Face masks, although used mostly by healthcare professionals, have become a way for all of us to protect ourselves against the novel coronavirus.
Face masks aim to protect the wearer from catching harmful bacteria or viruses through their mouth and nose, and they’ve been recommended by governments around the world as a way to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
There are three types of face masks that people generally use:
- Surgical mask.
- Cloth covering / cloth masks.
Each of them offers a different kind of protection, so we have to examine each individually.
What is a Surgical Mask?
A surgical mask is a face covering that can fit loosely over your nose and mouth.
This type of mask is most notably known for preventing the wearer from spreading dangerous body fluids that contain vital aerosols, but when it comes to wearing one to protect yourself, they only offer a small amount of air filtering.
Surgical masks are disposable and should not be consistently reused because of the natural buildup of bacteria that happens inside them.
What is a Cloth Face Covering?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been continuously advocating the use of cloth masks to protect yourself from COVID-19. However, laboratory testing has suggested that they provide a low degree of filtration when it comes to virus-sized particles in the air.
These masks can be made from different fabrics or clothing like T-shirts, scarfs, even pillowcases. Anyone can easily make their own face mask using tightly woven cotton fabric. Nevertheless, there have been no large-scale studies proven their effectiveness, and just like surgical masks, there should be worn so an infected wearer can prevent spreading the disease to those around them.
What is an N95 Face Mask?
An N95 is the most common medical-grade face respirator. It’s a face mask that filters at least 95% of airborne particles. The N95 respirator has to meet the NIOSH guidelines of air filtration to be considered safe for use.
The standard does not require that the N95 mask has to be oil resistant. It can protect you against particles, but it cannot help you against gases or vapors.
The N95 face mask has a combination of nonwoven polypropylene fabric to offer better protection than a disposable face mask. These types of masks are designed exclusively to protect you from harmful aerosol particles and filter the air you breathe, giving you a much higher degree of protection.
What is the Difference Between an N95 Face Mask and a Disposable Face Mask?
N95 face respirator is made for healthcare professionals who work in a hospital and are in close contact with patients with COVID-19. The N95 mask provides medical workers with a tight seal over the nose and mouth. It filters all the air that it is either coming in or out of their mask.
On the other hand, surgical or disposable masks do not offer the same level of protection. In most cases, these face masks are used to prevent medical professionals from spreading harmful bacteria to patients.
A good way of thinking about it is that disposable masks protect others around you while N95 face masks protect you from other people.
The CDC does not recommend people from the general public to wear N95 masks because they are intended for the people who are the closest to the COVID-19 such as medical professionals and first responders.
[Further reading: How protective are facemasks?]
What is the Best Way to Safely Put on a Disposable or N95 Face Mask?
Putting on a face mask, whether it is a disposable one or an N95 respirator, can be challenging for everyday people and even medical workers because it is so easy to touch your face and spread harmful bacteria.
There are different ways to put on a face mask, depending on the mask itself.
Experts recommend that you do not touch the mask before you wash your hands with soap or a hand sanitizer.
Also, you have to ensure that the mask does not have any tears or holes on either side.
- To put on a face mask with ear loops, you simply have to place one loop around each ear.
- To wear a face mask safely with ties, carefully place the ties over the crown of your head.
- If you have a face mask with bands, you should pull the top strap over your head to rest over the crown of your head. Then, pull the lower strap over the head to rest at your neck. After that, you may have to pinch the stiff part to fit the shape of your nose.
What is the Best Way to Safely Remove a Disposable or N95 Face Mask?
Removing a face mask correctly can be challenging because you don’t want to accidentally spread bacteria or irritate the skin on your face.
The starting point is similar to putting on a face mask.
First, you should clean your hands with either soap and water or hand sanitizer before you touch the mask. Also, you should avoid touching the front of the mask at all costs. That part of the mask is contaminated, and for that reason, you should only touch the ear loops.
If you have a face mask with ear loops, hold them, slowly lift them and remove the covering.
To safely remove a face mask with ties, you have to untie the bottom part first and then untie the top. After that, you can pull the mask away.
If you have a face mask with bands on your face, you should first lift the bottom over your head. Then, it would help if you pulled the top strap and safely remove the face covering.
Each time you remove a face mask, whether it’s disposable or N95 respirator, you should clean your hands to remove any bacteria.
[Further reading: Masks and skin irritation.]