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

Fed + Fit team members, Lauren and Brandi, put 9 masks to the test! While there weren’t any “bad” masks, there were definitely favorites, but that mostly depended on personal preference and face shape. We’ve rated each mask on a 0-5 point scale for fog (no one wants their glasses getting cloudy while wearing a mask!), comfort, breathability, cuteness, and fit. Below, you’ll see just how the masks stacked up!

Video Review

 

5 assorted Sanctuary face masks laying on a light surface

Sanctuary Face Masks

We both really liked this mask! This super cute mask was comfy, the ear straps were nice and soft/stretchy, and though it made us feel a little bit warm, it was still more breathable than others we’ve tried on this journey. It also didn’t fog Lauren’s glasses up AT ALL! *This mask was one of my (Brandi’s) top choices.

  • Fog – 5/5
  • Comfort – 4.5/5
  • Breathability – 3/5
  • Cuteness – 5/5
  • Fit – 5/5

Learn more about Sanctuary face masks on their website.

6 neck gaiter face masks in assorted colors on a white background

Neck Gaiter

This one was probably our least favorite of the group. Though it was super breathable, it had a tendency to slide off of both of our faces and was just not a cute option. 

  • Fog – 4/5
  • Comfort – 3/5
  • Breathability – 4/5
  • Cuteness – 0/5
  • Fit – 1/5

Learn more about this neck gaiter here.

a pink floral Johnny Was face mask on a white background

Johnny Was Face Masks

We liked this mask overall! The outside of this one is silk, but the inside (the part that touches your face) is cotton. The biggest drawback here was the fact that the sides (near the cheeks) ballooned out, and though that made it a little bit easier to breathe in, it was definitely not a good look!

  • Fog – 4.5/5
  • Comfort – 3.5/5
  • Breathability – 5/5
  • Cuteness – 5/5
  • Fit – 3/5

Learn more about Johnny Was face masks on their website.

three different face masks alternating direction laying on a light colored surface

Armour Vert Face Masks

We both thought that this mask was super cute and breathable. This one does not have a metal strip at the bridge of the nose to help with fit, but it still kept Lauren’s glasses *mostly* fog-free.

  • Fog – 4/5
  • Comfort – 5/5
  • Breathability – 4/5
  • Cuteness – 5/5
  • Fit – 3/5

Learn more about Armour Vert face masks on their website.

a black face mask folded in half laying on a white surface

Outdoor Research Face Masks

We purchased this one because of its reputation of being SUPER breathable and great for outdoor activity, and let me tell you, it did NOT disappoint. The material kept us nice and cool, it has a metal piece at the bridge of the nose to help with fit, it has a pocket for filters if you choose to use one, and the ear straps are even adjustable so that you can customize it to fit your face perfectly. We rated this one a 0 on cuteness, but functionally, this mask served its purpose excellently. *This mask was one of Lauren’s top choices.

  • Fog – 5/5
  • Comfort – 5/5
  • Breathability – 5/5
  • Cuteness – 0/5
  • Fit – 5/5

Learn more about Outdoor Research face masks on their website.

three colorful face masks laying on a wood surface near a potted plant

Christy Dawn Face Masks

This one was pretty simple, comfortable, and cute. It did not do a great job of keeping Lauren’s glasses from fogging up, and the fit was not customizable at all, but it’s a good choice for a simple, comfy mask.

  • Fog – 2/5
  • Comfort – 5/5
  • Breathability – 5/5
  • Cuteness – 5/5
  • Fit – 4/5

Learn more about Christy Dawn face masks on their website.

a woman wearing a light green hedley and bennett face mask

Hedley & Bennett Face Masks

This mask was pretty average, but we did appreciate the adjustable ear straps and the metal piece at the bridge of the nose – both of these really helped us fit the mask to our face.

  • Fog – 2/5
  • Comfort – 3/5
  • Breathability – 4/5
  • Cuteness – 5/5
  • Fit – 4.5/5

Learn more about Hedley & Bennett face masks on their website.

two camo Rothys face masks laying on a white surface

Rothy’s Face Masks

We were so excited to try this mask out, and we ended up loving it as much as we thought we would. Though it didn’t keep the fog off of Lauren’s glasses, it ranked really well in all of the other categories. We especially loved that it kept our faces nice and cool. *This mask was one of my (Brandi’s) top choices.

  • Fog – 2.5/5
  • Comfort – 5/5
  • Breathability – 5/5
  • Cuteness – 5/5
  • Fit – 4.5/5

Learn more about Rothy's face masks on their website.

three floral Baggu face masks laying flat on a gray surface

Baggu Face Masks

We ordered this mask because we wanted at least one tie option (as opposed to the more common ear strap face masks). This brand offered several prints, the masks have a spot for a filter, and we found this mask to be really breathable. *This mask was one of Lauren’s top choices.

  • Fog – 5/5
  • Comfort – 2/5
  • Breathability – 5/5
  • Cuteness – 2/5
  • Fit – 4/5

Learn more about Baggu face masks on their website.

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!

Comments

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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!

  2. Kristen says:

    After several months, has the team tested any more of these? Any recommendations for these masks or others specifically for exercise? Soon to be teaching group exercise class – I want to be safe, but be able to breathe!!!

    1. Brandi Schilhab says:

      We have more on this (with lots of recommendations) coming soon! Stay tuned!