Unmasking Masks:

Top 5 Mask Tips

Strategies to help make this unexpected “accessory” work for you.




Mask Filtration Demystified

It is common practice for healthcare providers take the precaution of wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves when they perform certain procedures. PPE is typically used to reduce the exposure of the wearer to potential pathogens or irritants. With the limited access to medical PPE, many have turned to cloth masks. However, many have also been wondering what’s the point of wearing a cloth mask that is unable to filter out the tiny size of a virus. That is a good question. 

There are also other factors besides the particle size of a virus or irritant, such as whether it is likely to be suspended in liquid and transmitted via droplet or free floating on its own. For example, viral respiratory infections are commonly transmitted via droplet spread. I.e. the virus is spread through very small drops of things like saliva and snot, which are propelled into the environment via coughing and sneezing. Besides the obvious “ick” factor, this is the reason why we always see recommendations to “cover your cough.” Droplets are obviously spread with the loud “achoooo!” of the common cold, but also could be shared via less-obvious means such as talking and laughing. As such, masks, even some non-N95 medical masks, could be helpful to reduce the droplets that we unintentionally share with the world. 

Mask-Wearing Tips and Tricks

So now you have a mask and are wearing it in public settings, but are having some struggles. Here are some strategies to manage common problems you may encounter. 



Since breathing freely is so important to our survival, it is hardly surprising that wearing a mask that impedes breathing could provoke a feeling of panic. Additionally, many people experience a feeling of claustrophobia in confined spaces. Mask fit, even in non-medical masks, is key for both efficacy and comfort. When a mask is made of material that is too stretchy or clingy, it can pull against your nose and mouth, resulting in a stifling sensation. If the mask was designed for someone with a different face shape, it could be bunching in unintended ways that hamper breathing. While adequate layering and materials can be important for filtration efficacy, there could be too may layers (or improper materials used) if it is also blocking your air supply. Consider a mask that is specifically shaped for the nose and chin, without pulling or bunching. If you have underlying respiratory conditions that make breathing through a mask difficult, please discuss this with your healthcare practitioner (we can help manage your symptoms and discuss options!). While wearing the mask could be one trigger of anxiety, there are many potential aggravating factors and triggers right now. If you are experiencing increased anxiety or panic, please reach out to your support systems and healthcare practitioners. We are here to help (and you are not struggling with this alone, even if things can feel pretty isolating right now). 


Fogging Glasses

If your mask is continually making your glasses fog, that can be an indicator that it is not sitting securely on your face. When your mask is not secure at the edges (i.e. over the bridge of your nose, across your cheeks and under your chin) your breath often escapes out the sides (and right into your glasses) rather than passing out and being filtered through the mask. Try wearing a mask that has a piece of metal or other means of adjustment at the bridge of the nose, so that you can modify the fit to be snug at the nose and cheeks. Also consider adjusting your glasses so that they don’t slip down onto your mask. (*It is best practice to not touch your face… or things on your face, such as your glasses. The less adjustment you need to make during the day, the better!)


Skin Irritation

When your mask or respirator fits securely and you’re having to wear a mask for an extended period of time (such as those of us who are involved in patient care), you may experience skin irritation and pressure points. Be sure to wash reusable cloth masks and allow to full dry after each use. You don’t want to put the same exhaled breath, sweat and contaminants on your face day after day. You also shouldn’t use damp, soiled or potentially contaminated masks. In the times of COVID-19, you should also consider all outward-facing surfaces of the mask as potentially contaminated, remove it via the ear straps, avoid touching the surfaces, and wash or dispose of (as appropriate for the mask type) after each use. Gently wash your face after removing masks. Use moisturizer and skin-protectants as needed before you put on your mask and after you take it off. If you’re experiencing a new rash or flare of a skin condition, such acne as eczema, talk to your healthcare practitioner. Both stress (such as life during a pandemic) and irritants (including some mask materials) can be aggravating factors for skin conditions. 


Ear Pulling

Too-tight elastic straps can pull on your ears, resulting in discomfort, headaches, and looking like a distraught elf. Try a thinner elastic for your masks. Alternately, use a hair tie or string to bridge the elastic ends behind your head, and prevent them from pulling on your ears. Tie-on masks can be a good solution for some people. Whichever option you use, be sure it is something that you can put on without needing frequent adjustment. Part of avoiding touching your face (without first washing your hands) is avoiding touching and adjusting your mask.