By now you probably have a face mask that is suitable for everyday activities such as grocery shopping or picking up take-out, but it might not be crafted for more strenuous activities like exercise — or simply breathing in the heavy winter air.
Whether you've taken your workouts outdoors or need a mask that can hold up at the gym or cycling during the colder months, some athletic apparel brands have created masks specifically designed to hold up to excessive sweating. Last summer, Under Armour debuted its "Sportsmask," which the brand describes as a "water-resistant performance face mask designed for maximum breathability." Adidas also launched a face mask with an emphasis on comfort, though not specifically designed for exercise.
So what exactly should you be looking for when choosing a mask to match your daily life? Typically, the more layers the better, as new strains of the virus circulate. We reached out to a few experts to learn more about the kinds of fabrics, fit and general qualities you should keep in mind when looking for a breathable face mask that can stand up to all kinds of activities.
What would make a mask more "breathable?"
While it is hard to determine what exactly would make a mask more "breathable," Dr. Scott Segal, chair of anesthesiology at Wake Forest School of Medicine, told Shop TODAY that it's all about finding fabric that allows for decent airflow — though this may come at the expense of filtration.
"Breathability comes down to airflow across the material, which is in some cases the exact opposite quality of filtration," he said. "So thicker fabrics with tighter weaves tend to filter better, but they may be harder to breathe through."
Segal, who recently conducted preliminary research and testing involving the type of fabric used for face masks and the effectiveness of the fabric in reducing transmission, says that "knits (as opposed to weaves) may stretch to allow breathability but may give up filtering ability."
However, there are not yet concrete results on what exactly makes a fabric face mask breathable and proper precautions such as practicing social distancing still need to be exercised when wearing one.
"Without specific lab testing, we cannot say what would make an exercise or performance mask more breathable," Melanie Carver, chief mission officer of the AAFA, told Shop TODAY. "The same thing goes for moisture-wicking materials in terms of effectiveness at helping to reduce chances of spreading infection, especially if you are asymptomatic and not aware you are infected with a disease like COVID-19."
Key qualities to look for when choosing a face mask
Overall, the masks should be thick enough to trap moisture particles that you exhale, preventing them from reaching others. Segal's research found that a number of masks constructed with two layers of quality cotton without additional inserts performed well when testing the effectiveness of filtration, but says that "the weave and thread weight and count seemed more important than the material itself."
If you're looking for an easy way to gauge your mask's effectiveness, Carver has an easy solution.
"A quick way of determining whether your mask will help block the transfer of spit or mucus that may (spread the) virus is to shine a light against it. If the light shines easily through your mask or face covering, you may need more layers or a different fabric," Carver said. "Cotton works well for normal use. If you are more active, you can try different styles to see what works for you."
Though face masks are meant to help reduce the risk of transmission of coronavirus, it is important to remember that wearing a mask does not substitute other public health guidelines.
"At this time, it’s still safest to exercise in an area where you have a personal bubble of at least 6 feet in all directions," Dr. Brandee Waite, director of sports medicine at UC Davis Health, said, noting that the personal bubble should be increased to 9 feet when performing strenuous activity. "And your bubble [should] not overlap or pass through the space recently occupied by another person’s bubble. "
Whether you're looking for a mask that can stand up to physical activity or simply want a mask that is more breathable, we did all the digging using the tips above to find masks that can help keep you and others around you safe.
Breathable face masks for exercise
Uniqlo's washable masks are made from three layers of fabric that each serve a different purpose. The first wicks away moisture, the second features a washable filter and the last blocks UV rays. They're available in three different colors and four different sizes, so you can find the one that is most optimal for you or your family.
Specially designed by Asics, this water-repellent mask is crafted with recycled materials and features "strategically placed" air holes that allow for ventilation while still preventing larger droplets from escaping the mask. It not only uses adjustable ear loops but also has a lock-and-pull tab to prevent the mask from shifting on your face during exercise.
With coverage over the nose and under the chin, this mask form Universal Standard makes it easy to have a firmer fit. It features two layers of fabric and a filter pocket for optional use (but the mask comes with seven filter inserts).
Crafted from a blend of cotton and polyester zinc, Bloch's masks are breathable enough for exercise. The material is soft and contours to your face thanks to an adjustable nose pad and the attached lanyard means you can keep the mask around your neck while you take a sip of water.
Caraa's masks have two layers and can be adjusted with the included nose wire and ear loops. Each pack of five is available in both kid and adult sizes, and in a variety of styles.
More than 2,000 verified Amazon reviewers gave this mask a five-star rating, with one noting that they were "pleasantly surprised" at the snug fit and how easy it was to breathe while wearing it. The masks are made from a blend of rayon and cotton and can also fit a replaceable filter inside.
Not only are BaubleBar's face masks stylish, but they are also functional! Each mask is made with two layers of cotton and is hypoallergenic.
Hair care brand Kitsch is also selling reusable masks, and this set of three is made from three layers of soft cotton. "I love these masks," one Ulta reviewer wrote. "They are the only ones I find to be tolerable all day."
For each pack of two you purchase, Beyond Yoga will donate two masks to essential workers. Each mask is handmade in Los Angeles and crafted from a blend of polyester and spandex that provides a bit of stretch.
Champion's double-layer masks are made from a moisture-wicking jersey material and feature a nose wire and elastic ear loops for a comfortable fit. They're available in black, grey and navy and come in two different size categories, so it is best to reference the size guide.
The Sportsmask is crafted with three layers of fabric that are designed to provide a comfortable and protective fit for users: one layer for airflow, another that inhibits the flow of moisture and a final stretchable, antimicrobial layer. This layer is treated with PROTX2 technology, which works to eliminate bacteria and prohibit the growth of mold and mildew.
Adidas' face masks come in packs of three for $16.
The brand told Shop TODAY that digital tools were used to construct the prototypes, which were then tested on family members of the design team to ensure a snug fit. The masks feature two layers of fabric crafted from "Adidas Primegreen," which is a breathable recycled material free from virgin plastic.
These reusable masks from Reebok come in packs of three and fit most adults. They're constructed with two layers of a polyester and elastane blend for a comfortable feel and feature ear bands that stretch to fit your face. One recent reviewer called them a "go-to" for gym workouts. "They fit comfortably, look good, don't suffocate me, and are easy to quickly pull off one ear to take a sip of water," they wrote.
Outdoor Research's masks offer a customizable fit thanks to adjustable ear loops and a nose wire. They're made from 100% polyester and come with three replaceable filters, as well as a storage bag to prevent contamination.
These face masks from Baggu are made from 100 percent quilter's cotton, which provides a tight weave and makes it difficult for respiratory droplets to pass through, according to the brand. The adjustable nose wire and self-tie straps make for a snug and comfortable fit, while the filter-pocket also allows you the option of extra protection.
Prefer a simple design? These face masks are available in sleek colors and are made from a double-layered woven fabric. Everlane is donating 10% of every "100% Human" purchase to the ACLU, and has donated over $1 million to date.
Avocado has used its organic cotton to create double-layer fabric face masks, which are available in packs of four for adults and children. You can choose between tie straps or elastic loops to create a fit that works for you.
The antimicrobial layer of this mask helps reduce the growth of bacteria and is meant to last for up to 30 washes. The masks are available in packs of five for just $20 and are made with a polyester blend that is breathable enough for any indoor or outdoor activity.
"I'm pretty active with pilates, yoga, and running and this mask is by far the most comfortable and breathable mask out there," one recent Outdoor Voices reviewer wrote about these polyester masks. They're available in two different colors and two different sizes, but each feature two layers.
These masks from Casetify are crafted from cotton fabric and also include two replaceable filters that last up to seven days. According to the brand, the filters are tested to block more than 95 percent of particles in the air.
Onzie is crafting masks from upcycled fabrics used for its yoga apparel, so these masks are designed to feel as comfortable as they look. They're composed of multiple layers of spandex and can be used as masks all on their own, or as a protective covering for filtered masks. Onzie is donating proceeds from each purchase to Center For Disaster Philanthropy, which supports healthcare workers across America.
With three layers of fabric, these 100 percent cotton masks from Old Navy are meant to be as comfortable as they are durable. They're available in assorted packs of five and are even offered in kids' sizes.
This $10 face mask is Shop TODAY editor-approved. With two layers of cotton and an adjustable nose wire and ear strap, the mask is designed for a snug fit while also offering protection thanks to the replaceable PM 2.5 filter.
These reversible face masks are both cute and durable, as they are made with three layers of cotton with an adjustable nose wire. You can choose from 40 different styles and designs.
These bestselling double-layer cotton masks give back — the owner of the shop has donated 2,000 masks to date to hospitals, nursing homes and non-profits, and is currently working on donating masks to school children.
Designed to fit most adults, these face masks offer a different kind of fit above the nose and underneath the chin. The white and black variations are made from two layers of cotton and a waterproof polyester outer layer while the blue mask also features two cotton layers and a resistance nano-polyester outer layer.
This reusable waterproof mask comes with a filter pocket and features an outer layer of microfiber fabric and two additional layers of muslin cloth. The elastic ear straps rest comfortably on your ears, so they can stand up to a number of activities throughout the day.
Athletic apparel brand Athleta makes masks that are lightweight and breathable enough for daily use. Each mask uses a polyester and spandex blend for the outer layer and two inner layers of cotton that are as soft as they are breathable.
Koral is known for its athletic apparel and is currently utilizing its soft fabric to create breathable face masks. Each mask is made with a spandex blend and polyamide lining that is tight-knit yet breathable, while also offering UV protection from the sun.
Vistaprint offers a variety of masks that are lightweight without compromising protection. The polyester-spandex masks are constructed with multiple layers and also include a space for a filter.
These masks are woven with a blend of cotton, rayon and spandex. The self-tie straps make it easy to customize the fit, whether you're working out or simply stepping outside.
With three layers of cotton, these face masks from Custom Ink also boast an antimicrobial finish. They're available in packs of 10 for $23 and come in simple black and white designs.
Read on for more insight on other things to take into consideration when choosing a face mask.
What to look for when choosing a mask for physical activity
According to Dr. Sumita Khatri, advisor at the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America (AAFA), choosing the perfect mask for exercising is mostly about individual comfort. Athletes should look for masks with a secure fit and moisture-wicking fabric for perspiration.
Waite told Shop TODAY that the key is in the fabric. She also says a moisture-wicking fabric that keeps the face dry may provide additional comfort, and it's important to look for masks with multiple layers.
"Increasing the number of layers may provide additional safety as the layers are set at angles so that the pores in the weave overlap, making it harder for particles to pass through," Waite said.
How should a mask fit on your face?
"What is most important is that the fit of your mask is comfortable and that it covers your nose and mouth," Carver said.
According to Waite, fabric masks often used by the general public function primarily as a covering, and do not act as filters or provide protection to the wearer from small droplets in the air. Rather, she says these masks "are significantly important in that they prevent the large droplets that come out of someone's mouth and nose when they speak, talk, cough, yell from dispersing in the air and turning into smaller droplets that can then fit around the masks of others."
Thus, face coverings might be even more crucial when exercising.
"You breathe harder than during sedentary activities, so there are more respiratory droplets expelled from your mouth and nose, and if you are infected and don’t know it, [there is] potentially greater risk to others," Waite told us.
Segal also noted that moisture during a workout could possibly alter the effectiveness of thin cloth masks.
"Moisture from your breath will saturate a cloth mask (or even a paper surgical type mask) fairly quickly when you are exercising vigorously," Segal said. "Wet masks are likely less effective filters."
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