As someone who wears and promotes the wearing of masks, I’m obviously a big believer in respiratory protection. Inherent in a mask’s ability to protect the air we breathe is the ability to direct as much air through the filter as possible. This means that the mask seal around the face is critical. But I’m beginning to realize that many of the masks being promoted for wearing in public fall remarkably short in this area.
Glasses put the problem in focus
What began to open my eyes to this problem (in a manner of speaking) is the way my glasses fog up when wearing most masks. I have only been wearing glasses for the last two years, but I have begun to realize the extent to which glasses-wearing makes mask-wearing difficult. I have had a couple friends tell me they would like to wear masks more often, but feel that it’s not practical for them because of their glasses.
Most masks have a bendable nose bridge that is designed to mold the mask more closely to the face. I’d thought that perhaps my four-eyed friends simply didn’t know how to use these nose bridges. But having to wear glasses myself made me see the issue more clearly. (Sorry/not sorry for all these quips regarding eyesight.) It is true that they help, but they are not perfect, and sometimes they are woefully inadequate. And the problem becomes far worse in winter above the Mason-Dixon line because cold air causes glasses to fog even more—sometimes even walking indoors from outside will cause glasses to fog.
Cloth’s ineffective seal
The problem is that most of the masks being promoted for public wear or exercise are cloth-based. Cloth, by its very nature, doesn’t seal tightly. The nose bridges help, but only to certain degrees. Respro tried to address this problem with its Pro-Seal accessory. While I found it helped a little bit, it wasn’t perfect. Style-Seal does a better job, and it’s currently my mask of choice, but I’m still not satisfied.
One thing I see a lot with cloth-based masks is that inhaling will enhance the seal but exhaling—even with the presence of exhalation valves—will push the mask away from the face somewhat. That means that the first split second of inhaling will cause air to leak in around the sides of the mask, which limits the efficacy of filtering. Many—if not most of these mask companies will tout the ability of their masks to seal, but results often vary. Some that tout their sealing ability don’t do a good job on my face at all.
Cartridge respirators a solution?
This problem has gotten me thinking about cartridge respirators. Many of these provide a top notch seal. Given that they are used in industrial situations against highly toxic materials, they have to be effective. I used one at a desk job for a couple of weeks when the construction in a nearby hallway (apparently using a highly toxic tile glue) was unbearable for me. The respirator was so effective that I didn’t notice the smell at all.
So do I need to wear respirators more often? Perhaps. Some of them feel pretty comfortable against the face, but some don’t. Some leave nasty marks on the face. Some don’t smell great but many can outgas. Many are hard to speak through or be heard through. Respirator technology has made some significant improvements over the last couple of decades that address some of these problems, including the invention of a speaking diaphragm.
For some people, respirators may seem less attractive than cloth masks. Most cartridge respirators on the market have not been designed for fashion appeal, unlike the cloth masks in my links. There are some masks among my links that are non-cloth and have put a strong focus on the seal. I haven’t tried any of these, so I can’t yet speak to how effective they are. Some companies in China also seem to be trying to address this problem.
As such, I am beginning to look upon non-cloth masks to address the problem with the mask seal. I hope that I can find some that seal well, are comfortable, and look stylish.