Experts share tips on how to shop for a breathable face mask you can exercise in

A lightweight, breathable mask is especially important in the summer.

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Many fashion brands have started producing fabric face coverings to help do their part during the pandemic. These masks are typically suitable for everyday activities such as grocery shopping or picking up take-out, but usually are not specifically crafted for more strenuous activities like exercise — or simply being out in the summer heat.

It seems like the demand for summer-friendly face masks is rising, as some athletic apparel brands have created masks specifically designed to hold up to excessive sweating. Earlier in June, Under Armour announced the debut of its "Sportsmask," which the brand describes as a "water-resistant performance face mask designed for maximum breathability." Adidas has also launched a new 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 exercise in, or when simply choosing a mask that is breathable enough for summer? 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 face mask that can stand up to all kinds of activities.

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.

Dr. Brandee Waite, director of sports medicine at UC Davis Health, 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.

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."

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."

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," Waite said, noting that the personal bubble should be increased to 9 feet when performing strenuous activity. "And your bubble does 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 safe.

Breathable face masks to use during the summer

1. Under Armour Sportsmask

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.

The brand told Shop TODAY that the mask "sold out in less than one hour on June 11" but is now available for pre-order. The mask is available in a range of sizes and orders are expected to ship on or before Aug. 17.

2. Adidas Face Covers (Pack of 3)

Adidas has also launched a new face mask, which comes in a pack 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.

3. Reebok Face Covers (Pack of 3)

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. The brand will donate $2 from every purchase made in June to Save the Children's Global Coronavirus Response Fund to help support families, schools and teachers.

4. Modern American Face Masks (Pack of 6)

Available in packs of six, these polyester-blend masks are moisture-wicking and designed to keep you comfortable and dry during wear. They're also machine-washable, so you can easily rotate between masks when they become saturated or have been used for a prolonged period of time.

5. Baggu Fabric Mask Set (Pack of 3)

These face masks from Baggu are made from 100% 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.

6. The 100% Human Face Mask (Pack of 3)

Prefer a simple design? These face masks are available in sleek colors and offer two different fabrics to choose from. While each mask is double-layered, the black and heather grey masks are made from cotton, while the charcoal style is a polyester-cotton blend.

7. Avocado Mattress Cotton Face Mask (Pack of 4)

Avocado has used its organic cotton to create double-layer fabric face masks, which are available in packs of four for adults and children.

8. Buck Mason Antimicrobial Prevention Face (Pack of 5)

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 summer.

9. Outdoor Voices Face Mask (Pack of 5)

All of the proceeds from purchases of these masks will go to Masks for the People. The washable and reusable masks are made from a polyester blend that provides adequate coverage that feels comfortable.

10.Casetify Reusable Cloth Mask

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% of particles in the air.

11. Onzie Mindful Masks (Pack of 2)

Onzie is crafting masks from upcylced 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.

12. Old Navy Triple-Layer Cloth Face Masks (Pack of 5)

With three layers of fabric, these 100% 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.

13. Vida Protective Mask

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.

14. SouthernFarmChic 3 Layer Cotton Fabric Mask

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 18 different styles and designs.

15. SimpleMask4U 2-Layer Reusable Mask

For every purchase of these bestselling double-layer cotton masks, the owner of the shop will donate a mask to an essential worker.

16. FaceMasks247 Waterproof Mask

If you're looking to exercise outdoors this summer, a waterproof face mask can help wick away moisture. This mask is made with a cotton-filagen blend, which is meant to keep you cool and comfortable, no matter how high the temperature may be outside.

17. SteveandMe Waterproof Face Mask

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.

18. Athleta Non-Medical Face Masks (Pack of 5)

Athletic apparel brand Athleta has also recently taken to making 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.

19. Koral Netz Face Mask

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.

20. VistaPrint Face Masks

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.

21. American Eagle Reusable Face Mask (Pack of 3)

These breathable masks from American Eagle are made with three layers of comfortable fabric that allows for airflow, and also feature adjustable ear straps for a better fit. This pack features three summer-ready designs that can help keep you cool this season.

22. American Eagle Antimicrobial Reusable Face Mask

With five colors to choose from, these antimicrobial masks from American Eagle are meant to be breathable and provide a soft and comfortable fit. They're water-resistant and washable, so you can quickly clean it when you work up a sweat.

23. Urban Outfitters Desert Dreamer Reusable Face Mask

Available in six different chic designs, each of these cotton face masks are designed to look as cute as they are practical. These masks also give back, as a portion of the proceeds from each sale will go toward the American Nurses Foundation’s Coronavirus Response Fund for Nurses.

24. Urban Outfitters Solid Reusable Face Mask

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. A portion of the proceeds from the sales of this mask will also go to the American Nurses Foundation’s Coronavirus Response Fund for Nurses.

25. Custom Ink Triple-Ply Cotton Face Mask (Pack of 10)

With three layers of cotton, these face masks from Custom Ink also boast an antimicrobial finish. They're available in packs of 10 for $40 and come in simple black and white designs.

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