Health & Science

COVID-19: How To Help Your Face Mask Protect You

A medical professional shares guidelines for keeping your mask effective against the spread of coronavirus.

Hold the mask by the strings or ties that hold it secure to avoid touching the front on the outside or the inside where you put your mouth.

Some opt for N-95 or surgical masks, but most people use cloth or disposable varieties.

Both are effective, says Dr. Carolee Estelle, interim chief of Infection Prevention for Parkland Health & Hospital System and an assistant professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center. But she warns to throw out disposable masks when they become soiled or damp.

As for cloth masks, avoid synthetic materials, especially fleece.

“It’s not as tightly woven just by nature of the thread,” Dr. Estelle said. “Also, it tends to collect other things on it, so it can collect other pathogens on it. Bacteria viruses. It also can get very warm and, lead to moisture accumulation. Once you get moisture on any of the masks, unless it’s rated for being moisture resistant, as in surgery grade and N-95, that moisture actually degrades the ability of filtration.”

How To Care For The Mask:

It’s best to wash a cloth mask daily. You can just throw it in the laundry with your regular wash, or you can wash it by hand and soak it in a diluted bleach solution and then rinse it off.

You want to take care to only handle it by the strings or the ties that are holding it on secure so that you’re not touching the front of it on the outside or the inside where you put your mouth.

The outside of the mask is assumed to be contaminated because it’s facing the outside world. So you want to make sure you wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before you put the mask on, and then as soon as you’ve touched it and handled it, wash your hands or hand sanitize, once you’re done touching it, to make sure that your hands have been cleaned again.

When You Take Off The Mask For A While:

We recommend storing it in a paper bag. We use the brown paper bags people used to send their kids to lunch with. They make a great option because the air kind of flows freely through that. You can use a plastic bag if that’s all you’ve got. But some kind of bag it can sit in as opposed to laying it on the counter where germs on your mask are contaminating that surface, and germs on the surface you’ve laid it on are then contaminating your mask.

When you put it in the bag, make sure you close the edges of the mask so the inside edges are touching one another. And so that the outside surface is what’s sort of moving around inside.

If You Don’t Wash The Mask Regularly?

You can accumulate other bacteria, and the mask becomes unclean. You can get what we are affectionately calling “maskne” or mask- related acne. That comes from repeated wear of masks, but can be made worse if those masks aren’t kept clean.

How To Deal With Maskne

Clean your cloth mask daily. Change out the rectangular (disposable) masks on a daily basis. When you’re at home or in your car or when you’re in a space where you’re by yourself, you can give your face a break, a rest, to give it some time to breathe.

RESOURCES:

New York Times: Maskne Is the New Acne, and Here's What Is Causing It

FDA: Masks

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