If you are growing tired of wearing an itchy face mask these days, you are certainly not alone! The mask has rapidly become a "go to" accessory for any indoor activity and often people are wearing them outdoors.
While there are many companies out there offering masks, there are a wide array of designs, textiles and accessories. Here is a checklist of "essential" things we think you should know when shopping for new masks.
1. Choose tightly woven 100% quilters' cotton. Every high-quality mask is going to start with a comfortable 100% cotton liner. This is sure to be the softest and most comfortable, as it is in contact with your face all day. Good-quality masks will include at least one middle or outer layer with high (600+) thread count fabric.
Cotton fabric is considerably more expensive than polyester or rayon, and it can be prone to slight shrinking. But shrinkage is much less of an issue where the mask vendor goes to the extra trouble of machine-washing the fabric prior to sewing.
2. Look for adjustable elastic straps (toggles). Straps should be soft to the touch and latex-free. Soft, pliable straps will not dig in behind your ears and feel uncomfortable against your cheeks. The extra trouble of adding an adjustable toggle on each strap allows the mask to be tightened comfortably for your particular face size. Moreover, as a mask is washed and re-washed, the fabric can shrink or stretch slightly. Having toggles to adjust your mask throughout the day means that your mask continues to fit snugly with no gaps around the edges.
3. Beware of synthetics. Whether you are shopping for masks with inner, middle or outer mask layers made of synthetics or natural fabrics, you want to breathe through a mask that is free from potentially harmful chemicals, and doesn't unnecessarily impede your breath. Cotton is all-natural and hypoallergenic, so it does not irritate the skin.
Some vendors offer rayon masks. How about two layers of rayon? Rayon might seem like a practical alternative to cotton, since it is fabric made from plants. Plant materials are broken down through a chemical and mechanical process, rendered into a viscous liquid, then spun into thread - it is a chemical-heavy, industrial process.
Further, some synthetic masks have hard plastic valves, which have uniformly been denounced among health authorities as endangering others, since exhaling through a vent sends breath droplets directly out the vent and into the air at the peril of others.
4. Consider the environment. With millions of Canadians wearing masks, the number of disposable masks and synthetic filter layers being tossed in the trash is piling up dramatically. Masks are now a significant contributor to our total landfill. Choosing masks made with all-natural fabrics like cotton will allow the mask to be properly recycled at a drop-off depot, instead of tossed in the trash.
Some of the more fanciful novelty designs we've noticed include LED masks that light up. These are marketed as "eco-friendly" despite being manufactured with so-called "fibre optic" fabrics. Is that really necessary?
5. Purchase ethically made masks. Consider the headlines that have seen in the media in recent years about overseas apparel production. When you buy masks from an off-shore factory or large importer, how can you be sure you are not encouraging unethical practices? Not all mask vendors care enough to uphold responsible sourcing throughout their supply chain. As a consumer, paying a little more to buy a locally made mask is a step in the right direction.
6. Avoid fluff claims. A quick scan of "online masks for sale" and you'll find plenty of vendors claiming their masks offer the best protection with statements that cannot be objectively verified. For example, synthetic masks are often touted as soft and gentle, but how can a synthetic textile not irritate your skin? We've found some masks online that are recommended for "up to 30 washes." How practical can it be to spend on a synthetic product that needs to be thrown away in about one month? Other common claims focus on breathability of synthetics. But how breathable can a mask be when you are trying to breathe through something that is waterproof ?
Watch out for mask vendors offering low-cost masks made from synthetic fabrics. Sometimes they’re marketed using techno-sounding names like "nano-technology" and "micro-filtering" while other companies add on imaginative adjectives to try to convey "high performance." Without an objective standard and independent testing, there is nothing high-performance about these questionable claims.
7. Own a few masks with bold styles. Yes, style is an important consideration! As this pandemic wears on all these weeks and months later, wearing the same bland masks over and over again will wear down even the most resilient of us. Having a choice of different styles including some bold or seasonal colours and patterns will put just a little bit more spring in your step. Parents should remember that kids like fun masks too, so give them some colourful choices to brighten their day.
As two formidable Toronto women, we started our small business by hand-sewing all the masks that we sell. We cut four pieces of cotton for every mask and sew them all together to make a smartly tailored, handmade cotton face mask. We take comfort and fit very seriously. You can adjust your mask to your unique face and head size to achieve a comfortable fit, with no gaps. We are careful to select all-natural, tightly woven quilters' cottons in all our masks, and we wash and tumble dry before hand-sewing each mask. We have over 100 styles to choose from, and adding more each week. We are proud to operate an ethical business and having a positive impact on the environment. You can feel good knowing that each mask is sewn by hand right here in Canada.