Why double masking is so popular right now—and how to do it
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There have been plenty of trends with masks, whether it’s hooking yours to a lanyard, drawing art on your disposable mask or stocking up on KN95s. But the latest breakout trend, by far, is double masking.
Double masking, i.e. layering one mask on top of another, is popping up everywhere from Pete Buttigieg at the presidential inauguration to essential workers. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has even addressed double masking, saying during a recent interview with Today that the practice “makes common sense.”
“If you have a physical covering with one layer, you put another layer on...it just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective,” he said.
But...why is this suddenly so popular? “Research has shown that, if you don’t use the best face masks, they don’t perform as well at protecting yourself and others,” Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells Yahoo Life. “While that’s not surprising, a number of people were double masking at the inauguration and then Anthony Fauci said it was a good idea. The Fauci effect is definitely at play.”
At the same time, news of more infectious variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, have dominated headlines. “To maintain the same transmission rate we currently have, we must do something better and the last thing left—after some type of lockdown—is improving the mask,” Aaron Collins, a mechanical engineer in Minnesota and self-described ‘citizen scientist’ who has been testing the filtration properties of different kinds of masks and sharing his findings on YouTube, tells Yahoo Life. “Aerosol spread has been indicated as the primary method of exposure, so the simple action of going from ‘okay’ source control—i.e. cloth masks—to better source control and inhalation protection will reduce this rate.”
Experts say there are a few reasons to consider double masking:
To make a sub-par mask better: “Layering two masks together in this situation could offer more protection,” Russo says.
To extend the life of your mask: Some people—including doctors—will use double masking to try to extend the life of their more expensive disposable masks, like a KN95, KF94 (the South Korean version of an N95) or N95, Russo says. To do this, people will wear their disposable mask on the bottom and cover it with a cloth face mask to protect the more valuable mask. “If you have a limited supply of N95s or KN95s, wearing a cloth face mask over it will protect it from getting pelted with particulate matter,” Russo says.
To add a filter to your mask: You can even use double masking to ‘upgrade’ your existing masks, Collins says. He also recommends using a surgical mask under your cloth face mask as a type of filter. “A surgical mask alone was never designed to be a respirator, but really was meant to capture as best as possible things that would have come out of your mouth during an operation and going into a patient,” he says. “However when you use the cloth mask to help seal that surgical mask to your face, now you are creating a sort of semi-homemade respirator.” Just know this, per Collins: These double mask combos can be tricky to breathe in. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try double masking, though. “If you already have surgical masks, it’s a great way to boost their inhalation protection for more risky situations, but I recommend it only for short term use,” Collins says. “So grocery shopping, food pickup, etc., as it will be uncomfortable to wear all day.”
Interested in giving double masking a go? Here are some combinations to try.
When You’re Grocery Shopping...
Lutema 3-Ply Disposable Face Mask
Collins is partial to Lutema surgical masks. Layer one of these under a cloth face mask for added protection in high risk situations.
Shop it: Lutema 3-Ply Disposable Face Mask, $30 for 50 masks, amazon.com
Proper Cloth Everyday Face Mask
Proper Cloth masks are known for their breathability and secure fit, making them a good choice for layering when you need extra protection.
Shop it: Proper Cloth Everyday Face Mask, $50 for 3 masks, amazon.com
When You Want to Extend the Life of Your Mask...
Dr. Family Disposable KN95 Face Masks
According to testing conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), these masks filter out more than 95 percent of airborne particles. Preserve the life of them by wearing a simple cloth mask over top.
Shop it: Dr. Family Disposable KN95 Face Masks, $15 for 5 masks, amazon.com
Levi's Re-Usable Bandana Print Reversible Face Mask
Slip one of these breathable masks over your KN95 or KF94 to extend the life of your valuable mask.
Shop it: Levi's Re-Usable Bandana Print Reversible Face Mask, $5 for 3 masks, amazon.com
When You Want to Upgrade a Subpar Mask...
Banana Republic Face Mask 3-Pack
You don’t want to layer your not-so-great mask with another subpar option. This mask has several layers, along with a metal nose bridge and adjustable ear loops for a secure fit.
Shop it: Banana Republic Face Mask 3-Pack, $12 for 3 masks (was $25), bananarepublic.com
The reviews quoted above reflect the most recent versions at the time of publication.
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