What to Consider When Buying and Making a Face Mask

Luckily, there are plenty of places to buy non-medical, handmade face masks online, but it can feel a little overwhelming trying to choose the right face mask for you. What exactly should you be looking for? First of all, consider what type of face mask you want to buy: some are more like bandannas, some are glorified scarves or T-shirts and others are more like the sort of eye mask you might get in a posh but for your mouth and nose. When making your face mask choice, remember that cool features are no good if your face mask isn’t functional. It’s especially important to ensure that your mask covers your mouth and nose safely, with no gaps, so check the sizing of the mask before you buy it. You also don’t want to be touching the mask all the time, so you need one that will stay in place.

Trying to avoid mask shortages for healthcare workers appears to have been the main priority of those arguing against widespread their widespread use. But while the motivation behind this may have been good, such advice may have actually helped spread the virus, thus adding to the number of patients overwhelming hospitals. One of the reasons the CDC’s Redfield gave for potentially changing the guidance on masks is that the corona virus can be spread when people are asymptomatic, and therefore having everyone covering their faces — as has been the norm in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia since January — could help rein in transmission.

Surgical Masks

Flat, rectangular surgical face masks are made of thin, paper-like material. The mask fits loosely around your nose, mouth and chin. Surgical masks are disposable and not designed to be used more than once. If properly worn, surgical masks block large-particle droplets, splashes, sprays or splatters that may contain germs like viruses and prevent them from reaching your mouth and nose, according to the FDA. In addition, surgical masks may reduce exposure to saliva and respiratory secretions.

Some surgical masks include a clear, wraparound shield that provides an added barrier for the eyes, cheeks and forehead. If you need drive-thru COVID-19 testing, for instance, you might see test providers wearing those kinds of masks. They’re also worn in hospital settings where respiratory procedures are performed. Because surgical masks fit loosely rather than having a tight seal, they don’t provide an absolute barrier or complete protection against tiny particles in the air that may be released by coughs or sneezes.


Respirators are made from cloth-like filter material that protects wearers from inhaling infectious organisms. Firmer and more substantial than a surgical mask, the rounded respirator is shaped more like a small bowl. Its edges form a seal around your nose, and mouth and the filtering action removes tiny particles from the air when you breathe in.