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Disposable face masks: How to choose one, according to experts

Including some affordable options.
Disposable Masks
Medical-grade masks should still be left for frontline workers, but there are non-medical grade disposable face masks that can help reduce the rate of transmission of droplets and slow the spread of coronavirus.TODAY illustration/MASKC

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As coronavirus variants are reported across the globe, wearing a mask is more important than ever. While you likely have an arsenal of fabric masks at home, concerns over "double-masking" might be turning your attention to disposable masks. Just like cloth masks, there are an overwhelming amount of disposable masks on the market that might make it difficult to determine which one will suit your needs.

While medical-grade masks should still be left for frontline workers, there are non-medical grade disposable face masks that can help reduce the rate of transmission of droplets and slow the spread of coronavirus.

Whether you prefer the feel of disposable masks or need a mask that you can switch out frequently, we asked the experts what you should look for when choosing.

How to choose a disposable mask

Any mask you choose should be one that is well constructed. It should be efficient at blocking particles from escaping your mask while also offering you some degree of protection from the droplets of others.

"With the new strains and variants of Covid-19 that have emerged, we're seeing in real time that they have a much easier ability to be transferred from person to person," Stephen Ferrara, associate dean of Clinical Affairs at Columbia Nursing, told Shop TODAY. "The messaging should be don't just wear any mask, but wear a mask that is high quality."

"The wearer is protecting others from themselves and vice versa, so I can't stress enough the fact that masks are essential," Ferrara added.

Fabric masks and disposable masks are constructed differently, but the overall qualities to look for remain the same when choosing either one. As with cloth masks, the more layers, the better. When it comes to the actual build of the mask, there is an easy way to determine how many layers are inside of a disposable mask.

“The mask should be a wearable thing, it should be breathable and it should have multiple layers, two to three layers," Waleed Javaid, MD, director of Infection Prevention and Control at Mount Sinai Downtown, told Shop TODAY. "For a majority of manufactured masks, it might be a little difficult, but you can rub the layers together to feel how many are in there."

How long can I wear a disposable mask?

If you are using a mask sporadically, you might be able to extend the length of use. Of course, it depends on how long you wore the mask for that day, if you were performing any strenuous activities while wearing it and if the mask was exposed to moisture.

"If you’re exercising in it or if you’re wearing it throughout the day, I think at the end of the day, it's time to get rid of the mask," Richard Martinello, MD, associate professor of Medicine (Infectious Diseases) and of Pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine, told Shop TODAY. "But if somebody works in a private office or if they’re a student and they’re in their room on Zoom with no mask on all day and they only wear a mask periodically, that mask may actually remain reasonable for them to wear for a longer period of time."

However, if you frequently are feeling moisture on the mask or if you sneeze inside the mask, replacing it with another disposable mask is best practice.

What is the difference between disposable and medical masks?

A lot of terms regarding masks are floating around, but deciphering what they mean can be tricky. Paying attention to the labeling of the masks you are looking to purchase is key in figuring out how exactly the mask is intended to be used.

"You can imagine a Venn diagram where we have 'face coverings' which is just a broad term — you know, from bandanas to surgical masks and respirators," Martinello said. "And then 'medical masks' are just masks that are developed for use in the health care setting and 'surgical masks' are a subset of that and are really characterized by their fluid resistance properties."

Regardless of which mask you are using, the most important factor is wearing it correctly, meaning it fits snugly and fully around your nose and mouth.

"Something that is so important for masks to work well is that they need to sit well," Martinello said. "Somebody can have a mask with great filtration capabilities, but if the mask does not fit them well then it is not going to provide the source control that is desirable; where it contains individual respiratory droplets and it also may not protect that individual as well as they would like."

Below, we rounded up a few disposable masks that you can purchase in bulk. Although we haven't had the chance to try them, they meet criteria described by the experts above, such as number of layers and adjustable fit.

Best disposable face masks

1. evolvetogether Disposable Face Masks

This celeb-loved brand makes disposable face masks in a variety of colors and designs. Each 3-ply evolvetogether mask (matte black versions are 4-ply) features three layers of filtration and offers a bacteria filtration efficiency (BFE) that is greater than 98% and a particle filtration efficiency greater than 95%. They are also available in kid sizes.

2. Maskc Disposable Face Masks

Maskc's masks come in packs of 10 in a resealable bag for easy storage and access. The 3-ply masks feature a moisture-proof inner layer, a meltblown center and a non-woven exterior layer. They offer a bacterial filtration efficiency greater than 95% and also boast an adjustable nose wire.

3. Wapike Disposable Face Mask (Pack of 50)

Wapike sells face masks in both the standard blue color as well as an assortment of colors, and each mask is triple-layered. A high density layer is placed between two non-woven layers that help block particles while remaining breathable. Over 24,000 verified reviewers gave these masks a five-star rating, with many shoppers calling out the comfortable feel and "good value."

4. Wecolor Disposable 3-Ply Face Mask (Pack of 100)

These bestsellers from Wecolor also feature three layers and are made from a non-woven fabric. The nose wire helps conform the mask to your face for a better fit while the brand describes the "low pressure" ear loops as another source of a comfortable fit.

5. Sudilo Disposable Face Mask (Pack of 50)

Another pack of sleek black masks, these bestsellers feature three layers as well as a nose wire. The brand describes the fabric as non-irritating and eco-friendly, making it easy to wear. "They are easy to put on and comfortable to wear," one of the mask's 42,923 verified reviewers wrote.

6. Kitsch Pink Disposable Face Masks

Kitsch's non-medical face masks are an online exclusive at Ulta and are made from three layers of non-woven fabric. The masks are also fluid resistant and "comfortable and as breathable as possible while being protective," according to one reviewer.

7. VIDA FDA Emergency Use Authorized KN95 Masks

While leaving N95 masks and other medical-grade PPE for frontline workers is still a best practice, these non-NIOSH approved, non-medical KN95 masks have been authorized for emergency use in the United States. It follows CDC recommendations for KN95 masks and is made from five filtrating layers. These masks arrive with a pre-paid label so you can send your masks back to VIDA for recycling, as part of the brand's sustainability program.

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