How to Choose a Non-Medical Face Mask + Our Top Picks

Fed & Fit
Fed & Fit

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    We’re talking ALL things face masks today, plus, sharing our top picks for non-medical face masks so that you can snag the comfiest, most effective masks out there!

    three face masks laying on a blue surface

    At the beginning of the quarantine (and just the general spread of the pandemic), I wasn’t too concerned about having a comfortable (let alone cute) mask. I mean, this was temporary, right? A couple of weeks MAX. I could throw on a scratchy, tight, doesn’t-fit-me-quite-right mask for the 1-2 quick trips outside of my house per week for just a couple of weeks. Well, it’s July, and masks are still a thing, so it’s time to ditch the ‘temporary’ masks we were all ok with for some comfier, cuter, fits-just-right (channeling my inner Goldilocks here) masks that we can throw on for the long haul.

    As much as we wish this post wasn’t necessary, it is. While we can’t change the current circumstances, we can certainly choose to make the best of them, and because it looks as if masks will be an accessory that we’ll continue to don for quite some time, we want to make sure that you know everything you need to know about masks, PLUS, which masks are the comfiest, cutest, and most effective so that you can confidently and safely waltz into your favorite public establishments! 

    What to Look for in a Non-Medical Face Mask

    According to the WHO, there are several things you should look for when selecting a non-medical (or fabric) face mask. Here’s a quick breakdown:

    Type of Fabric

    First to be considered is the type of materials that make up the mask, and the filtration and breathability of those materials. You’ll want to choose a mask that is easy to breathe through but still effectively filters droplets and particles. You can find a full list of effective face mask fabrics on page 9 of this document, but know that tight-woven cotton, polyester, propylene, chiffon, and silk are all great options for masks.

    Mask Construction

    You should also pay attention to the number of layers your mask is made of, as any non-medical mask should be made up of a minimum of 2 layers: an outermost layer that is hydrophobic and repels droplets (often made of propylene or polyester), and an innermost layer that DOES absorb droplets (hydrophilic), like cotton, silk, or chiffon. A bonus middle layer made of either type of material will help even more with effective droplet and particle filtration.

    Mask Management

    The way that you take care of your mask is just as important as the actual mask that you choose to wear. Your mask is most effective if it is worn by only ONE person (YOU), stays dry when in use, and is washed frequently at the highest tolerable temperature (the tolerable temperature will be different for each material…check the label on your mask for this!).

    woman putting on a face mask

    What type of materials are safe?

    It isn’t as simple it seems. When looking at material safety, you have to consider the material itself, its structure (woven, knit, bonded, etc.), and the combination of materials used. Remember, masks are typically made up of several materials, and the material of each mask layer may differ. For exact material filtration and breathability measurements, reference the table on page 9 of THIS document, but in general, spunbond polypropylene, knitted cotton, knitted polyester, and woven cotton have the highest filter quality factor, while woven nylon has the lowest. Do remember though, if your mask is made up of nylon AND another material, the filter quality factor will be higher – this is another reason that layers are so important!

    What is the most comfortable type of mask material?

    The most comfortable mask is one that fits *your* face properly (this will be different for everyone!), and will likely be made of a material that not only filters effectively but also has safe (but comfortable) breathability. According to the WHO’s previously referenced table (found HERE), breathability for non-medical masks should be under 100 Pa (Pascals).

    Does your mask need to have a filter?

    It’s likely that your fabric face mask will be effective enough on its own, especially if you’re following social distancing recommendations, but using a filter can certainly add an extra layer of protection to your non-medical mask. 

    How can you tell that your face mask fits properly?

    Your mask should be fitted over your nose, cheeks, and chin so that the edges of your mask don’t let external air in. When wearing a mask, the hope is that air will be filtered through the mask before reaching your mouth and nose, so that the air your breathing is as germ-free as possible. If your mask is loose enough to let unfiltered air in, your mask isn’t able to do its job. 

    Another important note when it comes to fit: your mask should be snug and pulled up OVER your nose (so that the top edge of the mask is resting on the bridge of your nose). Pulling your mask below your nose may be more comfortable, but this practice defeats the purpose of wearing a mask to filter the air around you.

    Are bandanas as effective as face masks?

    While a bandana may not be *as* effective as a face mask, it can still do the job pretty well. You’ll want to fold your bandana several times so that there are several layers of material between the outside air and your mouth/nose. It’s also important to remember to secure the bandana tight enough around your face so that external air isn’t able to get through the edges. This video is an easy tutorial on making your bandana into a mask with a couple of things that you likely already have on hand!

    Our Top Picks for Face Masks

    These masks are some of the best that we’ve seen! 

    3 face masks stacked on top of each other on a white surface

    Triple-Layer Masks from Summersalt

    Summersalt's masks are made from recycled swimsuit material, lined with cotton, triple-layered, and have adjustable earloops for a good fit! For every set sold, Summersalt will donate a face covering to a worthy organization doing their part to help the larger community.

    Silk Face Masks

    • Adjustable Silk Face Mask from Night – this one is a bit of a splurge, but it is a 100% silk, triple-layered mask that comes with 7 disposable filters. It also has an adjustable nose clip so that it sits securely (and will help keep your breath from fogging up your glasses!) plus the silk fabric is non-irritating and great for those dealing with maskne (mask acne!). As a bonus, Night will donate 5 masks for each one purchased.
    • Botanical Silk Face Mask from Majoie Maldives – this is another great silk option and comes in some really fun tie-dye patterns! A percentage of profits will go to profits to supporting their “Beyond Sustainable Project” that improves the lives of Maldivian women in local islands, plus they are buy one, get one free.

    black and leopard face masks on a white surface

    Spandex Face Masks from Onzie

    If you've had trouble with the breathability of cotton face masks, give these spandex masks from Onzie a try! These are made from up-cycled material, and proceeds will be donated to healthcare workers across America through a donation to the Center For Disaster Philanthropy. They currently have masks available in black, leopard, tie-dye, and floral prints.

    4 face masks laid out on a white surface

    Bisous Face Masks from Clare V

    These face masks from Clare V are adorable, made from 100% cotton, and tie around the head for a secure fit.

    a white, navy, and light blue mask on a white surface

    Sustainable Masks from Nisolo's Mask Marketplace

    Looking for a mask that's made sustainably and ethically? Nisolo has you covered! They've evaluated over 100 masks to find you the most functional, stylish, and comfortable ones out there.

    set of 5 tie dye face masks on a white surface

    Tie-Dye Mask Set from Nordstrom

    This 5-pack of masks is on-trend, affordable, cute, and made from a combination of polyester and cotton to get the job done perfectly.

    Face Masks from Etsy:

    Etsy has thousands of face masks available from local sellers, below are some of our top picks!

    • BeWellGroup – These cotton face masks are 100% cotton, quadruple-layered, include a nose wire and adjustable ear loops to help you get the best fit, have a filter pocket, and come in tons of cute prints!
    • FaceMasksMNM Masks – these masks are reusable, have a filter pocket, a nose wire, and come in a variety of prints, patterns, and materials!
    • Cotton Face Masks from ThinkPinkBows – these are a really great option if you find that typical masks don’t fit you quite right. You can choose between 3 sizes (kids, medium, and large), plus, they’re super cute, triple-layered, and include a filter pocket.
    • Ililily Face Masks – These cute floral face masks come in multiple colors, have adjustable ear loops, a nose wire, and they're shipping quickly!

    We hope you’ll use this article on all things masks (plus, our favorite non-medical face masks!) as a guide to help you navigate this unpredictable time!


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    1. Allison says:

      Have you tried any of these? When you said you were going to share your favorite and you say they are “comfy” I’m just curious how you know. If you have tried them, please tell us about those experiences and what you liked about these favorite masks. Otherwise it’s just the description on the mask that we can already see ourselves on their site. Many of these masks don’t have a lot of reviews yet, so a real life experience would have been helpful. It seems to me more of a mask roundup of ones that look good on the internet, but perhaps you haven’t actually tested. I could very well be wrong!