Coronavirus face masks - which are the best face masks and why?

Unmasking facemasks: Homemade face masks vs high-tech face coverings

With so much information out there at the moment, it’s no wonder there’s major confusion over face masks. Governments have flip-flopped from dismissing them to mandating them in what seems like a matter of weeks and even the World Health Organisation seems to have done a 180. WHO now recommend use of masks in public places, having previously argued this to be unnecessary for healthy people.


So, do we need to wear a mask? In an ideal world, everyone would stay away from one another to minimise risk of virus transmission, but when shopping, travelling, or going to work, this is not possible, and so masks are the answer. The question on many lips is this: what kind of mask should I wear to stay protected? We take a look at whether a homemade or surgical mask is really enough, or whether something more advanced is needed.


Homemade masks and surgical face coverings

Homemade and surgical face masks became popular worldwide at the start of the pandemic, and the recent mandating of masks in many countries has added fuel to the fire. These masks are cheap and come in a range of attractive designs (particularly the homemade varieties) making mask wearing appealing to adults and children alike. But crucially – do these masks actually work? To answer this, we need to consider how coronavirus is spread.

As an infected person exhales, the virus exits the body in large water droplets and disperses into smaller particles in the air. The one to three layers of fabric comprising most homemade or surgical masks generally capture these droplets to provide protection to others in the vicinity. However, it is key to note that the wearer themselves is not protected from inhaling smaller dispersed particles exhaled by others. Wearing these masks may therefore increase risk of infection by promoting a false sense of security in high-risk areas. The bottom line is that homemade and surgical masks only protect all parties if all parties actually wear one.

So, what other options do we have?


N99 Face Coverings

N99 face-coverings have been around for a while and are most commonly worn to protect against heavily polluted air in cities. These masks contain filter technology which removes particulate matter – including viruses and bacteria - from the air before it can be inhaled, hence N99 masks have become a popular choice for protecting against coronavirus. Respilon and Cambridge Mask are market leaders in the field with their R-Shield and PRO Series product lines in high demand respectively.

The Respilon R-Shield face covering contains a nanofiber membrane sewn around the nose and mouth area that filters 99% of particulate matter.  A clip on the back of the R-Shield allows for full adjustability, ensuring the mask can accommodate any head size and a secure fit is maintained for optimal protection. A malleable nose clip creates a tight seal to ensure inhaled air passes through the nanofiber membrane to remove harmful pathogens.

The Cambridge Mask PRO Series similarly filters unwanted particles from the air using a triple layer filtration system. Larger pollution particles such as dust are trapped by layer 1, then layer 2 removes 99% of smaller particulate matter. Layer 3 uses active carbon to block viruses, bacteria and gas pollution. As with the R-Shield, the PRO Series is fully adjustable via a nose-clip and toggles on each side to ensure a comfortable fit and perfect seal.

The adjustability of N99 masks confer a major advantage over homemade and surgical varieties. Ultimately, poor fitting masks will have ‘gapping’ around the edges allowing inhaled and exhaled air to escape and compromising the masks effectiveness altogether. To add to this, both the Respilon R-Shield and the Cambridge Mask PRO have been independently tested by Nelson Laboratories (USA) and hold certificates confirming their 99% filtration credentials – something which cannot be said for any mask that has been made at home.

So, to conclude – homemade and surgical masks provide a cheap and cheerful option and you certainly won’t struggle to find one with the sheer number on the market. But, if you want something that offers significantly better protection against the coronavirus (for both you and those around you), you are far better off investing in an N99 face covering such as the Respilon R-Shield or Cambridge Mask PRO Series. You might struggle to get hold of these at the moment due to high demand, however there are plenty available at