In my quest for masks that seal well to the face, I find myself abandoning the cloth based masks. A good seal to the face is important because it prevents air from leaking in from the sides. For those of us who wear glasses, seal is especially important because of the way glasses fog up.. The cloth-based masks that make up the majority of the market could be more attractive. But if you want real protection, a mask with a serious face seal is critical.
There are many cartridge respirator masks that fit the bill well. These masks have a facepiece that seals very well, an exhalation valve (which is a must) and 1-2 cartridges that do the filtering and are replaceable. While the two-cartridge industrial respirator has an aesthetic that might appeal to some people (particularly cyber-goths), these are designed for industrial uses and not with fashion in mind. Sometimes they can be quite heavy, difficult to breathe through, and/or difficult to talk through. They don’t appeal much to my fashion sensibilities so I’ve bypassed most of them in my search for fashionable masks that seal well to the face.
One double-cartridge respirator that would be worth considering is the 3M 6291 HEPA mask, which Achooallergy.com sells. This one is very lightweight and the cartridges are disk-shaped instead of cylindrical-shaped. This makes them easy to breathe through while looking less “industrial.” The 2091 series filters are for very effective filtration of dusts, molds, and pollens. Some people not necessarily thrilled with the filters’ hot pink color have fashioned designer covers over the filters, which adds an element of creativity. The 2097 series filters—not available on Achoo Allergy but available elsewhere online—also filter out more oils and vapors. Both the 2091 and 2097 are P100 rated. Achoo Allergy also sells the 6001 filter cartridge rated for organic vapors. One aspect of this mask I appreciate is the ease in hanging the mask around the neck when not in use.
Another P100 respirator that is light, easy to breathe through, and smaller than the big cartridge respirator is the GVS SPR457 Elipse P100. This mask’s replaceable filter cartridges are built on to the mask rather than sticking out from it. It is much more compact than the 3M 6291, but isn’t as easy to dangle around the neck. Many people found this particular mask useful in response to the wildfires that have plagued various parts of the country and were reportedly quite happy with it. It doesn’t hang around the neck as easily as the 3M, however, if that is important to you.
If you’re happy with N95 filtration, which is quite adequate in many situations, you might find the North 4200 Series useful. (You might also find the mask under the Honeywell brand as North has been bought out by Honeywell). The mask runs fairly big—I always wear the largest mask sizes, and I found myself contemplating getting the medium. The face seal is excellent and it is easy to breathe through. From a fashion standpoint, I don’t find the mask necessarily the most attractive, but the large filter looks like it could make a great canvas for designs. Or a patterned or colored cloth could be put over the filter to match or add to any fashion ensemble. It also hangs well around the neck.
These masks are among utilitarian masks that might fit people’s definition of “fashionable.” But they aren’t necessarily the only industrial masks out there that might fit that definition. I will continue to keep my eye peeled for other utilitarian masks that could be considered “mask fashion.”