Thongs vs. Scuba Gear: A Doctor Reviews DIY Coronavirus Face Masks

Turns out strapping a maxi pad to your face isn't a horrible option.
April 29, 2020, 3:52pm

With the CDC recommending people wear masks in public amid a shortage of medical masks for healthcare workers, Americans are starting to get creative. People have found a way to make just about anything into a mask. Take a jockstrap or an orange peel, and make it functional fashion.

What might seem like a joke or a thirsty TikTok, these makeshift masks could actually offer some protection — or at least better protection than no mask at all.

We asked a doctor to review some of the wild attempts at homemade masks that we’ve seen on the internet. Dr. Geoff Sklar oversees all PPE for his medical group, United Urology, and the coronavirus pandemic has forced him to rethink face-mask protocol.

“The mask is not necessarily intended to protect the person wearing the mask but to help with the social distancing of people around them, so that if some of these particles or aerosolized particles come out, they travel less of a distance to infect less people,” Dr. Sklar said.

And then there’s the theory that an outrageous mask will create a natural distance from others. “The shock factor is definitely going to increase your social distancing,” he said.

Dr. Sklar rated these makeshift masks on their ability to protect both the individual wearer and other people. His judgments were based on material, breathability (or comfort level), and ability to take it off.

Surprisingly, the maxi pad got high marks. The fibrous cotton had the best shot at blocking larger particles (and some smaller ones) from exiting the pad. Sklar suggested using a pad with wings to cover your nose — which the average plastic water jug mask, for example, does not offer.

Importantly, nylon and silk were deemed the worst materials to protect yourself and others. So save the silk thong or nylon jockstrap, because these materials let large particles escape.

And while Halloween masks might work for social distancing, the vinyl and plastic ones are difficult to wear for any significant period of time, especially when you begin exceedingly sweating through the eye holes midway through your grocery-store run.

Of course, none of these masks really offer much protection when compared to an N95 mask — but those need to be saved for medical professionals. So pop on a DIY mask when you go outside, but stay away from other people — and wash your damn hands.