Here’s a rundown of what’s available now, what’s coming soon, masks that do double duty, and much more.
Grabbing a mask on your way out has become as familiar as reaching for your house key, as well it should. Masks are not going to go away anytime soon. With the introduction of a new, more virulent strain of COVID-19, the country’s leading epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci has recommended doubling up on masks (and there’s even evidence that three masks may be best). As is often the case with critical gear, technology has stepped in to build a better mask. The thinner cloth masks that are very popular are too porous, so an alternative is needed now.
“After a year of living with COVID-19 and two—almost three—vaccines becoming available, wearing masks remains one of the best ways people can protect themselves and others around them,” stressed Dr. Elaine Hanh Le, chief medical officer at Healthline. “In fact, even after people receive full dosages of the COVID-19 vaccine, it is still recommended that they continue to wear masks because most of the population still hasn’t received vaccinations. With new variants that are even more infectious, it is a good idea to double mask.”
But first, let’s clear up the kerfuffle on the differences between the N95 and the KN95 masks: There is none, except for certification. Both N95 masks (US standard) and KN95 (China standard) masks are worn over the mouth and nose with behind-the-ear straps to hold the mask in place, and must filter out and capture 95% of tiny 0.3-micron particles in the air (hence the “95” in the names). Both are made of layered synthetic material, usually a polypropylene plastic polymer.
SEE: Return to work: What the new normal will look like post-pandemic (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
Here’s the latest in what’s available and what’s ahead in the world of masks.
Active+ Halo sensor ($150) from AirPop tracks respiratory information, like breath rate, and can use that information, with local air quality information, to inform the wearer what kinds of pollutants have been blocked, when to replace the filter, and more. It’s water-resistant, skin-friendly, 99% bacterial filtration, 40 hours of use. Comes with four filters.
Still in prototype and introduced at CES 2021, Razer’s Project Hazel features two signature smart pods on each side of the mask for filtration via changeable filters and a rechargeable active ventilation system, and it delivers medical-grade N95 respirator protection that filters out at least 95% of airborne particles and offers a high-fluid resistance. At CES 2021, Project Hazel was launched, “with five key pillars: safety, social, sustainability, comfort, and personalization.”
The manufacturer said Viracide mask (price N/A) deactivates 99%+ of coronavirus & influenza in minutes with added 98% nano-filtration protection and claim Viracide masks are “the only face-covering masks that deactivate coronavirus + influenza in minutes.” FDA- registered ASTM Level 3 grade, it has layers: Antiviral copper, 99% viral free active deactivate layer; health filtration protection layer, with 98% filtration, and sterile hypoallergenic comfort layer. The Viracide V-KN95 has the same features, but with traditional N95 styling.
The Tel Aviv-based Copper Inside ($35 for five) masks are reusable and have copper woven into the mask’s fibers; copper apparently has protective properties and it strengthens the mask for durability and reduces odor. The Copper Oxide Fabric was developed for medical wound dressing and said to be safe and effective against viruses and bacteria. It’s backed by over 30 registered patents, and cleared by the FDA in 2018.
CoolTouch Reusable Cooling Masks ($10) Tricol Clean uses what the company calls “Jade CoolTouch Tech,” cooling microfiber fabrics that transfer heat quickly, providing instant relief as heat is moved away from the body. The mask won the buyers’ choice award at the PPE ECRM event in November 2020.
TrueHero Extreme Coverage Shield ($175) from Jamestown Plastics has a flanged perimeter, along with coverage over the forehead and under the chin, for coverage/protection from all angles. To prevent fogging, it allows heat and moisture to be drawn out from the inside with room for those who wear eyeglasses. TrueHero is reusable and many were donated to healthcare hospital workers in New York City and across the country by company president Jay Baker.
Outdoor Research Essentials Face Mask ($20) designers set out to create an effective, yet comfortable mask to wear all day. It promised the Department of Defense the most effective solutions to the global pandemic. Masks were first created for the DOD, and the masks are now available to the public. It is naturally breathable, spacious, and customizable
The reusable Kitsbow Face Mask ($25) has been upgraded. Kitsbow recently added a new safety update which makes it easier to insert and remove the replaceable HEPA-type filter with a double-entry pocket that allows for easier insertion and positioning of the filter medium—a feature especially helpful for removing and replacing the filter between washes. Made in the USA.
Distanz Polygiene Face Masks ($19.50) by Full Turn Apparel are virus-resistant, used by major sports teams and Fortune 500 companies, and are produced with ViralOff, a globally accepted textile treatment to reduce SARS-COV-2, H3N2, and H1N1 by over 99% in just two hours of use, the manufacturer said. It is used by the Los Angeles Dodgers, and major collegiate and pro sports teams.
JustAir Advanced Face Mask System ($250) provides serious safety masking. Users exhale filtered air to protect anyone nearby and features positive pressure airflow technology combined with medical-grade HEPA, carbon filters, and electrostatic for 12 hours of cool air, free from viruses, bacteria, and allergens, said the manufacturer. Available in black or blue.
Airgami ($40) is made by Air99 with N95-grade air-filtration and its creator describes it as an Origami-based mask with a better fit and higher breathability due to increased surface area. It’s available in four sizes and many different colors/patterns. It blocks hazardous PM0.3 and PM2.5 particulates and aerosols that can potentially carry coronavirus and influenza.
Envomask ($79) is a reusable N95 made by Sleepnet which added a Silicon-based soft face seal to ensure a better fit.
3M’s Half Mask 6000 Series ($17) is a reusable, industrial-strength elastomeric respirator with large filters for greater breathability and four-point harness fit.
Many of those who must wear a mask all day (healthcare, food services, etc) know the irritation of “maskne” skin breakouts. Accel Lifestyle developed the Prema Anti-Bacterial Face Mask ($19-$23), made in the USA, double-layered with a proprietary fabric. An Accel Lifestyle rep said, “Even after 100 washes, the fabric is still 98% anti-bacterial.” Customers include hospitals, the US Navy and Navy SEALs.
Sports gear manufacturer UnderArmor has developed the UA Sportsmask ($30), which is reusable/washable, water-resistant, and “designed for maximum breathability.” It features three-layers and designed for performing athletes. It has a built-in UPF 50+ sun protection, and, “will reduce the spread of respiratory droplets by the wearer,” mitigate airflow to the eyes, to prevent glasses from fogging. Available in six colors and five sizes.
Mind Beauty’s AM99 Mask ($10-$20) uses patented nanotechnology textiles which Mind Beauty said kills the coronavirus with 90% efficiency and other potentially harmful microorganisms including MRSA E.coli. and Klebsiella pneumoniae, and protects against more contagions of global health concern, which lead to meningitis, salmonella, UTIs and food poisoning). It comes with lab certifications, is washable 70 times, 24-hour antibacterial.
“Clear, see-through masks that provide great COVID-19 protections, while still allowing people to see each other’s faces are one of the best innovations to happen recently,” Dr. Hanh Le said. “Most of us heavily rely on visual cues to aid in communications, and when you cover up the nose and mouth, which is necessary for the mask to protect the wearer and others around them, facial features and expressions are much harder to discern.”
“The mask becomes a barrier not only for the virus but also for our human-to-human communications and interactions. This difficulty was particularly acute for the deaf or hard of hearing because most masks available on the market were opaque and made lip-reading and reading facial expressions impossible. For those folks, 2020 was a much lonelier time because it made communicating with others and participating in the community dramatically harder.”
BendShape Mask (three for $21) was developed by a team of material scientists, chemists, and textile engineers who came together to build personal protective equipment that leverages science, design, and manufacturing. The BendShape Quartz is a transparent, anti-fog, and washable general purpose mask. Quartz is made of breathable textile sides for all-day comfort, even during facial motion.
The Canopy Hero and Flex mask from Canopy ($120) is a modular, transparent, see-thru mask with an “elastomeric shell” for a better fit. It has three times the surface area of the disposable N95, blocks more than 90% and up to 99% of harmful particles.
Now available, Nexvoo’s Breeze ($80) is a transparent, self-sanitizing face mask designed to protect against viruses, bacteria, allergens, mildew, dust, odors, and more with two N99 level filers. Nexvoo said it has 99% efficiency and more protection than N95 masks. Two micro fans increase oxygen intake and remove carbon dioxide “so you can be comfortable wearing your mask all day long whether you are working, jogging, cycling, or studying,” said Nexvoo. It has a “built-in UV-C light t0 kills bacteria and viruses and medical-grade silicone seals any air gaps to prevent unfiltered air from flowing.”
Redcliffe Medical’s Leaf ($60 starting price) is a transparent, N100 HEPA filtration, self UV-C sterilizing mask, FDA registered mask. The transparency allows for face-recognition to unlock smartphones with the mask on. It’s anti-fogging, has a filtered exhaust system, active ventilation, and air-quality monitoring. Comes in variants, three sizes, and five colors. USA made.
“Additionally, most of the commercially available masks also didn’t allow us to do large vocalizations, making it impossible for singers to continue to create music,” Dr. Hanh Le added and said The Broadway Relief Project worked to create the “Singer’s Mask,” “which is deep enough to keep the fabric away from a person’s mouth but is still thick enough to protect the wearer and his/her contacts.”
More than just masks: Masks that multitask
MaskFone ($50) is a wireless Bluetooth headphone and mask in-one that uses Hubble Connected’s technology and has a built-in microphone with a medical-grade N95 Filter, a five-layer filtration system, is washable. The company introduced the concept mask MegaFone at CES which will be equipped with a detachable voice projector that offers a “walkie-talkie” mode for voice projection and two-way talk. No more having to ask someone to repeat unheard words anymore, it uses Mesh Network to pair with other MegaFone masks, so no smartphone needed.
Tactika Facewear (starts at $99) is an integrated mask & glasses/sunglasses that magnetically clip-on and off. Tactika has an interchangeable system in which a mask, grill, visor, frame, and clip-on lens are used. The magnet-applied lenses can be customized with prescription lenses. There is an option for a clip-on clear/transparent shield which Tactika calls the “visor.” The design is anti-fogging. Filters are washable.
The Maskie ($15) Andrew Pires created a mask that changes from a scrunchie (hair tie) to a face covering.
Keeping current with masks
Even though many masks feature sunscreen elements, if you’re going to be outdoors, use sunscreen. Mineral-powder sun-protection, like Colorscience ($69), won’t make some masks stick to skin as lotions might.
“The scale and magnitude of the COVID pandemic have forced us to become creative about how we can better protect ourselves and those around us, and one great example of this can be seen with the new use of the Insignia Technology Smart Labels,” Dr. Hanh Le said.
“Originally developed for the food industry to help producers and consumers determine when food is nearing its expiration date, the company is now modifying the labels to expand the application to face masks, alerting wearers when the disposable mask should be switched out with a newer mask. All too often, we see masks hanging off rear view mirrors or masks that look ‘well-worn,’ so we know that these masks are not effective anymore because of physical degradation from prolonged sunlight or heat or from repeated use. Instead of waiting until the mask literally falls apart, the label could be a helpful (non-judgmental) reminder to remain diligent about using face masks that have the best integrity and protections.”
But with the evolving overall improvement to masks is very much for the better. Dr. Hanh Le concluded, “It’s exciting to see that we’re innovating on the masks now so that they’re not only effective in protecting us but also allow us to lead our normal, if not more joyous, very human lives.”