With health authorities continuing to urge face-covering in public to curb the spread of COVID-19, we've become familiar with the minor irritants of wearing masks: chafed ears, foggy glasses, snapped straps. The arrival of summer takes the potential discomfort up a notch, trapping sweat and heat under our facial sheaths.
"As physicians, when we are wearing masks for long periods of time, for example in surgery or during a procedure, you'll notice we keep the rooms what patients call ‘uncomfortably cold,'” says Gregory Poland, a physician and vaccine researcher at the Mayo Clinic. “There's a reason for that."
Keeping your face covered when venturing outside the home remains a crucial weapon in the fight against the coronavirus, recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and mandated by some state and local governments.
Fortunately, there are ways to stay cool or, at least, cooler while masked up. Here are five tips from experts for more comfortably keeping your respiratory droplets in check.
1. Choose the right fabric
A light, breathable material like cotton will likely keep your face cooler than medical and N95 masks made from synthetic materials, and in the right configuration can be effective in preventing contagion, according to new research by Taher Saif, a professor of mechanical science and engineering at the University of Illinois.
Saif's team tested 10 common fabrics, from 100 percent cotton to polyester and silk blends, to see which best balance comfort and droplet-blocking impermeability. The “sweet spot,” he says, is a two-layer mask made from a cotton T-shirt, which comes close to matching a surgical mask's efficiency in stopping potentially infectious droplets from coughs and sneezes and is about twice as breathable.
All-cotton tested best, but up to 40 percent polyester will do the job, Saif says. “I'm not a cloth expert. I just buy things from Walmart and Target,” he adds with a laugh. “Our study showed that if you have these layers on top of your mouth and nose, you don't have to have an official mask where it goes with the elastic behind your ears. You can just wrap it around your nose and mouth, like a bandana.”
Lighter, softer cotton coverings can also help you avoid chafing, heat rash or inflaming a skin condition like eczema or dermatitis, says Carrie Kovarik, an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine and a member of the American Academy of Dermatology's COVID-19 task force.