How to properly use and shop for face shields, according to experts

Experts say they can help add extra protection when worn with a mask.
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As we continue to adjust to life during the coronavirus pandemic, we are also finding new ways to protect ourselves and ensure the safety of those around us.

If you consistently take all of the necessary precautions and have your stock of fabric face masks and effective sanitizers at the ready, you might be looking to add a face shield to your routine. Face shields are typically made of curved clear plastic and are meant to provide an extra layer of protection, though experts say wearing a mask is still necessary for optimal safety.

If you're not sure where to get started, we spoke with experts to find out how to properly use a face shield — and why it's still necessary to wear a mask.

Can I use a face shield instead of a face mask?

According to experts, face shields are not a viable alternative to masks on their own, but they can provide extra protection to other parts of the face when used with a traditional mask.

"Eye protection is good, which you don’t get with a face mask," said Dr. Daniel Morgan, M.D., a professor of epidemiology and public health and infectious disease at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "Larger face shields may improve beyond that, but a mask should be worn to cover the mouth and nose."

According to Morgan, there is little data to support the use of face shields without a mask, so they should not be used as a replacement for more traditional face coverings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also does not recommend face shields as an alternative to face masks, though does note that "some people may choose to use a face shield when sustained close contact with other people is expected." The CDC says face shields should wrap around the wearer's face and extend past the chin.

While a face shield can help protect the wearer from large splashes or droplets to the eyes, they usually do not completely cover the sides of the face or under the chin, which leaves room for airborne particles to find their way underneath the shield.

"[Their design] makes them more comfortable, but allows respiratory droplets and small aerosols, possibly containing virus, to escape into the surroundings," said Dr. Scott Segal, chair of anesthesiology at Wake Forest School of Medicine. "A covering with some ability to trap particles or filter them out is what’s really needed."

Don't forget your face mask

When choosing a face mask to wear with a face shield, the fabric is the most important factor to consider. According to Dr. Ruth Bush, vascular surgeon and associate dean of medical education at the University of Houston College of Medicine, it's best to look for a mask with multiple layers of tightly-woven cotton.

If you aren't sure how effective yours may be, there is an easy way to check.

"A tip on how to check if your face covering is helpful at reducing the spread of your breath droplets is to put it on and then try to blow out a candle several inches from your face," said Melanie Carver, chief mission officer at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. "If you can blow out the candle, the covering may not be fitting well to your face, or you may need additional layers or a different type of fabric."

It is also important to remember that face shields should not replace proper hygiene practices or any other preventative measures. Waleed Javaid, M.D., director of infection prevention and control at Mount Sinai Downtown, told us that hand hygiene, social distancing and face masks are important and should be practiced vigilantly in addition to any other steps taken for protection. The CDC also recommends cleaning face shields after daily use if you do choose to wear one.

Protective face shields

If you're considering adding a face shield to your list of essentials at this time, we found a few options to use in conjunction with fabric face masks.

1. OMK Reusable Face Shields (Pack of Two)

These face shields are available in packs of two and feature a sponge band for a comfortable fit. The elastic band on the back keeps the shield secure without placing uncomfortable pressure on the head.

2. ArtToFrames Protective Face Shield (Pack of Three)

Rather than using an elastic band, these face shields use a mock glasses frame to stay in place. They are available in four different designs and can be purchased individually or in packs of two or more.

3. Planet Plexi Shop Face Shield

This large face shield features built-in ear savers, so your mask can rest comfortably on buttons rather than the back of your ears.

4. Tuello Face Shield

These face shields are available in fixed or flippable styles. They feature an anti-fog coating that can easily be cleaned for the next use.

5. PaJu Store Full Cover Face Shield

This face shield extends over the ears and past the chin and is secured with a velcro fastening in the back. It can be cleaned with soap and water or wiped with alcohol when worn for extended periods of time.

6. Zazzle Unicorn Face Shield

To make wearing a face shield just a little bit more fun, this option from Zazzle features an adorable unicorn design and can also be personalized with the name of the wearer.

Protective face masks

Since face shields are best used with a mask, here are five popular options with positive reviews to consider.

1. Vistaprint Face Mask

Vistaprint face masks are available in a variety of designs and feature a filter pocket for an optional layer of protection. They can be washed by hand or thrown in the washing machine for easy care.

2. PPeppi Boutique Reusable Face Masks (Pack of Three)

These face masks are available on Etsy and are ready to ship in packs of three in just one business day. The reusable masks are made with two layers of cotton and come in several colors and prints.

3. American Groundhog Reusable Fabric Mask

Current bestsellers on Etsy, these fabric face masks feature two layers of cotton and a built-in filter pocket. They're available in nearly 15 different colors, some of which also feature an adjustable nose wire.

4. Masque Me Reusable Face Mask

These cotton face masks are crafted with cotton that features a higher thread count for a tighter knit. They're available in two styles — one with a nose wire and one without.

5. Old Navy Cloth Face Masks (Pack of Five)

Old Navy's face masks have already amassed more than 10,000 reviews and come in 22 different colors. Since they are available in packs of five, they're an affordable way to add to your mask collection — or you can grab one for each member of the family.

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