Although the government is planning to ease lockdown restrictions over the coming weeks and months, mask wearing in enclosed spaces will remain mandatory. This means a mask will be required on public transport, in supermarkets, and when visiting hospitals as well as outdoors in spaces where social distancing is not possible.
The current government advice is to wear a face covering before entering any of these places and to keep it on until you leave unless there’s a reasonable excuse for removing it. The government also advises you to wash your hands regularly, clean your surroundings regularly (particularly surfaces that are touched frequently), and cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze.
When choosing the right face mask, it helps to understand why we wear them in the first place. “Face masks work by reducing the spread of droplets that are contaminated with the virus,” Dr Diana Gall told the Strategist UK. “Wearing a nonmedical face mask prevents you from spreading the virus unknowingly to other people, rather than protecting yourself from the virus entering your body.”
There is an overwhelming amount of choice when it comes to masks, but, according to consultant dermatologist Dr Kristina Semkova, “function must definitely come over fashion” when it comes to selecting the right one for you.” Rory Donnelly, a clinical research director at Copper Clothing, who make copper-infused antimicrobial products, says “some face masks may be fashionable, but they often don’t protect you effectively.”
What to look for in a mask
Experts told us that the most important things to look for are fit and fabric. “Your mask should be the right size and fit for the face. It shouldn’t be too tight, in order to avoid friction,” says Semkova. Gall says the mask must be wide enough to cover the nose, mouth, and below the chin, and should be snug without gaps, while Donnelly recommends one that “extends from your face in a cone shape, so as not to touch your face.” He added that “the flame test” is a good way to check for fit. “If you can blow a candle or a lighter in front of you with your face covering on, it does not fit properly,” he said.
If you are unsure what size you need — or shopping online is making it hard to tell — Donnelly suggests looking for one with extra features. “Adjustable ear loops can help you get the best fit, whatever your head shape,” he says.
In terms of fabric, researchers from Northwestern and Cambridge Universities studied 20 different materials, including cotton jersey, denim, felted wool, and quilting cotton in order to determine the effectiveness when used in face masks. They concluded that “most of the fabrics commonly used for non-clinical face masks are effective at filtering ultrafine particles,” but noted that masks “made of multiple layers of fabric were more effective.” This means, when looking for a fabric face mask, focusing on multi-layered ones is best — three layers is ideal, but two-layered masks with a pocket for an extra filter would also be good.
Experts told the Strategist UK that high-quality cotton was the best option. “The material that touches your face is the most important — so make sure it’s natural, non-chemical and non-irritant,” says Donnelly. Semkova, who has seen a surge in patients coming in with “mask acne,” also suggested “cotton and/or silk” masks, but stressed that polyester is one worth avoiding due to being “non-breathable.”
Should I be double masking?
In January 2021, the Centers for Disease Control conducted a study into the effectiveness of double masking and found that layering two masks “could improve the fit of these masks and reduce the receiver’s exposure” when tested against droplet particles of a similar size to those thought to transmit SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). The study noted that whatever mask you wear, it’s important to make sure it fits snugly: “The effectiveness of cloth and medical procedure masks can be improved by ensuring that they are well fitted to the contours of the face to prevent leakage of air around the masks’ edges.”
While the study found that “[t]he receiver’s exposure was maximally reduced (>95%) when the source and receiver were fitted with modified medical procedure masks,” there has been no research done into double masking in the U.K. England’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, told ITV News in February, “I think it’s a matter of personal preference,” regarding double masking, adding that he has not seen any data of its being more efficient.
But Dr Julian W. Tang, an honorary associate professor and clinical virologist at the University of Leicester, told the Strategist UK that “generally, more layers are better than fewer layers” when it comes to masking. “Masks generally fail by allowing leakage around the sides, rather than directly through the fabric itself,” he said. “If wearing masks which are looser fitting around the sides, tuck the sides in.” The CDC study suggests doing this by “knotting the ear loops of a medical procedure mask where they attach to the mask’s edges and then tucking in and flattening the extra material close to the face.”
Dr Tang added that “denser weave material is better” when it comes to buying a face mask, particularly double- or triple-layered options, “but you still need to feel comfortable breathing through them.”
How to clean your mask
Cleaning your masks is crucial in order to maintain good hygiene. Machine wash your face mask after every use (Semkova suggests using a fragrance-free detergent, and skipping the fabric softener, in order to avoid irritating the skin). “Masks accumulate dirt, oil and make-up — we’ve all seen it! — as well as bacteria from your nose and mouth, which transfer to the face, causing a breeding ground for ‘maskne’ and other skin problems,” she says.
It’s also important to consider having multiple masks, rather than just one. Semkova said while re-using masks throughout the day “should be okay” as the mask protects other people and not the wearer, “ideally, masks should be replaced for each outing, as they need to be removed in a way that will not expose the wearer to the outer side of the mask, which can happen if you’re putting it in your pocket or handling it manually throughout the day.”
This also makes it easier to have a system in place where you always have a clean mask available (rather than your only mask being in the washing machine). Gall recommends “Soaking them in hot, soapy water, or putting them in the washing machine as soon as you get home, and dry them on high heat.”
She also says to wash your hands before applying a new and clean face mask, as well as before removing it. “Just avoid touching the front of the mask, in case there are any germs there.”
The best face masks to buy online
Editors’ note: We’ll be updating this post frequently with new places to buy, so if you don’t see an option you like, check in later for more.
Masks we’ve tested
Described by our sister site as “the sleeker cousin of the blue surgical mask,” the black surgical mask has been spotted on everyone from Hailey and Justin Bieber to K-Pop group BTS and Kanye. The subtlety seems to be part of the appeal.
“It feels less medical while still delivering the benefits of being medical,” says Laura Naparstek, a product marketing manager at Braze. “The blue just felt a little surgical — a little doctor’s office, a little gross,” says Will Anderson, formerly a senior product designer at Artsy.
What we think: Strategist UK editor Ailbhe Malone began buying disposable masks to keep on hand for when her cotton masks were in the wash. “I also stash them in the glove compartment of my car for emergencies,” she said. “They’re very comfortable (and like celebrities, I find the black very flattering). The exact brand I bought is now out of stock, but this pack from Keplin also has three layers of material and a nose clip.”
They’re also available in blue.
These masks are created in collaboration with the British Fashion Council (as well as on Amazon, you can find them in places like Sainsbury’s and ASOS). The packs feature patterns by designers including Mulberry, Preen, and Rixo — but each set is pre-bundled, so you may not be able to choose all the designers you wish.
What we think: “The masks are two-layered cotton and comfortable to wear — they have a nose wire and are larger than other masks I’ve worn (for example, they’re far bigger than the Good Ordering masks below),” said Malone. “My two annoyances: There is no space for a filter, so I’ve been wearing them when I’m in a busy open-air area or doubling them up with another two-layer mask (like the linen ones from Plumo, below). Secondly, the straps are adjustable, but as they use a bra-strap mechanism, the strings come loose after every wash.”
These reusable face coverings come in three different patterns, including animal print and gingham. Each is double-layered and made from slightly differing materials — while the animal print and gingham masks are made from mixes of viscose, cotton, polyester, and elastane, the black mask is 97 percent cotton and 3 percent elastane. There is a space in between the two layers to insert your own filter if you wish. You can preorder the masks now, and £4 from each sale will be donated to UK Youth, a leading charity that supports young people in the UK.
What we think: According to Strategist UK’s senior audience manager Rosie Percy, the mask is a good size, big enough to comfortably cover from nose bridge to chin without pushing up toward the eyes (as some pleated masks have done). It also has adjustable straps, which allow it to achieve a properly snug fit. The double-layered mask is thinner-feeling than others we have tried, but features an antibacterial lining, (Oliver Bonas says the antibacterial finish will last “up to 50 washes,” so it might be best to handwash rather than put in the washing machine). Overall, the polyester material means this mask isn’t as soft as the cotton ones Rosie usually goes for — so it may not be suitable for those with sensitive skin.
Mango’s masks come in 15 different colourways — from block colours to patterns like paisley, floral, and tie-dye. The single-layer polyester masks are not intended for long-term use — Mango says on its website that they are good for five washes.
What we think: Strategist UK staff writer Chris Mandle received two blue tie-dye masks. “Easily the best-looking mask in my growing collection — during lockdown I was genuinely quite excited to wear this outside.” However, after wearing thicker, woven masks for most of the year, the thinness of this single-layer one was noticeable straight away (and unlike with other masks, Chris says he noticed a lot of moisture collecting on his mask after wearing it for a couple of hours). “As a temporary mask, it’s comfortable and stylish, and pretty good value, too,” he says. “These might be good to stash in a backpack or a bag in the event that your ‘main’ mask goes missing, rather than replacing a woven mask in your collection.”
Sunspel was making cotton face masks and laundry bags for NHS workers during the pandemic, but have started selling the masks online, too, in order to raise enough money to keep producing them for key workers. The masks are made from cotton, with an anti-bacterial inner layer, and have a pleated front. They come in one size.
What we think: Chris was impressed at how expandable this mask was due to its folds – opened out fully, it almost reached his Adam’s apple, so it would be a good option for anyone who finds existing masks too narrow (such as customers with a lot of facial hair). The cotton was soft and the mask comfortable on his face, and though the loops don’t have toggles, they don’t hurt the ears unlike other masks he has tried. One downside was that, after one hand-wash, the folds of the mask, which aren’t stitched in place like pleats, have lost their shape somewhat. This hasn’t affected the effectiveness of the mask, but it does suggest a delicate touch even when hand-washing.
Ailbhe Malone tried this mask from phone-accessories company Popsockets. It’s made from polyester, and comes with a carbon-filter insert.
What we think: This mask comes in a range of colours, and the ear toggles mean you can adjust the mask with just one hand. Ailbhe says that, as someone with a small face, “this mask fitted exceptionally well, and didn’t make my face look like I have a beak (which happens sometimes with bigger masks) — this is thanks to a bendable nose piece.” Malone’s mask came with a separate filter to insert in the mask, but a coffee filter would work as well. Due to the metal nose piece, she would advise hand-washing it — she put hers in the tumble dryer and the nose piece broke.
Boden’s three pack of face masks come in a variety of vibrant prints, of which you’ll get a “mystery mix” when you order (Chris got a blue-white, yellow-white, and a blue-pink selection). Made using extra material from Boden clothing, the masks are 95 percent viscose and 5 percent elastane, and can be machine washed at 60 degrees. Each mask is triple layered, with two layers of soft, jersey-style fabric, and one non-woven filter layer. They come in one size.
What we think: The extra-stretchy bands on the side of this mask meant adjusting or applying it one-handed was effortless. Chris said that he still felt a bit of pull on his ears, making wearing it for long stretches uncomfortable, but he was pleasantly surprised at how soft and comfy the viscose-silk material was on his face. The metal nose piece is quite long compared to other masks we’ve tried — so while it’s hard to fold in half, this mask is particularly good at shaping around the whole nose, not just the bridge. Because of this, we recommend gently handwashing it rather than putting it in the washing machine, as the metal is liable to poke through the material.
We have been patiently awaiting the U.K. release of Uniqlo’s breathable face masks since they sold out in a matter of hours when they launched in Tokyo back in May. Made from the company’s signature Airism material, which is lightweight, antimicrobial, and self-deodorizing, these masks have three layers for increased protection. The first inner layer wicks away moisture; the second has a washable, built-in filter; and the third uses a UV-blocking mesh. They come in three colors (white, black, and grey) and three sizes (small, medium, and large).
What we think: Though it has three layers, including a built-in filter, the Airism mask is as breathable as we hoped. However, they don’t have a nose strip or adjustable ear loops, which makes them move a bit when you talk. Camilla Cho, senior VP of e-commerce, bought a size medium and says it’s a little loose. “I wore it on a run and the thing was sliding off my face,” she says. Still, she likes it enough to go out and buy some toggles to make the ear loops adjustable.
Printing company Vistaprint is now making its own masks in a wide range of unique designs. The reusable masks are made with a replaceable filter system, with each filter lasting up to 12 hours. There are masks for children and adults, all made with 100 percent cotton, anti-allergic inner layers. Even better, for every mask bought, Vistaprint will donate 10 percent of the sale to local communities affected by the pandemic.
What we think: Though this is the most expensive mask we’ve featured, we thought it was very durable (our US colleagues are also big fans). They come in a range of colours, and the ear toggles mean you can adjust the mask with just one hand. However, Ailbhe says that, “this mask gapped a little around my chin. I also wore this on the tube (on one of the hottest days of the year) and didn’t care for the man-made fibres.” Malone’s mask came with a separate filter to insert in the mask, but she says the website now has an “integrated” design, which might perform differently. Generally, she thought it washed exceptionally well.
Copper Clothing have been making antimicrobial products (such as pyjamas, gloves, and wound dressings) since before COVID-19 using copper ions, which studies show can destroy bacteria and viruses on contact. Their face masks feature four layers, of which the outer is copper-infused. The second and third layers offer filtration, while the fourth layer is 100 percent cotton for extra comfort. It also features a nose plate to shape the mask around the user’s face, and toggles on the ears for adjustment.
What we think: This mask is more structured than some of the looser fabric options, according to Chris. When worn, it has more of a beaklike shape, which means it doesn’t cause any friction or irritability on the skin (it also makes talking while wearing it far easier). The thickness of it is apparent straight away, and it’s very comfortable thanks to the toggles. Chris said it washes well, too, though it takes a little longer to dry due to the extra layers.
Lingerie brand Bluebella is donating all profits from the sale of their face coverings (£5 per covering) to Chayn, a charity committed to fighting domestic violence. They are machine washable at 60 degrees and feature a double-layered fabric with an antibacterial finish on the inner lining, which they say lasts between 40 and 50 washes. They also include two separate inner filters.
What we thought: Rosie said this mask was structured without being too stiff, with a nose wire and adjustable straps for a more personal fit: “This is a huge plus, as I’d struggled with some other masks being too gappy — this was a perfect, really comfortable fit.” Rosie’s only sticking point is the lace design. While it’s there to make the mask look more appealing, she says, “it does look quite like a pair of pants and could lead to some strange looks if it fell out of my pocket on my morning walk.”
This Cotswolds-based silk shop — which makes pillowcases, hair wraps, and eye masks — recently started producing fabric face masks using their leftover silk. A September 2020 study at the University of Cincinnati found that silk’s antibacterial and antiviral properties made it a particularly effective material for a face covering. This Is Silk makes theirs from two layers of silk, and includes both a pocket for inserting an extra layer and three rectangles of cotton for customers to add an extra layer of protection. The masks are sold in packs of two with a variety of shades available.
What we think: Strategist staff writer Chris Mandle was impressed at how soft and comfortable this silk mask was after having spent several months wearing cotton-blend masks. It also features toggle-straps, something he looks out for in a face mask because he finds traditional elastic loop straps painful on his ears. The toggles made adjusting the mask easy and it fits perfectly. “I got a black and a grey mask, and though both have a silk sheen, I prefer the black, which is more discreet,” he says. “Obviously masks are designed to be functional rather than a fashion statement, but this black one looks good with everything in my wardrobe.”
Strategist UK’s senior audience development manager Rosie Percy found these masks via Nikki Williams, who made the original Tunnocks biscuit cushions – these are made by her mum. Each pleated mask is made from 100 percent cotton, and should be washed at 60 degrees.
What we think: These are really comfortable and offer minimal friction, and the elastic doesn’t dig in as much as they do on other masks we tried (this might be because it’s slightly thicker). Percy, who owns three of these, noticed that the elastic length actually varies from mask to mask, but said this was easy to fix by twisting them or fixing them with a safety pin. They’re easy to wash, too.
Light test: Thanks to its double layer, very little light comes through these masks even when stretched out.
Strategist UK contributor Hannah Holway found these colourful masks on Etsy a couple of weeks into lockdown. They’re made by I Was A…, a “slow-fashion” eco-conscious brand based in West Sussex. The mask is made from triple-layered cotton.
What we think: Holway says this is a comfortable mask, and it’s thin enough to not completely muffle her words when she’s talking. “I can have a phone call while wearing it, which seems impossible with some masks,” she says. The fabric isn’t particularly soft, but it’s very breathable and hasn’t caused any discomfort. The pleats make it fit snugly, too.
Light test: If you open up the pleats, you can see a little light through the material.
Availability: The store is currently on pause, but you can sign up to be notified when they begin production again.
Manchester-based Wawwa make its masks to order — so if the stock is sold out, it’s likely to become available soon. The company makes its masks with ripstop cotton, which is woven with a crosshatch pattern to reinforce the fabric and make it more durable.
What we think: Chris says the big selling point was the horizontal straps. “They keep the mask on without feeling too tight on my face,” he says. “They also keep my glasses on securely; I’ve tried ear-loop masks and, bar one, haven’t got on well with them, as they push my glasses off my face.” The cotton is thick, but this means it takes a little longer to dry after being handwashed, too.
British fashion brand Plümo has started producing its own face masks. They are made from organic linen and feature four layers of fabric. Plümo advises washing them at 90 degrees after each use, and for every mask purchased, the brand will donate to the Masks 4 NHS Heroes initiative.
What we think: According to Ailbhe, these masks, which she has four of, are the comfiest she owns. She liked the fact the ear ties are easy to adjust, as well as the small red stitch which indicates which way up the mask is. “I’m also in love with the colour range (I own masks in Finnish Blue and Forest Green), and I like that Plümo donates to an NHS charity for every mask sold,” she says. “I don’t wear glasses, but my husband does – and of all the masks we own, these are his preferred, as the thin loops don’t disrupt the arms of his glasses.” It only lets a bit of light in if you stretch it, otherwise none.
All the masks sold by the Mask Collective are double-layered, breathable fabrics, including this cotton-linen blend option. They also feature an interior pocket for an extra filter to be inserted. The company advises washing them at 90 degrees.
What we think: Mandle said the mask was the most comfortable he owned – soft and comfy, even after several hand washes, and the linen blend felt more breathable than his other masks. Additionally, the adjustable loops on the ears meant wearing this mask with glasses was not a problem.
Light test: You can see through the blue (outer) layer if you hold it up to the light, but not through both layers. This mask also comes in darker shades.
This mask from East London accessories company Goodordering is made from three layers of 100 percent cotton, with at least one layer densely woven for extra protection. There is space to insert a filter inside — Goodordering sells them in packs of ten separately (but are currently sold out) though coffee filters also work. The fabrics are either remnants or recycled, made in-house in collaboration with a local costume professional. The masks are made to withstand being washed frequently at 60 degrees.
What we think: We have tried both the “curve” and “origami” styles of masks sold by Goodordering, and found that the curve mask was the more comfortable of the two. “The origami mask needs to be ironed to sit flat, and I don’t iron,” says Ailbhe. “It also has space for a filter, but as it doesn’t sit flat, it’s kind of a pain.” Overall, the cotton was comfortable and lightweight. Ailbhe says her masks have also faded slightly in the wash since she first bought them two months ago, and the elastic has frayed a little bit.
Light test: Both of these pass.
Availability: The origami is sold out, but the curve is still in stock.
These face masks are double-layered, recyclable, and made from 100 percent cotton. Cultureville recommends sanitising the mask before and after each use with cold water and detergent, and they are currently offering each customer in the UK, Europe, the US, and Nigeria one free mask, which can be redeemed with the code STAYSAFE.
What we think: We first heard about Cultureville’s masks when compiling our Black Business Directory, and Ailbhe tried both the light cotton (the Adetayo and the thicker chequered mask (which has since sold out). Both wash well – although if you want the pleats to sit nicely, you’d need to iron them.
Prop-maker and set designer Madeline Famurewa started making face masks as part of Little Prints Kids, her handmade kids’ clothing line, which uses block prints from Lagos, Nigeria. These are made to order on Famurewa’s Instagram page (so can be made for adults or children of any age) and for every sale, Little Prints Kids will donate a mask to Whitefoot and Downham Food Bank, which is aiming to give two masks to each of its most vulnerable clients.
What we think: Mandle picked one of these up after hearing Little Prints Kids (who he knows outside of work) were donating money from these masks to his local food bank. The discreet piece of metal in the nose allows this to be shaped to your face, and the curved shape also accommodates glasses easily. Due to the metal, we’ve only handwashed these to be safe, but they’ve washed well.
Light test: They don’t let any through whatsoever.
ASOS does a range of different face masks and it’s donating £1 from every sale of this product to Oxfam’s Coronavirus Emergency Response Appeal. The masks in this two-pack are made from a blend of polyester and elastane, giving it a stretch not unlike a pair of yoga pants. Rather than loops, they have slashes in the material, which you stretch to put over your ears (there are two on each side depending on what fit you want).
What we think: Compared to the others we have tried, these stretchy masks felt more restrictive and less comfortable. Chris said if he didn’t wear glasses, these would probably have been fine, but they pulled on his ears and were quite painful.
Light test: They don’t let any in, even when stretched slightly.
Masks we like but haven’t tested yet
These double-layered masks from iconic lingerie brand Wolford are 100 percent water-repellent, with an aluminium nose wire to adapt to your face. Made from 91 percent polyester and 9 percent elastane, these masks are breathable but still thick, with extra-thin elastic bands to keep the covering in place.
This mask is similar to the one we reviewed above, but made with 100% cotton.
Hype, a Leicester-based fashion and accessories brand, has launched its own branded face masks, which come in a single or multipack of three. They’re made from 100 percent cotton, and the company recommends washing them at 30 degrees on a cold cycle before drying on a radiator.
These masks by Inkymole, which we saw on Contrado, come in a pack of four in a variety of designs. They’re made from a quilted, three-ply jersey fabric and are made to be machine washable in temperatures of up to 60 degrees.
Availability: Ready within ten days of ordering.
These masks are handmade to order in London and feature loud, colourful patterns on the front (you can even submit your own designs on the website). They come in sizes S to XL and are available in two fabric options: a thick, quilted jersey fabric, and Olympia Airflow, which is a nylon mesh fabric.
Availability: Made to order.
This small business, based in Wales, is currently selling handmade masks made from a blend of cotton and polyester. This tropical-print mask is lightweight but still durable (and machine washable). Rew Clothing provides the masks in three sizes. It recommends “small” for children between 5 and 12, medium for older children and women, and large “for most men.” The seller recommends washing your mask before first use.
Availability: Low stock.
London-based fashion label Florence Bridge has started making face masks, which feature a 100 percent cotton lining and a satin front covering. The straps are designed to be tied two ways, and Florence Bridge is donating a portion of profits from mask sales to Fuel Our Frontline, a charity delivering groceries and supplies to NHS and front line staff.
This Amsterdam-based brand is currently manufacturing handmade, two-tone masks out of checkered fabrics. The 100 percent cotton, double-layered masks come in one size, with natural fibres to ensure breathability. The seller recommends washing the mask at up to 60 degrees after each use.
This olive-coloured reusable mask comes with two filters, which the British Mask recommends replacing after each use. The mask has adjustable ear straps (but also comes in two sizes, S/M and M/L) and is made from comfortable, 100 percent cotton material. The British Mask recommends washing the mask at 60 degrees — just remember to remove the filter before you put it in the washing machine.
Designed and made in their Shoreditch store, these masks by menswear brand Labrum London come in two sizes and lots of different colours and patterns. One hundred percent of the funds from each reusable mask sold during this period will go directly toward the Wickers Charity, which at this time is focusing on providing care packages for children and young people in low-income families, attempting to combat school-holiday poverty.
Kids’ fabric masks available to buy online
Some Strategist-recommended mask accessories
Strategist UK writer Chris Mandle took a punt on these silicone grabbers (originally used by cyclists), and was astonished by how well they worked. They slide onto the ends of your glasses and, due to being angled downward, almost grip around your ear, keeping them from slipping off. He writes: “I tested them out by running up and down three flights of stairs in my block of flats — and sure enough, my glasses stayed in place. Now doing the food shop, or even just walking to the park, is less fraught.”
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