Although masks have only become commonplace recently due to the mandates introduced with COVID, there are many reasons past COVID-19 that make them handy devices.
While many people are looking forward to the end of the pandemic as a time when we can finally doff our masks for good, at AirPop, we don't believe it's this simple. While COVID is inarguably the most critical reason to wear a mask currently, they are very beneficial in a range of other circumstances too.
There are many important reasons to wear a mask and some less critical, minor reasons that many people have recently discovered. We believe that masks will remain essential devices for many individuals due to the protection they provide from airborne pollutants. However, many people have also grown fond of the privacy that masks offer on top of this.
Therefore, today we want to discuss some of the key reasons for donning masks post-COVID. We've already covered many topics regarding masks and when they should be worn. If you're looking for more detailed information regarding a specific reason, please feel free to refer to the articles that will be linked.
However, if you are wondering if it's worth keeping hold of some masks or considering purchasing some for the future, this list will provide many reasons why this is a great choice. Although masks became common during COVID, many people were already donning them regularly before the pandemic. These are the reasons why.
To Prevent the Spread of Sickness
As someone who has lived in Asia for many years, the use of masks to prevent the spread of sickness stood out instantly. No matter what time of year it is, you can hop on the Seoul Metro and find some individuals wearing surgical masks. These masks are worn as a courtesy to help prevent anyone sharing the space from catching their sickness.
While many people still view masks as devices that protect the wearer, they are equally helpful for filtering exhaled particles - especially droplets containing viruses alongside bacterial particles.
This is called source control, and it has gained a lot of attention due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, even past the pandemic, it’s instrumental in preventing the spread of illnesses. Typically, surgical masks will be used for this purpose as they have an appropriate level of filtration to catch larger droplets (1).
With that being said, while surgical masks are usually used for this purpose, certified respirators are significantly more effective. A correctly-fitted respirator will offer far higher filtration of outgoing particles. While expelled respiratory particles are usually larger, and a respirator may be overkill, the superior sealing of a respirator, as opposed to a surgical mask, can provide a significant advantage.
On top of this, respirators (that don’t use a valve) provide two-way filtration. This ensures that while you are filtering your own exhaled breath, you are also protecting yourself from other hazards such as other’s respiratory secretions, air pollution, allergens, and more.
Consider donning a mask or respirator during flu season and other times when sicknesses are at their peak. These can not only help protect you but also others that you are in close contact with. This is especially helpful if you take public transport regularly or work in close contact with other people.
Not only this, but it’s an appreciated courtesy to do everything you can to consolidate the sickness. Masks may seem to have a limited impact if only worn by infected individuals, but they can be surprisingly effective at preventing the spread of viruses via exhaled particles.
A 2013 study (2) found that wearing surgical masks reduced viral copy numbers in exhaled particles by 2.8 times (fine particles) and 25 times (coarse particles). This is a significant drop in viral copy numbers and shows just how effective even surgical masks can be at reducing the spread of viruses.
This effectiveness is even more apparent when both the infected and susceptible don a mask. If both parties don a surgical mask, the chance of infection after 20 minutes is around 15% at a distance of 1.5m. If just the susceptible individual dons an FFP2 respirator, this risk drops to 1.5% (3). While this test was focused on COVID, it shows how effective masks are at reducing the spread of viral diseases.
It also shows why you might want to consider donning a mask during flu season even if you aren’t infected. Getting the flu is never a pleasant experience, and simply donning a surgical mask (and more so, a respirator) can greatly reduce your chances of becoming sick.
To Filter Allergens
We dedicated a whole article to allergy season and everything you need to know about it. Everything you need to know was covered, from the most common allergens to their particle sizes and whether or not masks are effective against allergens.
However, it’s also worth discussing in this article because despite high-filtration masks and respirators being highly effective against allergens, especially hay fever, these devices are still not commonly used for this purpose.
It’s worth noting that masks aren’t the perfect solution when it comes to allergies. Many individuals who suffer from allergies experience eye discomforts, and masks can’t do anything to prevent these symptoms.
What masks can do, is prevent or reduce the severity of symptoms experienced by allergic individuals (1). A study done in Japan found that “avoidance of pollen by the use of a face mask is possible to some extent”. However, this test was carried out using surgical masks, and it was noted that wind significantly decreased the effectiveness of the devices.
However, if sealed correctly, a well-fitting respirator won’t suffer from these same drawbacks. Since the pollen particles that cause hay fever are typically very large (in comparison to smaller pollutants such as PM2.5), respirators have little difficult filtering these irritating and potentially harmful particles.
With that being said, masks and respirators can trap pollen particles and carry them inside when the user doffs the mask. To avoid this, it’s important to doff the mask and dispose of it in a contained environment or wash it as you would your clothes.
Another helpful tip is to store used masks in sealed plastic bags. This will contain any pollen particles that may still be attached to the mask after washing.
While this section has been focused on pollen due to the prevalence of hay fever, nearly all allergens are filterable by respirators. Most allergens tend to be bigger in particle size than ultrafine particles that respirators are also effective against.
If you suffer from allergies, consider investing in some masks. If you are unsure what masks will work best or if masks will help you, make sure to consult with a medical professional.
To Protect Yourself from Air pollution
For many people, air pollution is the most important reason outside of COVID to don a respirator. However, I would argue that air pollution is as important to protect ourselves from even during the ongoing pandemic. We recently put together an article discussing why air pollution is such a severe issue, and we recommend that you read it for complete details.
However, the key takeaway is that air pollution is highly damaging to our bodies in an untold number of ways. The impacts of airborne pollutants on human health are still being researched and discovered today. Even with research still being carried out, air pollution is linked to hundreds of conditions and illnesses.
Not only does air pollution decrease cognitive performance in the short term, but it can also lead to dementia, depression, and even suicide (for sources, please refer to the above article). On top of this, it can lead to many cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases. In short, it’s a highly worrying issue that we need to be aware of.
When it comes to airborne pollutants, fine and ultrafine particles such as PM2.5 and PM1 are generally considered the most dangerous. Luckily, high-filtration respiratory protection devices are capable of filtering these tiny particles.
A certified high-filtration mask or respirator is essential when it comes to air pollution. Where respiratory droplets and allergens tend to be much larger, these airborne pollutants are far smaller. On top of this, since they’re also very harmful, it’s vital to ensure that you are being protected.
Most respirators are tested against particles 0.3μm in diameter. However, some third-party testing is carried out using smaller particles merely 0.1μm in diameter. Since PM2.5 particles are 2.5μm and PM1 is 1μm, respirators are highly effective at filtering these particles and even smaller pollutants.
Since these pollutants are tiny, a well-fitting device is essential. Any gaps in a respirator’s seal will allow fine and ultrafine particles to enter the mask without being filtered. While the fit is always vital for protection, it’s especially critical in this case.
Since air pollution requires us to keep our masks and respirators donned for long periods at high regularity, it’s vital to find a comfortable device that doesn’t cause unnecessary pain or discomfort after long periods of wear.
There is no denying that air pollution is an issue that needs global focus and efforts to reduce. Respirators aren’t ideal - unless they are fitted correctly, particles can pass through. They can also be uncomfortable to wear. However, respirators are our best option in the shorter term - they’re the only way we can protect ourselves while out and about and, therefore a key reason to wear masks post-COVID.
To Filter Smells
While this is dependent on the mask and odour in question, respirators can help filter many unwanted smells. This can come in handy in various situations, from more severe conditions to preventing unwanted odours on public transport. So there isn’t really a downside to filtering odours!
The catch is that typical masks won’t filter all smells. For example, sulfur has a molecule diameter of 0.0004μm and can therefore easily pass through many N95 (and equivalent) respirators. On the other hand, particles from smoke tend to be much more easily filterable due to their larger size (1). So while typical masks are effective against some smells, they won’t filter other odours.
Many masks will also add other filtering components to prevent odours from reaching the wearer - or at least from reaching the wearer in full strength. For example, activated carbon is used by many mask manufacturers to reduce and prevent VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and many odours.
While some masks will naturally be more effective than others, these carbon layers can typically remove smells for a few days of use. Some masks with lower concentrations or thinner carbon filters may not filter smells as effectively as masks with larger carbon filters.
I’ve had experiences with masks where I couldn’t smell my own perfume. However, as soon as I doffed the device, I was instantly hit with a strong perfume smell. This amazed me because it showed how effective carbon filters could reduce or remove some odours.
To Provide Wildfire Protection
During wildfires, respirators become an essential item. While technically, this could fit under the air pollution section, it’s worth discussing wildfires separately because these events can cause severe damage via high pollutant concentrations in a short period.
We recently put together a whole article dedicated to wildfires, respirators, and everything in between. If you are looking for the full details regarding when to don a mask, and what protection to expect, please refer to that article. For a briefer overview, keep reading!
Wildfire smoke can lead to a range of short and long term issues. Short-term symptoms can include shortness of breath, coughing, dizziness, chest pain, and more. These symptoms can be exacerbated in individuals with cardiovascular or pulmonary conditions (1).
Wildfire smoke can spread very far from its origin. Even if you live as far as 3000 miles away, pollutant concentrations can lead to issues. As such, it’s essential to keep high-quality filtration devices on hand in the case of such an event. This is especially true if you live in a wildfire-prone area.
The first question that naturally comes to mind is, are masks and respirators effective against wildfire smoke and particulate pollution? The short answer is yes. First, however, you will want to ensure that the device you are using is certified to filter ultrafine particles and that it fits correctly without leaks.
The longer answer is that wildfire smoke contains a range of fine and coarse particles. The coarse particles aren’t an issue and are easily filtered by respirators. The smaller particles can be significantly smaller and are more of a problem. However, a study found that N95 respirators provided a protection factor of 16 against wildfire smoke particles as small as 0.1µm (1)
This means that even against ultrafine particles that are smaller than most particles emitted by wildfires, N95 respirators are penetrated by only 1/16th of the tested particles. This is substantially more protection than not donning a mask and shows that respiratory protection devices are essential during wildfires.
Minor Reasons to Don a Face Mask
Now that we’ve discussed the serious non-covid reasons for donning a high-performance mask or respirator, it’s worth discussing some of the minor reasons to don a mask too. These reasons aren’t related to health and safety but are reasons that many people continue to don masks even when they aren’t required.
Many people have become familiar with the extra freedom that donning a mask brings. While you might expect masks to be more restrictive than freeing, many of us have recently discovered the opposite. Let’s discuss some of the reasons why.
To Avoid Wearing Makeup/Shaving
Let’s be honest. There are days when we feel lazy. On these days, it’s hard to find the motivation to shave or put makeup on. Having a mask on hand is fantastic if you’re having one of these days. Why? Because you can easily cover the bottom half of your face!
This is one of the biggest reasons that people continue wearing masks. After two years of requiring masks, many people have grown fond of the silver linings that they bring. Namely, not needing to shave or put on makeup which can lead to insecurities.
With that being said, if you’re wearing a respirator that requires a seal, facial hair will cause issues. Facial hair can create a rough surface that will lead to micro gaps in the device's seal, causing leaks and allowing unfiltered air to pass through. Therefore, if you are concerned about protection, we recommend shaving regularly.
To Warm Your Face
This is another silver lining that many of us discovered due to COVID. While it highly depends on where you live, anyone in a cold climate can attest to the excellent face-warming benefits that a mask can bring.
Even when dressing up for cold weather, our faces, hands, and feet often feel the biting cold before long. Masks can prevent at least one of those issues! While it won’t keep your ears warm, it will ensure that your nose and lower face don’t feel the extreme weather conditions.
While this can lead to a runny nose in some circumstances, I would far prefer that to a freezing nose! There’s nothing pleasant about having a cold face, and masks are a great way to keep your face warm, even in the most extreme climates.
To Add to Your Outfit
Another recent trend, fashionable masks are becoming more common. Before COVID, while some brands attempted to create stylish masks, they were a relatively niche product. However, with masks becoming necessities, brands have been trying to find a way to allow their users to express themselves without sacrificing protection.
These days, it’s easy to find both disposable and reusable masks and respirators in a massive range of colours, patterns, and designs. While not all of them will suit everyone, it’s also true that there’s something for everyone. If you want a mask that goes with any outfit, consider picking up a black mask instead of the standard white.
If you’re looking to up your fashion game, check out AirPop’s Active and Original masks. These masks are designed with all three mask pillars in mind - fit, filtration and comfort. However, we wanted to ensure that our masks look great in any outfit on top of these aspects.
Masks Are Essential Post-COVID
While many of us look forward to not needing to don masks every day, there are many reasons to keep some extra devices on hand. 99% of people worldwide are exposed to air pollution levels above the WHO safety guidelines. This alone shows why masks will be essential even after COVID.
On top of this, many people will find having a stockpile of disposable masks or some reusable masks on hand very useful. If you suffer from allergies, especially hay fever, consider donning a mask during allergy season.
Alongside allergens, if you live in a wildfire-prone area, it’s always important to ensure that you have high-filtration masks or respirators on hand. Pollutant concentrations are exceptionally high during wildfires due to the emitted smoke particles. Even if you are located thousands of kilometres away, wildfires may impact you more than you realise.
Further, masks have a range of smaller benefits. While no one wants to don masks daily, a lot of silver linings have been uncovered due to COVID-related mandates. From being able to leave the house without worrying about your appearance, to having a warm winter outfit, masks bring a range of small benefits to the table.
There are many other reasons why masks will continue to be important in the future. This list just scratched the surface. However, we hope that it has shown why we believe masks are here to stay and why it’s always worth having some on hand.