Types of Facemask Styles and How to Order the Right Size

There is a lot to consider if you are in the market for a facemask. A simple Google search will yield insightful articles, plenty of places to purchase a new mask, patterns for DIY and masses of people with opinions on every aspect of facemask wearing you could ever imagine. Who knew there was so much to absorb before clicking ‘checkout’? We’re here to break this down to bite-size portions so you can be well-informed before buying.

Bandanas and Scarves

When this whole pandemic started, there wasn’t a clear picture of the infection levels, who was going to be the most susceptible, how it could be transmitted, and how far-reaching it might be. We were all trying to do our part to make sure that it wasn’t going to overwhelm the healthcare facilities, and one of the easiest means by which to do this was to cover our faces, specifically the nose and mouth.

Everyone was running to their closet and dresser drawers for the first thing they could find, which consisted of most bandanas and scarves; things we already had. These weren’t bad items to begin using, especially with the lack of information available. However, this type isn’t terribly effective when you think about the size of most airborne illnesses.

Surgical and Disposable Masks

Once we began to understand better that the coronavirus was more serious than the flu but less contagious and deadly than diseases like smallpox, there was a rush on medical supply stores and Amazon for the quick and easy disposable masks. In part, this was under the theory that if medical professionals, especially surgeons use these types of masks, these must be better at stopping the transmission as well as the contracting of illness.

Data does indicate there is a marked reduction in the amount of biologic hazards spread by the wearer of paper masks, which is one of the chief reasons why doctors wear these types of masks. It is to protect the patient, not the doctor. The surgical masks do not provide a significant quality of protection for the wearer when looking at the inhalation of microorganisms. This is likely due to the gapping around the nose, cheeks, and chin.

Because the mask is not tightly sealed around the face, the air being breathed in is not filtered solely through the mask, thus allowing particulates to make their way around the mask and into your lungs.

A problem that we haven’t really faced in this country prior to this is a shortage of these types of masks. This quickly became a concern when healthcare services weren’t able to keep up with the demand of their staff being able to change out a mask with every new patient visited. This left these workers either reusing or going without the face coverings while helping out their patients. Both of these are seen as dangerous practices and pleas went out to the public to avoid buying these types of masks for themselves.

Cloth Masks

The dawning of a new evolution had thus begun. Anyone with a little bit of ingenuity began making cloth masks out of old T-shirts and scrap fabric; some were sewn, while others were pinned or strategically held in place with elastic bands. People were trying to do their best to have a face cover, while not taking any of the PPE (personal protective equipment) that doctors and nurses need to do their jobs safely.

As time progressed, these masks were being made from all sorts of materials, were being made to more precisely fit a person’s face, included pockets for filters made out of common household items, such as:

  • Coffee filters
  • Paper towels
  • HEPA filters
  • Additional layers of material
  • Vacuum cleaner bags

For convenience of the wearer, it appears that a majority of the cloth masks that are being made are held in place with elastic straps that go behind the ears. Some styles are tie straps instead of elastic but have the same purpose in mind of keeping the mask in place more securely.

Exercise Training Masks

These styles of masks look imposing and do provide some protection, however, they are geared specifically for training a body to use oxygen more efficiently, especially when working out for longer periods of time. The filtration system on them is not set up preventing either the breathing out or in of germs and illnesses.

Without a doubt, there is some level of defense that you are receiving if you’re utilizing a device like this. But you should also consider that masks are supposed to be cleaned and sanitized between uses, and most exercise training masks aren’t supposed to be submerged in water as it will block the filters and the mask won’t work.

As serious looking as these training masks may look, their intent is not protection and overall should not be seen or treated as a meaningful safeguard for or against coronavirus or other airborne illness protection.

Respirator and Half Face Masks

These types of facial covering are significant and require a little knowledge and understanding. Many healthcare professionals utilize them when working with known contagions and in cases with possible transmission of fluids from a patient.

It is important to understand that these masks must form a tight seal around the mouth and nose. No outside air should be leaking in around the mask when you breathe in.

If you have a mask with valves, your breath will be pushed out mostly through those valves and not be filtered. If you have a mask without valves, as long as you have a complete seal around your face, all air being taken in and pushed out will be filtered.

Right now, this classification of mask is extremely sought after in the medical community for its durability, protection level and security while working with infectious patience. But many other professions also need this kind of safeguard because they work with hazardous materials such as:

  • Dust and fine particles
  • Molds
  • Pollens
  • Soot
  • Smoke
  • Debris

If you have been diagnosed with respiratory illnesses or diseases, the need to wear a half face mask may go well beyond the immediate concerns of coronavirus.

Most varieties of respirators out there are disposable or single-use masks. They are not made for and will not hold up to thorough cleaning and sanitizing on an as-needed basis. However, there are reusable facemasks specifically designed for the rigors of daily maintenance.

Full-Face Respirators

There are very few individuals that should be worried about or investing in such a significant piece of equipment. Mostly, full-face respirators are reserved for firefighters, those working with biological hazards, those working with harmful chemicals, etc. For the most part, these respirators aren’t for daily or common use. They are an over-the-top solution for a majority of us with the minimal exposure we have to everyday conditions.

Ordering the Right Size

Unfortunately, not all facemask companies have a universal size chart they are working from, so your best bet is to check out the size chart and measurements for each company and individual product.

If you are ordering cloth masks made by someone else, take a look at their sizing and measurements.

For those of you who are ambitious and are cutting and sewing your own, take careful measurements, find a few patterns that people have tried and recommended, and you will probably want to buy some extra material in case you make a mistake (or two). Many fabric stores have scraps that are very inexpensive and would allow you to practice honing this new skill.