By Angelica Bottaro

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to make waves throughout the world, but with the widespread lockdowns, it appears that there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. Many economies are reopening, and things are returning to a ‘new’ normal. With this new normality comes proposed and continued social distancing, changes in operations for many businesses, and of course, the mandatory face mask.

Face coverings are now required in most countries to help stop the spread of the virus as people slowly reopen their doors and social and professional gatherings resume. The masks work by trapping any droplets that could be released into the air when a person sneezes, coughs, or even talks.

When these droplets have nowhere to go, they can’t spread. There is much debate on whether or not these masks are really doing what they’re supposed to, though. 

Capitalising On COVID-19

Clothing stores and fashion designers have taken the current pandemic as an opportunity to increase sales. After all, when retailers were forced to close their doors, they lost out on a lot of money they would have made otherwise. With everyone now required to wear masks, it’s only good sales acumen to get in on the act and start making stylish ones appealing to the individual styles of their loyal customers.

Stores that offer stylish face masks do so at a range of prices and materials. Some retailers have gone down a charitable route by donating funds from sales to benefit those suffering from COVID-19. Playmobile UK, for example, created a line of masks that are reusable, easy to clean, and a portion of every sale goes to a charity for frontline workers.

What Does The Science Say?

One study published by BMJ (British Medical Journal) pointed to the efficacy of cloth masks and found that they weren’t all that great—but there’s a catch. The study in question tested the cloth masks using frontline health workers in high-risk areas such as the hospital. These healthcare professionals were more likely to get sick when using cloth masks as opposed to medical-grade options. However, it’s not the full picture as they were wearing them in a place where the risk of catching the virus was much higher than, say, shopping for groceries.

The New England Journal of Medicine published the findings of an experiment called the Visualising Speech-Generated Oral Fluid Droplets with Laser Light Scattering, painting a different picture entirely. The researchers tested the number of droplets released from people while they said, “Stay Healthy!” and found that the ones with wet cloths over their mouths had their droplets contained. This showed that even though the cloth masks may not have the same protection value as a medical-grade mask, they’re doing what they need to be doing: trapping droplets.

Are All Cloth Masks The Same?

The layers in your cloth mask can make all the difference when it comes to the level of safety. This was proven in a study performed by Raina Macintyre, MBBS, PhD at the Kirby Institute in Australia. She found that although a mask with one layer did stop droplets, those with two to three layers did a much better job.

This means that even the cutest and most expensive masks could be inferior products when it comes to stopping the spread of COVID-19.

How To Choose The Right Cloth Mask For You

Since there are a plethora of options available, choosing the right mask can be a little tricky. If you’re fashion-forward and looking for something to match outfits, find a set that is a little cheaper and style them to your clothing. The cost of a mask doesn’t really factor into safety.

The best bet is to choose a double-layered face mask that suits both your budget and style. A few places that offer up layers and beauty in their face masks include Everlane, Revolve, and Not Just Clothing. Not Just Clothing is self-proclaimed as the “best face masks the UK has to offer right now.” They’re fully customisable: you can personalise the mask by choosing colours, adding your initials, or a full word to the side. They also donate 50% of the proceeds from each one sold to the Masks for NSH Heroes Initiative, making them the number one contender in my book!  

Although cloth masks aren’t as safe as the medical grade N95 masks, they are still far superior to no mask at all. They can trap droplets, leading to less risk of transmission and less community spread. So do your bit, pull on a cute mask. It will do the job for the most part, but choosing one with multiple layers will help keep everyone safe.