In the UK, we have all been wearing face masks for almost a year, and most of us are probably fairly used to them by now.

But have you actually stopped to think why you wear the type of mask you do? Or if there is a better — a more effective, more convenient, more affordable, more sustainable — solution out there?

Let us take a look at some of the common issues with face masks and the solutions available to solve them.

Problem one: contamination

Reusable cloth masks are probably the most common option — they are everywhere on the internet and relatively cheap to buy. But do they work?

Although any material can provide a physical barrier to infection, it is of no use if the material itself becomes contaminated. Herein lies the problem with reusable cloth masks. People will frequently touch their masks with unsanitised hands, and few will wash them after each use as recommended by guidelines. As a result, people are wearing contaminated masks that harbour germs and bacteria, thus increasing the risk of infection.

A mask made of medical silicone solves this problem. Medical-grade silicone contains ‘silver ions’, meaning its surface is permanently antimicrobial. This stops the user from transferring bacteria or viruses from the surfaces they touch onto their mask or face (and eliminates odour-causing bacteria, too!).

Medical silicone can also be sterilised easily by putting it in the microwave at 600W, in the oven at 100 degrees or in boiling water for just five minutes, so there is no reason to wear a contaminated mask.

Types of face masks

Problem two: ineffective at protecting the wearer

Another issue with cloth masks is they are not tested for filtering efficiency at all. Then you have Type-IIR medical masks, which you would think offer better protection, but even these masks are only designed to protect those around the wearer, not the wearer themselves.

Plus, although Type-IIR masks promise 98% efficiency, this is based on ‘bacterial filtering efficiency’. Coronavirus particles are 20 to 30 times smaller than bacteria, and the aerosol droplets COVID-19 travels in are three times smaller than these medical masks are designed for — not sufficient to capture virus particles at all. Medical face masks also have excessive leakage around the edges of the mask.

As a solution, the WHO (World Health Organization) recommends wearing a disposable FFP2 respirator mask which provides a better seal (less than 8% leakage) around the mask’s edges. FFP2 filtering means the mask is rated to capture particles 10 times smaller than standard medical masks and tested for both inhalation and exhalation. These masks are designed to protect both the user AND those around them, which is why they are recommended for use ‘when entering a room where patients are suspected or confirmed of being infected with 2019-nCoV’.

Problem three: expensive and unsustainable

Unfortunately, the problems do not end there. Although disposable FFP2 masks can filter COVID-19 aerosols effectively, they are very expensive and create an excessive amount of waste material compared to reusable cloth or single-use Type-IIR surgical masks.

Thankfully, there is a solution. By combining a reusable respirator-style mask with replaceable filters, you can drastically cut down on costs and waste — without compromising on protection.