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Mask Essentials Part 3: What to Look For in a Face Mask

In order to spread awareness about the importance of wearing a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have prepared a series of articles designed to provide essential information and guidelines so that you can get the most out of your mask.

Mask Essentials Part 3: What to Look For in a Face Mask

According to recommendations from the CDC, WHO, and public health experts around the world, wearing a mask is necessary when around others in public spaces (See Mask Essentials Part 1 for the reasoning behind wearing a mask). But when it comes to choosing a mask, how do you make sure that the mask you’re using is effective enough to protect you and those around you?

There are a few things you should look for when purchasing masks, so as to help curb the spread of germs and the COVID-19 virus.

  • Breathability
  • Snugness/Comfort
  • Multiple Layers
  • No exhalation vent

These criteria should apply whether you are considering a medical mask or a cloth mask. 



For obvious reasons, breathability is an important criteria for many--masks that are not breathable can cause major discomfort and not only become a health hazard, but are not conducive to wear for long periods of time (which might be necessary for some). Furthermore, unbreathable masks tend to force air out through other passages like the sides of the mask, therefore bypassing the filter and increasing the spread of possibly infected respiratory droplets. Generally, medical face masks perform well in this area, being both breathable and effective in preventing respiratory droplets from spreading.



A good mask should fit snugly around your face, fully covering your nose and mouth. The mask should extend roughly about an inch above your nose and below your chin, effectively “wrapping” the lower face. Medical face masks commonly include a nose wire that helps mold the mask to the shape of your face, thereby minimizing gaps and reducing exposure to germs through those gaps. It is important to find a mask that does not have or has only a minimal gap in the sides of the mask as large gaps can drastically reduce the filtration ability and effectiveness of a mask.


Multiple Layers

Multiple mask layers help to increase the filtration effect of your mask. More layers can greatly reduce the chance of viral particles passing through the mask, therefore providing an increased degree of protection. 

3-ply medical face masks fulfill this criteria perfectly, ensuring not only breathability but high filtration rates. 3-ply medical masks generally include an outer hydrophobic (waterproof) non-woven layer, a middle melt-blown filter layer (blocks virus particles through electrostatic adsorption), and an inner non-woven absorbent layer to absorb sweat, saliva, mucus, and other respiratory droplets and fluids. It is important to ensure that your 3-ply medical mask contains each of these layers. 


No Exhalation Vent

In order to curb the spread of virus particles, masks should not have an exhalation vent. Masks with exhalation vents are designed to prevent the wearer from inhaling virus particles, but fail to block exhaled respiratory particles and droplets. This means that if an infected person wears a mask with a vent, they may be unknowingly spreading their respiratory droplets to people nearby, thereby being ineffective when it comes to stopping the spread of a virus like COVID-19.