How to Upgrade Your Mask

Updated 11 March 2022

Which face-mask?

Now that the government has lifted all legally-required Covid restrictions, we know that some of us will continue to feel concern and may choose to continue wearing masks, especially in higher-risk situations, perhaps upgrading to one that provides good protection to the wearer even if others around are not wearing a mask.  If this describes you, here is a brief guide that aims to help.

Masks work, better masks work better, better masks properly fitted work best of all!

Masks that protect the wearer (even if others around are unmasked)

Protection if mask fits** Breathability Durability/

Re-use

Sizing/Adjustments/

Examples of availability

FFP3 with/without valve

 

Up to 99% Fairly poor,  unless valved – then Good Somewhat re-usable* Widely available eg from https://www.hivepharmacy.com  Washable, re-usable ones In variety of colours from https://cambridgemask.com/
FFP2 standard 85-95% Better than FFP3 Somewhat re-usable* Widely available eg Boots (large faces), Chromagel.co.uk and faemaskstore.co.uk (small faces)
FFP2 adapted 85-95% Good Somewhat re-usable*  eg  the kf-series on the masklab global website or Savewo masks from hekas.co.uk   Or HARD German FFP2 masks on Amazon
Cloth mask with filter to FFP2 standard 85-95% Varies. Depends on filter Washable & re-usable for example,  from Cradle masks (UK company)

 

Masks originally designed to protect others

Protection if mask fits** Breathability Durability/

Re-use

Sizing/Adjustments/

Availability

Surgical masks  

50-60% if those around unmasked (much higher if all are masked)

Usually fairly easy Somewhat re-usable* Boots, or for small faces, Chromagel.co.uk and facemaskstore.co.uk
Cloth mask with filter pocket and nose wire Varies.  Depends on filter Washable masks and disposable filters Emeraldsolutions.co.uk  have quality masks and filters, in various colours.   Adjustable ear loops.

 

Masks that are not advised

Protection
Any mask that doesn’t fit closely! Low for both self & others
Cloth without filter pocket or nose wire 17-27%
Any mask with a valve where others around also need protection*** Protects wearer only (95%+)
See-through visor Only against splashes. Virtually none against aerosols, either for wearer or others

 

**Note 1:  Why fit matters

How well a mask works to protect the wearer and others depends a lot on how closely it fits your face.   A poorly fitted FFP2 mask may block 57% of particles while a closely fitting one blocks 90%.  Similar differences in efficacy (of 20-30%) have been found in surgical and cloth masks between those that fit only loosely and those that fit well.

Fit affects comfort too.   A mask that is stretched too tightly across your face will feel claustrophobic.

How to tell if the mask fits: To test, cup your hands around mask once it’s on.   If you can feel breath coming out round the edges, it doesn’t fit properly.   If your glasses are steaming up, the chances are that your breath is escaping around the top of your mask.

How to improve fit of surgical mask.   Here is a link to a 55 second video, made by the US Public Health Agency, showing the “knot and tuck method” to help the mask fit better against your face without gaps around the side.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OD-jy7M6tEc

If you have a face that is bigger or smaller than average, you may need to seek out a mask that is bigger or smaller than average.   See the chart “Which Mask” above for examples.

 

*Note 2:  Re-using a disposable mask

Disposable FFP2 masks can be safely re-used.   The US Public Health Agency (Centres for Disease Control) recommends a strategy that involves rotating used masks in brown paper bags. Here someone who wears one every day describes how they do it:   “Personally, to keep track, I have seven masks on rotation and seven brown paper bags marked with the days of week, lined up on my windowsill. I place my mask in the appropriately labeled bag between uses during the day and at the end of it.”

The mask is still wearable if its elastic bands continue to create a secure fit and the material looks clean, is dry and provides good airflow. (Dust, pollen, air pollutants, makeup, skin oils, and inactivated virus eventually accumulate and clog up the filter.)  Switch to a fresh mask if yours is dirty, thinning, damaged, or hard to breathe through, or if it no longer maintains a good seal.

 

*** Note 3, Masks with valves.   Valved masks are particularly good for anyone with reduced lung capacity who may find it hard to breathe through other high protection masks.   In relation to those around them, a valved mask is equivalent to going un-masked.   A valved FFP3 is recommended as highly suitable for someone who needs the highest level of protection for themselves and who needs an extra breathable mask and where most people around them are not wearing a mask.

 

Some reviews

Adapted FFP2 mask from German company, HARD, available from Amazon

This mask was reviewed by the husband of a Friend, who reported:  “My husband has a large jaw and long distance from ear to chin. This mask has an excellent all-round fit and is comfortable, although it was quite snug, thus making breathing a bit more difficult. He wears this mask in higher risk situations.”

 

Adapted Korean-style, FFP2 available online from Masklab Global

This mask was reviewed by a female Friend with a small-to-medium face.   She reports: “ I found this very comfortable for the most part except it is too big from nose to chin. When I look down it pushes up into my eyes. It is extremely good for breathability. I think I might try a child size one to see if it’s better.”

 

Re-usable FFP3 mask without valve from Cambridgemask company

This mask was reviewed by a female Friend.   She reports:

“It feels substantial on my face and as if it ‘does the job’. Knowing it is higher protection aided my confidence. It fits well to my face. I can hear my breathing, but I didn’t feel it was uncomfortable or too difficult to breathe.  It’s not on reduced price anymore, but some of their masks are currently at 2 for the price of one.”