Those of us who choose to wear a mask to protect ourselves against pollution, allergens and other unhealthy invaders have had a growing number of choices in our efforts to protect ourselves with style. Out of this crowd, the Style-Seal line of masks has caught my attention for their affordability, ease of use, effectiveness, and good looks. It is now the mask that I use regularly.
Style-Seal has emerged only within the last year or two. Started by an American entrepreneur in Bangkok, Thailand, the company has developed four different models of masks. Each model has different colors and patterns to meet different needs and styles.
The Style-Seal Air Mask is the name for the earloop mask that they market. I found this to be one of the best masks I have ever used, and this is now my preferred mask. It is lightweight and easy to put on, it has adjustable earloops, and comes in four sizes. I found the sizing guide useful when I bought a mask for a friend—it fit her perfectly. Best of all, it is one of the best masks for avoiding the fogging up of eyeglasses. Many mask makers limit the size of the nose clip to the nose area, whereas Style-Seal’s nose clip extends across most of the top of the face, facilitating a better seal between the top of the mask and the eyes. The nose bridge also seems durable yet flexible—I have yet to have one such nose bridge break.
In addition to the Style-Seal Mask, the company also produces the Penumbra, Umbra, and Bandera masks. Unlike the Style-Seal Mask, these three options are one size fits all, though are adjustable and the fabric is stretchable.
The Penumbra is somewhat similar in design to a neck gaitor, except that it’s not designed for winter. Being a Wisconsin resident, I tried it for winter anyway, and while it provides a bit of protection against temperatures a few degrees below freezing, it doesn’t work as well against colder weather or winter wind. I might find it worthwhile, however, to try these masks in the summer as I am sensitive to sun and the SPF UV 50 material could really come in handy—it is 99% effective against harmful UV rays. The Penumbra can cover the ears, and when combined with a wide brimmed hat, can potentially provide all the sun protection I need above the shoulders.
I haven’t tried the either the Umbra or Bandera masks as of yet. The Umbra mask covers even more than the Penumbra as it is a balaclava style, and the face covering can be zipped down if needed. The Bandera, as you probably guessed from the name, is a bandit-style scarf. According to the manufacturer, it needs to be fitted only once and then never needs to be adjusted again, even when pulled off off the head. It can hang around the neck when not in use.
The masks are remarkably economical compared to the leading mask brands out there. Some Style-Seal masks start at less than $10. While the Penumbra, Umbra and Bandera masks are more expensive, none run more than $25. Compare this to $30 for Cambridge Mask and Vogmask, which don’t have replaceable filters, or $60-90 for an Airinum mask with replaceable filters. This could be a boon for people with multiple chemical sensitivities who are unable to work. Some chemically sensitive people might want to wash the mask before using, but in comparison to other brands, I found Style-Seal to be about as scent-free as most other brands.
One unique innovation of Style-Seal is the easily replaceable filter discs. The discs are about two inches in diameter with one placed on each side of the mask, and fastened by velcro. The mask itself consists of three layers of fabric, with a middle layer serving as a barrier that forces all air to pass through the filters. I thought that this might make the mask more difficult to breathe through, but I found that not to be the casel—even with the largest size mask, the filter discs still cover the majority of the mask’s surface area.
In addition to four styles of masks, Style-Seal offers the largest variety of filters of any mask I’ve seen—eight in total. They are at four levels of filtration: 80, 90, 95 and 99, and this refers to the percentage of the particles filtered out. The filters at 80 and 90% filtration can be bought with or without a carbon filter, while the filers at 95 and 99% can be bought with or without silver additives that increase resistance to germs. The filters, when purchased separately, come in sets of ten. The outer ring of the filters make it easy to distinguish from each other. The filters have been independently tested at Nelson Labs.
Where this variety could potentially come in handy is with the ease of breathing through the mask. While the N95 filters of most masks have been relatively easy for me to breathe through with most masks—with this also being true of the Style-Seal mask—some people have more difficulties breathing through masks. Many of the masks on the market today have a minimum N95 rating, but for some people 95% may provide too much breathing resistance. If 80% or 90% filtration is sufficient for the job and makes breathing easier, this might make mask-wearing more feasible for more people. But even the 95% filter was easy to breathe through compared to many other brands of N95 masks. While the filters are geared towards specific US AQI scales, I would say that your results may vary, and you should use whatever filtration level feels most effective for you.
Like the masks themselves, the filters are remarkably economical and come ten to a pouch—good enough for five uses, and range in price from $2-5. Even with such filters lasting 1-2 weeks, this is still much, much cheaper than expensive replacement filters for the most prominent masks on the market—not to mention the masks that come with no replacement filter at all. The filters take up little room, so it’s easy to carry spare filters and it’s easy to replace old filters in seconds.
I had concerns that buying from a Thailand-based company would mean long shipping times, but this, surprisingly, was not the case at all. In addition to Thailand, Style-Seal has distributors in the United States and Vietnam. I have made several orders and most have arrived in little more than a week. I have found the customer service to be excellent, and very responsive to any issues that might arise with the order.
Style-Seal might not be found on fashion runways any time soon, or have a fashion designer put out a special edition mask that would cost three figures. Nor do they strike me as a company that would seek endorsements from cutting edge musicians or club DJs. (Though I could be mistaken.) Instead, they simply put out a high-quality product that is effective, easy to use, affordable and looks good. And that’s enough to sell me on their product.