Some people prefer disposable masks as they feel safer knowing that any infectious particles are in the bin rather than potentially lingering in the house. They are best to buy in bulk as you'll need enough to get by after throwing them away after each use, and are usually the cheapest option because of this.
However, reusable masks last longer and are a lot better for the environment. Throughout virus outbreaks, you may notice an abundance of masks thrown on the floor, littering the streets. If this is something you'd like to reduce, consider buying one or two durable, reusable masks.
Reusable masks can usually be washed in the machine or by hand with hot water, and some come with replaceable filters offering varying levels of protection. If so, you may want to check how many of these filters come with your purchase, and how easily or readily available they are to replace.
As you have probably noticed, disposable masks simply comprise of thin lengths of elastic glued onto a paper rectangle covering. However, for reusable styles, there are some features to look out for to step up the comfort – as let's face it, wearing a mask is new to a lot of us in the UK and it can be hard to get used to!
Firstly, look for adjustable or easy-tie ear loops to tailor the fit to your unique face shape and size, which will stop the mask slipping and therefore reduce how often you touch it or your face.
Similarly, a wired nose bridge can help the mask fit more snugly to your facial contours. This too will stop it slipping, and can also limit that ever-frustrating fogging up of your glasses or sunglasses.
If you're buying for children or you think you'll require a smaller or larger sizing than most, you might also like to go for a covering or mask that's available in a range of different sizes.
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The Body Doctor
Disposable Breathable Face Mask
High-Safety and Long-Lasting With 5-Layer N95 Filtration
Unisex Cotton Mask
Comfortable and Soft Masks in a Smaller Size
Protective Kawaii Face Mask
Comfy and Colourful Face Coverings for Kids
Surgical Face Masks
FFP2 NR Masks that Offer Both Comfort and Protection
Respirator Extra Filter Face Mask
Protective and Highly Breathable
Disposable Filter Mask
A Fun DIY Kit to Get the Fit Just Right
Unisex Reusable Face Mask
A Top-Quality Reusable Mask for Running or Sports
Face Masks with Air Filter
Simple Face Coverings With a Valve for Better Breathability
If safety is a priority but you're not keen on disposable masks, this is about as good as it gets. Featuring a 5-layer replaceable FFP2 (N95) filter, it offers protection against 98% of airborne particles and is effective for up to 40 hours.
On top of this, the breathable fabric boasts patented Sterileyes® Antibacterial Protection to keep bacteria at bay and to your mask fresh and odour-free. If washed correctly, you will get about a year's use out of this mask. Not bad for ten pounds! You will have to stock up on filters, however, though they are easily snapped up from Boots.
Available in this adult-sized small to medium as well as large and even kids sizes, these are a good pick if you often find fabric masks to be too big or too small. Handily, measurements in centimetres are given for you to compare against your own.
They comprise of three layers of a 53% polyester and 45% cotton blend, which results in a super-soft, breathable covering. Plus, they can be washed between uses without losing their shape, and feature elasticated fabric rather than string ear loops for less rubbing during long-term wear.
These universal masks are ideal for children, and can help to protect them when they're outside. With several cute and bold colours available, choosing which one they go for each day can ease the transition for children who aren't used to wearing masks.
You'll have to wash these comfy, 100% BCI cotton masks between uses, but with an affordable pack of 5 that shouldn't be a worry. Ideally-sized for little faces, they measure around 15 x10 cm with 6 cm elastic loops.
These medical face masks are the European equivalent of the N95 mask that you hear a lot about. Offering protection by significantly reducing small particles inhaled and exhaled by the wearer.
Though disposable and single-use, with adjustable ear loops and nose bridge, these masks will fit closely to your face for added comfort and security while maintaining a lightweight feel and sense of safety.
These masks consist of not three, but five ultra-protective layers to filter out 99% of unwanted particles, including those associated with dust, pollution, or allergies. The masks come as a pair with an additional 4 valves and 6 filters, plus the mask shell and valves can be washed.
With mesh features and a padded head strap, they also provide enhanced comfort and breathability, so are great for running and cycling. Not to mention, they can be worn in warm weather without making you overheat, and are surprisingly lightweight to boot.
You don't have to be a dab hand with the sewing machine to try making your own face covering, especially if you go for this easy DIY kit! Included is fabric for 6 masks, elastics, and a pattern, so you can completely customise the fit to the wearer, even adding a filter and nose wire if you like.
We think the design of these masks will appeal to kids, teens, and fashionable adults alike, and the kit is a great way to learn a new skill together as a family. Plus, with each purchase, The John Lewis Partnership will donate all of the profits (and the VAT) to NHS Charities Together.
Made from breathable, recycled polyester, this mask is making waves in the UK for its fantastic breathability during exercise. Just as you'd expect from Adidas! It's snug to ensure no slipping yet comfy to wear, and it covers both the nose and face.
Though it's a little pricer than some for a single mask and does not have any added adjustability, it is of a high quality and durable enough to be worked and washed daily. Not to mention three colourways to suit your mood.
Unlike many similarly-available coverings, these masks are made from soft cotton. They also have adjustable ear loops and a respiratory valve, and are a great way to stay safe from small bacteria particles whilst covering a large part of your face.
Due to the valve, this is a good choice for those who'd like a a mask to wear whilst walking, running, or cycling without feeling short of breath. They also come with ten spare filters so you won't need to wash the entire mask each time you wear it, although the protection offered by the filters is very low.
By now, almost everyone you pass on the street is wearing a face mask, and in fact, in some areas of the UK face masks are mandatory on public transport and in shops. But the question is, “What do face masks really do?”
Essentially, face masks are used to limit the spreading of germs and viruses by trapping in infectious molecules from coughs and sneezes. They can also be used to shield the nose and mouth from breathing in unwanted nasty airborne particles, whether viral or from pollution.
These masks can be worn by everyone, not just healthcare workers. However, it’s important that you know what makes a good medical face mask and which variety serves the right purpose for you. You should also keep up to date not just with the requirements in the UK, but if you are travelling abroad as the regulations may differ.
Ordered new face masks but waiting for the delivery? Or worried about running out of masks again? In that case, why not try making your own face mask? While a simple handmade face mask will not be medical-standard, face masks that fit snugly with multiple layers of fabric can help slow the spread of viruses.
This tutorial is easy to follow, and all you'll need to make it is some cloth, two pieces of elastic, scissors, and a simple sewing set. Here are the instructions:
＜How to Make a Face Mask＞
And there you have it, a gorgeous face mask that you can start using straight away!
Author: Annie Speight
No. 1：The Body Doctor ｜Disposable Breathable Face Mask
No. 2：NEQI｜ Unisex Cotton Mask
No. 3：Oscar Apparels｜Protective Kawaii Face Mask
No. 4：Boots ｜Surgical Face Masks｜Pack of 5
No. 5：Honyao｜Respirator Extra Filter Face Mask
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