Which face mask should you buy?

Face masks became a matter of common sense in Asia after the 2002 Sars epidemic. They were no longer an indicator of disease and more akin to putting on a jacket when it’s cold. Now, masks are becoming mandatory around the world as one of the measures to slow the transmission of coronavirus. Should you buy one? Is it a fashion accessory? And now mainstream brands are making masks, are they here to stay?
The guidance on wearing masks in the UK has changed since the beginning of lockdown. A growing body of research indicates that wearing masks – even if they’re not closely fitted or medical grade – can slow the spread of viral loads by up to 80 per cent. On May 11, the government released guidelines recommending people cover their faces indoors, such as on public transport or in shops. Even so, YouGov polling found that UK face mask usage only saw a modest increase from 13 per cent to 18 per cent by mid-May.

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The history of wearing masks as a barrier against disease goes back to the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic and outbreaks in Japan from the 1930s. Sales spiked again in the middle of the twentieth century and in 2003, more countries adopted the practice as Sars, and swine flu several years later, made it more taboo to not be wearing a face mask than wearing one.
More recent is the trend for incorporating face masks into fashion, as Chinese designers brought them to runways after 2014, when air pollution levels started to rise in many cities. Masks quickly became an important element of streetwear in Asia. Brands like Off White and high end online retailers such as SSENSE sold masks designed to complement an outfit, and maybe protect you from pollutants. K-pop stars are also frequently spotted wearing surgical face masks, which has spurred their popularity. When many of them started wearing black face masks, that trend spread amongst young fans too.
Individual brands aren’t necessarily as popular as the place where you buy masks from. Taobao, a Chinese online retailer, has sold hundreds of thousands of face masks per day for the last year. In two days in January alone it sold 80 million masks. Popular brands in the region include Airpop, Totobobo and Vogmask, which saw an uptick in demand when forest fires were raging in Australia and California. Both Tecmask’s cotton masks and Pitta Mask’s sleek, polyurethane masks have been popular in Japan. Vogmask and Airpop have taken stores offline or told customers to expect delays as a result of increased demand. It’s more likely that Europe and the US will begin to anoint its own mask brands.
In the UK, a mix of shifting guidelines from the government, alongside a greater uptake by individuals could be the key to persuading more of us to wear masks day-to-day. “People look to each other in terms of finding out what the right thing to do is, and those signals need to be strong enough so that it becomes a self reinforcing mechanism,” says Sander van der Linden, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Cambridge. He suggests that further official advice, together with seeing politicians and celebrities adopting face masks, could help to change social norms.

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Masks aren’t exactly in abundant supply, and news stories about PPE shortages for frontline workers has led to some confusion about what the correct stance is. Unless you regularly come into contact with many people who could have Covid-19, a medical-grade N95 mask isn’t necessary. If you have old t-shirts or fabric at home you can make your own face mask. If you don’t feel like a DIY project, then you can still find some masks made online, many of which are reusable or disposable after a couple of wears. Here’s our pick.
Adidas Face Cover

Adidas’s face mask comes in packs of three, in a classic black with the familiar tri-stripe logo on the side. The construction is a mix of polyester and elastane, with two layers of eco material Primegreen – a soft and breathable, high-performance recycled fabric free from virgin plastic – for added protection, while the elastic strap bands around the ears help the mask cling to the face. Of course, this is not certified as personal protection equipment, but the good news is they’re machine washable, so can be used daily on rotation.
Price: £13 | Adidas

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Nike Strike Snood

Adidas isn’t the only sportswear brand that has spied the market for face coverings, although, in this case, Nike hasn’t made these garments for the current pandemic (these snoods are sometimes called the Bane Mask). The Nike Strike Snood, often used by footballers, is made of a soft fleece with Nike’s “Dri-FIT” tech that wicks sweat and so makes it easier to wear over long periods of time. The Strike comes in a range of sizes, covering your ears and neck fully. The material around the mouth has tiny holes, so it’s very breathable. A locking drawcord on the back means you can create a custom fit to keep the snood in place.
Price: £17 | Nike | Amazon
Copper Clothing
A whole body of research demonstrates that copper seems to be an effective material to use for warding off disease – even before this pandemic. Copper ions are released when microbes come into contact with the substance. These ions create holes in the bacterial cell membrane or disrupt the viral coat, destroying the DNA and RNA inside. What does this mean? Copper alloys can kill superbugs, including MRSA. These face masks are called face barriers, and the fabric is infused with copper ions. They’re machine washable, and come with a filter, and while Copper Clothing recommends measuring your face for the best fit, each mask also has a toggle you can use to adjust the size and make sure it actually fits.
Price: £23 | Copper Clothing
Casetify Reusable Cloth Mask

Casetify usually makes phone cases, but the company has switched to making face masks in four colours. The masks have a cotton outer layer, and are sculpted to fit the face closely. These aren’t just cotton masks, but are made of five layers of fabric, including a layer for a filter. They come with 2 PM 2.5 carbon filters (this is the size of common carbon particulates) and you can buy ten at a time from the Casetify store. Every purchase also includes the cost of donating a medical grade mask (or several) to frontline health workers.
Price: £12 | Casetify
Paisie non-surgical face mask

Paisie’s masks have proven so popular that they sell out almost instantly after they add new stock. If you’re willing to wait until mid June to receive your mask (and maybe use a DIY version at home until then), then you can pre-order one of their non-surgical masks, which comes in four colours. They’re all made of cotton offcuts from Paisie’s studios, and have two layers so you can insert your own filter into the mask (they don’t come with a filter). These masks also have wiring around the nose, and the elastic straps around the ears have toggles to make them fit more snugly. Paisie recommends washing them at 30 degrees after every use.
Price: £6 | Paisie
Wolford Classic Mask

Wolford’s clothes are usually stocked on Net-A-Porter, but they’ve made a sleek mask in three colorways. Constructed from a mix of polyester and elastane, these masks are reinforced with aluminium underwriting to maintain a close fit. The black colour has to be bought two at a time, but the lace mask (which isn’t just lace but an overlay on top of the black face mask) and the ‘script’ face mask can be bought individually. They’re also water repellent and double layered. Wolford recommends washing them at 60 degrees, and should be at your door about four days after you order them. One last hygienic measure, before packaging Wolford masks are treated with UV light to kill bacteria, viruses and germs.
Price: £20 | Wolford
Vistaprint RFS masks
Out of all the brands to have turned to face masks, Vistaprint might be the most unlikely – the company usually makes products for small businesses, such as foam lettering. It now sells a range of washable face masks, including smaller ones for kids. Along with impressive variety in terms of patterns and colours, the masks have wiring in the nose bridge and adjustable straps so that it can be moulded more closely to the face. While there is an inner layer of cotton, there’s also a pocket in which to place a filter, which Vistaprint sells separately in packs.
Price: £17 | Vistaprint
Edeline Lee

Edeline Lee has been featured in Vogue, which may explain why their masks are a little different from most of the others you would find online. They’re cut from an original Edeline Lee pattern, and a pack of three costs £40. These masks are made of spunbond polypropylene – which is a breathable fabric often used to make surgical masks (note: these masks aren’t medical grade). They fit close to the face, and also have a bendable wire piece on the nose for a better fit. One of the elastic straps to keep the mask on stretches around the back of the head while the other fits around the neck (which may be better for those who wear glasses). The brand recommends washing them (for up to 10 washes at 60 degrees), or disinfecting after use and leaving the masks out in the open air.
Price: £40 | Edeline Lee
Henri Lloyd
The British brand Henri Lloyd has turned its manufacturing expertise – usually reserved for sailing clothing – towards making face masks. One is a classic design, made of polyester with elastic straps that go around the ears. They’re available in packs of five, and are machine washable, after every use. The other is a ‘tube’ face mask, which mimics the shape of a snood and is made with lycra for elasticity. Two of these masks retail for £30, and also include a pack of filters. Henri Lloyd also sells a pack of 10 masks and filters together, as well as a pack of five filters by themselves. Twenty per cent of the profits from any of these masks go towards charity.
Price: From £12 | Henri Lloyd
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