How to Choose a Reusable Face Mask

Are you using the wrong kind?

While the Sheldon in me does not feel safe leaving home without an N95 or surgical mask plus a face shield, the amount of COVID-19 waste piling up in the ocean is disturbing. Health experts also suggest that we save the supply of medical-grade disposable masks for health workers. For environmental and financial purposes, I’ve switched to reusable masks.

But not all masks are created equal. Cloth or sponge masks (also known as pitta masks) will only protect you from some bacteria, dust, and pollen, but NOT viruses. In the time of the coronavirus, buying a reusable mask is an investment, so ask the following questions before buying.

1. What is the material?

During the few times I’ve gone outside my property (with a quarantine pass, of course), I’ve observed that most people in my ‘hood use a single-layer, loose-fitting cloth mask. I know that wearing any mask is better than no mask at all, but please say no to hastily-made and single-layer cloth masks. There are plenty of high-quality masks out there.


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That’s not to say that expensive masks are automatically better. I’ve rolled my eyes at overpriced designer masks made of one layer of thin fabric, which will hardly filter any virus. I’ve also seen “high fashion” masks that are just beauty queen sashes that the designer wants you to wrap around your face like a ribbon. That’s a surefire way to end up in both the Sartorialist and hospital ICU. Your best bet: a mask with at least two layers of tightly-woven fabric, and preferably an extra pocket where you can insert a filter.

2. Will it fit well on your face?

See how the loops fit the ears and how snug the mask looks on the model’s face. But don’t just focus on models with chiseled jawlines. Check the tagged Instagram photos from real customers with different face shapes. Read the reviews. Mask prototypes are evolving fast. We now have masks with adjustable ear straps, straps that go around the head instead of the ears for comfortable long-wear, and breathable layers that still manage to block viruses.


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3. Does it have a filter pocket?

No matter how cute or stylish the mask is, I won’t buy it if it’s just one flimsy layer and there’s no pocket to insert an extra filter. Some online shops also sell insert filters that you can buy per pack. There’s a wealth of science-based articles out there that teach you how to add mask filters and what fabrics work best. Read, read, read!

4. Does the business give back?

It’s doesn’t hurt to choose shops that donate their proceeds to health workers and non-profit organizations. In the Philippines, some designers have collaborated with native weavers and indigenous groups to create unique masks.


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5. What designs are available?

Are fashionable masks okay? As a mental health advocate, I’m aware that the entire planet is going through an emotional rollercoaster while stuck in quarantine. But I don’t think it’s fair to call out people for adding a little flair into their face masks. We all cope differently. Many people turn to artistic expression, so there’s no shame in wearing a funny, cute, or fashionable mask (as long as it filters well) to brighten up uncertain days. In the Philippines, we have plenty of local designers and small businesses selling stylish masks. But beware of masks that are more about fashion than function. Safety should still be the priority. Check the FAQs to see what fabrics are used, how many layers, and if each mask comes with a filter pocket.


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Go ahead and choose from the sea of masks that come in pastel, kawaii, jewel tones, handwoven, floral, artsy, and even K-Pop designs. Just make sure the quality is safe (see #1 to #3). If it’s a single-layer mask with a loose fit, I don’t care if there’s a print of the cutest Corgi in the world—I will say no! As for those “chic” masks with intricate frills—like sequins and embroidery—think about all the viruses and grime that could get stuck in there. The mask must be easy to clean. I’ve also spotted genuine leather masks with filter inserts. It’s cool that you look like Hannibal Lecter, but the last thing I want is to smell leather all day and think about a dead calf when I’m avoiding a killer virus.


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6. Do you solemnly swear to wear the mask correctly?

Your mask is useless if you’re not wearing it correctly. I wish I had a dollar for every person I spotted wearing a mask that covers only the mouth and not the nose, on the head like a sweatband, around the neck while chatting with friends in public, and many other wrong ways. Don’t get me started on those who refuse to wear a mask at all. For tips on how to be a decent human being who properly wears a face mask in the time of COVID-19, read my article for Smile Magazine here, or for the infographic version, click here.

Now tell me, what type of mask do you use to protect yourself from COVID-19? On a scale of 1 to bazinga, how Sheldon have you become in quarantine?

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