Face Masks - Everything You Need to Know
Since the Covid-19 pandemic was declared, face masks have been a constant talking point throughout. The longer the pandemic has gone on, the more focus is being put on the importance of face masks to help stop the spread of the virus. At the time of writing, face masks are currently mandatory in enclosed public spaces in the UK. While face masks are normally associated with the medical profession, many of us had never worn a face covering or even considered wearing one until this year, which had lead to a lot of confusion about how to wear a face mask, which are the best face masks available alongside many other questions.
Are Face Masks Effective?
Various types of masks are now available and will differ in their effectiveness Professor Trish Greenhalgh, Primary Healthcare Sciences at the University of Oxford spoke to the Independent newspaper (article: Thursday 10 September 2020) stating that “many infections are spread by droplets, which are relatively large when they first come out as a cough or a sneeze but become much smaller as they travel through the air. The job of a face covering isn’t to protect the wearer but to block the source of infection (source control). So, the main benefit is most of your germs will be caught in it, making you less of an infection risk to others. My mask protects you; yours protects me.”
Not all masks are created equal, and a recent study by Which? found that masks with more layers proved to be much better than single layer masks, with three layer or 3-ply face masks generally performing the best.
How To Wear A Face Mask Correctly:
The current advice from the World Health Organisation states:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before putting the mask on. If this is not possible, use a hand sanitiser with an alcohol base
- Ensure the mask is covering your mouth and nose and there are no gaps between the mask and your face
- Avoid touching your mask while using it, if this does happen simply sanitise your hands or wash them with soap and water
- Do not re-use your mask unless it specifies that it is reusable
- Remove your mask from behind your head making sure not to touch the front of the mask, dispose of it correctly and wash your hands.
When do you Need to Wear a Face Mask?
Face masks aren’t going away any time soon, and it’s likely they’ll be part of our day to day life for a while to come. The latest government advice will tell you exactly which situations that you need to wear a face covering for. This can include:
- Public Transport (also includes taxis and private hire vehicles)
- Transport hubs such as bus stations, railway stations and airports
- Shops & Supermarkets
- Hospitality establishments (pubs, bars, cafes, restaurants etcs) while not seated at a table
- Establishments providing personal care or beauty treatments (salons, hairdressers etc)
- Places of worship
Full list of places that you need to wear a face mask according to the UK Government.
Where to Buy a Face Mask Online
Since the pandemic began you may have seen the emergence of a variety of face masks, whether you’ve seen fashion style cloth face masks or surgical style face masks it can be quite confusing as to which is right.
Here at Tower Health we stock a range of face masks online for you to choose from, including:
Disposable Face Masks - Available in packs of 50
These disposable face masks contain 3-ply antibacterial filtration layers which offer the wearer increased protection from inhalation of droplets and fine particles which may contain the virus.
They are comfortable to wear, lightweight and breathable. As you are wearing a fresh mask each time you can feel confident that your whole family is safe.
Reusable Face Masks (Fabric masks or Washable masks) - Available in packs of 5, 2 and 1
These can be safely reused once they are sterilized in boiling water and are ideal for wearing daily in predominantly populated areas as a preventative measure in line with social distancing and anti-contagion precautions.
Protection against bacteria, dust and particles through a 5 layer mask.
Child-friendly masks are smaller versions of our antibacterial face masks to better fit smaller faces.
All the face coverings stocked at Tower Health are suitable for the current government guidance and should be worn in accordance with social distancing measures, as well as maintaining good hand hygiene.
If you are unable to buy a face mask, the government have created an easy to follow guide on how to make a face mask. Whatever you choose, this must be fitted to ensure it covers your mouth and nose securely.
Fabric Face Mask or Surgical Face Mask
While anybody can wear a surgical face mask, it is recommended that certain people avoid using fabric face masks.
Can I wear a fabric face mask?
Fabric face masks should only be worn by those under the age of 60 when the person does not have any underlying health conditions. Masks should be worn when out shopping, on public transport or anywhere else where social distancing may be more difficult.
Should I wear a medical/surgical face mask?
While anybody can wear this type of mask, it is especially recommended that the following people only opt for surgical style face masks.
- Healthcare professionals
- Those with Covid-19 symptoms (These people should only be leaving their home if they absolutely must for healthcare reasons)
- Those looking after somebody who has Covid related symptoms
- Anyone over the age of 60 when out in areas likely to be busy (shops, public transport etc)
- Anyone with underlying health issues when out in areas likely to be busy (shopping, public transport etc)
It is important that if you know somebody who meets the criteria above that you mention to them that they should avoid using fabric masks and instead opt for a medical-style mask instead for extra protection.
For the very latest updates and information on the Coronavirus, visit the government’s website here.
The Importance of Washing or Disposing of Your Mask
How often do you reach for the old, crinkly face mask you have worn continuously for several weeks and popped it on? Is this acceptable or can it be a source of harm? Eddie Dandy, Tower Health's resident Superintendant Pharmacist had this to say:
"In a recent report published by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) only 1 in 8 people are washing reusable coverings with more than 34% using them more than 4 times before they clean them. Meanwhile, more than half of people who wear disposable face masks are using them multiple times leading experts to believe that that poor mask hygiene could result in the further spreading of not just COVID, but other germs too."
"This thought process was demonstrated on a recent episode of the Today show when two face masks were swabbed to test for bacteria. It found that the outside of both coverings had a different strain of bacteria, Pseudomonas, commonly found in tap water. According to the show's expert, this would have arisen from touching the outside of the mask with wet hands.
When you consider that Australian researchers found that COVID-19 can survive for almost a month on surfaces such as bank notes and mobile phone screens in the right conditions and current thinking that the virus can survive on fabric and paper products for 24 hours (with variation from material to material); then it is not a stretch to think that if you touch your mask and don’t wash your hands and then touch your face, there is a risk that the virus could be transmitted from the surface of a contaminated mask."
"The WHO recommends the washing of a reusable face mask once daily in laundry detergent and hot water. The mask should be washed on the warmest appropriate setting for the cloth (most can be washed in temperatures up to 60C – do check though). It is always a good idea to place the face mask in a disposable bag if you can’t wash it immediately, avoid placing the covering directly onto a surface and keep a couple of different masks in your house so that they can be rotated."
"In a Telegraph article (20th October, 2020) Jeremy Rossman, Honorary Lecturer of Virology, University of Kent recommends that if you are using a disposable face mask then this should be replaced every day – or at least after every two or three uses. “Paper masks can start to break down and deteriorate meaning they become less effective. The closer the mask fits to your face, the better it is at preventing the virus from coming out. You could wear one for a couple of days, but they don’t tend to hold up very well.”
Face Masks - Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few frequently asked questions regarding face masks and a few myths that have been fact-checked by the World Health Organisation.
Q. Should I wear a face mask while exercising?
A. No. face masks should not be worn during exercise as in this case it could hinder your breathing. Sweat buildup on the inside of your mask promotes the growth of microorganisms. The key advice for those out exercising is to do so in quiet locations. Avoid crowded areas and maintain social distance.
Q. Can I get CO2 poisoning from wearing my face mask too long?
A. The prolonged wearing of face masks can indeed be uncomfortable but will not lead to CO2 intoxication or oxygen deficiency. DO NOT re-use a disposable face mask and always dispose of your mask when it gets damp.
Q. How do you sterilize a face mask?
A. Fabric, Washable or reusable masks can be sterilised in boiling water.
Q. Will a face-covering stop me getting COVID-19?
A. Masks are an additional layer of protection to help stop the spread of Covid-19. Masks alone will not prevent you from catching the virus, and people are urged to still observe social distancing where possible and good hand hygiene.
Q. How often should you use a face mask?
A. Disposable masks should be worn once and disposed of when damp. Reusable masks can be worn a number of times as long as they are sterilized after each use. For reusable masks, it’s a good idea to have more than one so that you always have a mask ready and sterilized when needed.
Q. Can you wash a disposable mask?
A. No. Disposable masks are designed to be single-use. Only reusable masks or fabric masks can be washed and re-worn.
Q. How do you dispose of face masks?
A. Remove your mask from behind the head (using the elastic) place the mask in a closed bin and wash your hands immediately with an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
If you have further questions about face masks, please refer to the official guidance from the World Health Organisation.