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Our Picks for Face Masks to Buy—and the Latest Rules for Wearing Them

By Michelle Baran

Aug 27, 2020

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We are going to be wearing masks for awhile, so we may as well get masks we really love.

Courtesy of Hedley & Bennett

We are going to be wearing masks for awhile, so we may as well get masks we really love.

From masks that are great for air travel to masks with SPF protection that are ideal for outdoor adventures, we have vetted masks for all your travel and around-town needs.

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This is a developing story. For up-to-date information on traveling during the coronavirus outbreak, visit the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

In August, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued updated guidance for wearing face masks to help slow the spread of coronavirus, or COVID-19: The agency now states that wearing masks can help communities slow transmission when worn “consistently and correctly by a majority of people in public settings” and when masks are used alongside other measures such as social distancing and frequent hand washing.

The latest recommendation is based on research that shows that masks can provide a barrier that helps prevent respiratory droplets (which are produced when someone coughs, sneezes, or talks) from traveling into the air and onto other people. According to the CDC, a significant number of people can have coronavirus without having any identifiable symptoms (also known as being asymptomatic) or are presymptomatic, meaning they are carrying the virus but haven’t yet developed symptoms. Therefore, wearing a mask helps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 particularly by those people who are unaware that they are infected.

Note that masks are not meant to replace social distancing and public health measures that have been put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. They are meant to be an added line of defense.

Where are masks required?

While the CDC simply recommends that we wear masks when out and about, a growing number of states now have requirements for wearing masks when out in public. They include California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island, plus the District of Columbia. 

Individual counties and municipalities throughout the country have also issued various ordinances regarding masks (for instance, they are required in the Florida Keys), ranging from recommending them to requiring them. Check with your local jurisdiction and any you plan on visiting for the most up-to-date requirements.

Additionally, all major U.S. airlines now require passengers to wear face masks—and travelers could be prohibited from flying or have their flying privileges revoked if they don’t comply. Many international carriers require masks as well. You should check with your airline for what the latest requirements are before flying.

Face masks are now required on Amtrak trains as well, and as museums throughout the world begin to reopen, many are making masks mandatory. Numerous businesses, too, are making sure people are wearing face masks before they enter.

What is a cloth face mask and how does it compare to a surgical or N95 mask?

The CDC is asking those not on the front lines to reserve surgical and N95 masks for essential and medical workers.

A standard surgical mask is a disposable, loose-fitting face mask typically used by doctors, nurses, and medical staff to protect them during operating procedures and against infectious respiratory droplets. Some of them are outfitted with added filtration, and some have a piece of bendable metal so that you can fit it snugly around the bridge of the nose.

For total protection from a respiratory infection, health-care workers use something called a N95 respirator, which is much thicker than a common surgical mask and is fitted precisely to each user to make sure it is well sealed over the wearer’s nose, cheeks, and down around the chin.

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The CDC is asking that those of us who are not on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic—those who are not health-care workers or medical first responders—wear cloth face coverings and not surgical masks or N95 respirators so that we don’t deplete the supplies for those who are in direct contact with COVID-19 patients and thus are at the highest risk of exposure.

How to properly wear a cloth mask

In order for a cloth mask to be effective, it needs to be worn properly. It should cover your mouth and nose area and stretch from just below your eyes to down under your chin. On the sides, it should cover about half of your cheek area, the CDC advises. It should fit snugly but comfortably and be secured by being tied behind your head or looped around your ears. It should allow for easy breathing.

Cloth face masks should be washed regularly (throwing them in the washing machine will suffice, according to the CDC), and when you remove them you should take care not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth and wash your hands immediately after. Children under the age of two should not wear a face mask.

Where can I buy a face mask?

There are countless companies now making face masks, and the best part is that many of the companies that have rushed to fill the mask void are donating proceeds to organizations working to fight the coronavirus pandemic or to those in need—some are even supplying masks in kind to health-care and frontline workers. Here are some of the masks we’ve come across that we love, both in look and mission.

The Summersalt face coverings come in a variety of colors that change often.

Summersalt face coverings

Buy Now: $32 for a three-pack, summersalt.com

Several AFAR staffers own these simple but super cute masks from St. Louis–based sustainable swimwear brand Summersalt, and they get unanimous approval. The style and fit (catered more to women)  make them very versatile—they would be great on a plane or train or around town. The inside layer is cotton, and the outer layer is a mix of recycled polyamide and elastane (or what we would call “swimsuit-y” material). They are reusable and machine washable and most importantly have adjustable ear loops for an ideal fit. For every set sold, Summersalt will donate a mask to a “worthy organization”—and it has asked patrons to suggest groups that could benefit (you can DM the company on Instagram @summersalt with a recommendation).

Marine Layer super-soft masks

Buy Now: $25 for a five-pack, marinelayer.com

The San Francisco–based purveyor of super-soft tees is making masks from two layers of its trademark addictively soft fabric. These are the tie-back kind (better as backups than for everyday use) and come with a filter pocket. The colors vary. They also sell sports masks ($25 for a three-pack) made from a stretchy, quick-drying fabric and constructed with adjustable over-the-ear loops. In addition, Marine Layer offers the option to purchase a set of masks for donation: $25 will result in 10 masks donated.

The Hedley & Bennett masks are available in a variety of colors, including the red oxford material seen here.

Hedley & Bennett’s Wake Up and Fight masks

Buy Now: $22, hedleyandbennett.com

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, this Vernon, California–based manufacturer of must-have aprons switched production gears to make face masks. When you buy a mask, two will be produced—one for you and one that will be donated to a frontline worker. These are washable and reusable, nonsurgical cotton masks with a filter insert. While the ear loops are not adjustable, Hedley & Bennett has a convenient FAQ page on how to make adjustments for a better fit. If you get the fit just right, these make a great around-town mask.

Everlane’s the 100% Human face mask

Buy Now: $25 for a five-pack, everlane.com

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Our favorite San Francisco–based ethical denim and fashion label is selling these comfy cotton masks with “100% human” printed in the corners “to remind us of our humanity,” according to Everlane. Ten percent of all face mask sales go to the ACLU. They are reusable and feature ear loops. The masks come in a set of five black masks, five gray masks, five tie-dye masks, or a set that includes three gray and two black masks. They also sell smaller versions of the same face masks designed for children ages 3 to 12 years old. Because these come in sets of five, these are great for packing extras in your purse, backpack, carry-on bag or suitcase for use around town or on the road.

The Londre face masks are available in two colors including desert sage or blush rose.

Londre nonmedical face masks

Buy Now: $35 for a two-pack, londrebodywear.com

For every two-pack of masks you purchase from this conservation-based and women-led Canadian bathing and body suit company, Londre will donate a healthy meal to a single mother–led family in need. The masks come in a desert sage or blush rose color, are adjustable (with ties) and reusable, and have a pocket that allows you to insert an extra filter. They are made from what the company describes as a silky, anti-bacterial and moisture-wicking polyester made from recycled plastic bottles and their interiors are lined with organic cotton. We like these for when you simply want to look and feel a little more polished in your mask.

For Days double-layer cotton masks

Buy Now: $25 for a five-pack (includes a donation of five masks), fordays.com

The Los Angeles–based zero-waste clothing company For Days is selling five packs of reusable double-layer organic cotton masks, the purchase of which includes a donation of five masks to essential workers. The masks have a pocket for a filter to be added if preferred and are outfitted with elastic loops that go over the ears. These solid unisex masks are great for every day.

Uniqlo AIRism Face Masks are available starting August 24.

Uniqlo AIRism face masks

Buy Now: $15 for a three-pack, uniqlo.com

On August 24, Uniqlo started selling face masks made from its anti-microbial AIRism fabric that wicks away moisture and comes with a UPF 40 to block 90 percent of ultraviolet rays, making these great for bike-riding, running, hiking, or other outdoor activities. Each mask features triple-layer construction with a built-in filter at the center that retains its efficacy even after going through a machine washer. Available in white, black, and gray, these masks come in three sizes to fit both children and adults.

The Evolvetogether disposable face masks come in black, green, and white.

Evolvetogether disposable face masks

Buy Now: $9 for a seven-pack, evolvetogether.com

If you’re looking for a more stylish alternative to the basic blue disposable face masks, Evolvetogether makes them in several different colors. These masks feature soft ear loops, an adjustable nose bridge for a secure fit, and three layers, including a water-resistant outer layer, a melt blown center, and a water absorbent inner layer. For every black “We Stand Together” mask sold, the company donates one mask to the ACLU and Covenant House New York to help protect Black Lives Matter protesters and homeless youth. These masks also come in olive greenwhite, and are also sold in 30-packs and kid sizes.

Handmade masks

Buy Now: Prices vary, etsy.com

Support small businesses and local entrepreneurs by buying a homemade mask on Etsy. We love the simple but sweet patterns on these organic cotton fleece masks.

This article originally appeared on January 24, 2020, and has been updated to include current information. Products we write about are independently vetted and recommended by our editors. AFAR may earn a commission if you buy through our links, which helps support our independent publication.

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