I recently came across a selfie from April 2020 where I wore a “mask” that was just a bandana folded up and secured with hair ties to make a sad, limp origami face covering. It’s hard to believe this was the viral (lol) personal protective gear trick at the time, wrapping a linty old piece of cotton around my face to go buy and then wipe down my groceries. But back then, not even nurses could get their hands on a mask; these were just the ad hoc hacks we made up to stumble through a terrifying, confusing time.
In 2020, researchers from the University of Cambridge started testing out some of the ways people might adjust face masks to make them fit better on their faces. Their findings were finally released as a peer-reviewed study this week in the journal PLoS ONE.
A better seal around the edges of the masks means more protection from COVID-19, but most consumer-level surgical masks and KN95s leave gaps around the sides. The researchers tested seven different hacks that attempt to close the gaps, on surgical and KN95 masks:
- Taping the edges of a mask to one’s face
- Filling the sides of a mask with gauze
- Binding the mask to the face with gauze (the “mummy” method)
- Putting a knot in the ear loops
- Rubber bands around the front to create a “brace” against the mouth
- A slice of pantyhose wrapped around the face
All of these were better than nothing when tested by measuring concentrations of particles inside and around the mask. But the one that created the best seal was the pantyhose: they cut a section out of the thigh of some hose and yanked that over the wearer’s head and mask (except for one participant, who couldn’t get the hosiery over his head). The pressure of the stretchy fabric kept the mask on tight, but there was a catch: people really hated wearing it.
“The pantyhose caused high levels of discomfort as well as issues speaking and occasional obstruction of the eyes,” the researchers wrote.
“For most of the hacks, comfort was a big issue,” Eugenia O’Kelly, the paper’s first author, said in a press release. “The rubber bands for example, tended to put painful pressure on the ears and face, to the point where they hindered circulation to the ears. However, using an effective but uncomfortable hack may make good sense in some high-risk situations, where the discomfort is worth it for the added protection, but it would be harder to wear these hacks day in and day out.”
If someone can figure out how to combine the fetish market for crotch-scented masks with the improved safety of a better fit, they would have a real seller on their hands.