En español | The latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on face masks includes recommendations that, in areas of substantial or high transmission, fully vaccinated people wear a mask in public indoor settings. That means face masks are back in many parts of the country to decrease the spread of COVID-19 and fogged-up glasses are making a return with them.
When it's cold, your breath puffing up through the top of the mask clouds the lenses, especially when you go from the chilly outside to the warmer indoors, or in summer from heat outdoors to cool air-conditioned indoors, and the mask isn't tight around your face. The effect is similar to how a hot shower's steam fogs up a cool bathroom mirror.
The easiest, and least expensive, way to ensure that your glasses don't fog is to wear a snug-fitting mask with a tight seal across the top that prevents your breath from escaping, says Moran Roni Levin, M.D., assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. But there are other options, including antifog lens coatings, sprays and wipes.
An easy hack is to place a folded tissue between your mouth and the mask. The tissue will absorb the warm, moist air, preventing it from reaching your glasses. Also, make sure the top of your mask is tight and the bottom looser, to help direct your exhaled breath away from your eyes.
If you are using a surgical mask with ties, a 2014 article in the Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England advises going against your instincts. Tie the mask crisscross so that the top ties come below your ears and the bottom ties go above. It will make for a tighter fit.
The Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England published an article in 2011 that offered a simple method to prevent fogging, suggesting that, just before wearing a face mask, people wash their spectacles with soapy water, shake off the excess and then allow the lenses to air-dry.
"Washing the spectacles with soapy water leaves behind a thin surfactant film that reduces this surface tension and causes the water molecules to spread out evenly into a transparent layer,” the article reveals. “This ‘surfactant effect’ is widely utilised to prevent misting of surfaces in many everyday situations.” Antifogging solutions used for scuba masks or ski goggles also accomplish this.
Antifog lens coatings
Most antifog coatings are hydrophilic, meaning they act as a kind of microscopic sponge, allowing droplets of water to absorb into the coating, which prevents an opaque film from forming on the lenses. They are bonded to the lenses during the manufacturing process, before the eyeglasses are cut to fit your frame.
"This is an add-on, for lack of a better term, and is part of the same treatment process as antireflective, anti-glare or anti-smudge coatings,” explains Michael Vitale, a senior technical director at the Vision Council. You'll want to ask an eye care professional about the option, which you can select when you're placing your glasses order.
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Although these coatings are designed to last one to two years, Vitale notes, “Depending on how often you clean your lenses, and what you clean your lenses with, you may have to go back to your optician to have the lenses retreated."
Many lens coatings work in tandem with a special cloth.
- Zenni Optical has a two-in-one antifog and antireflective coating. Each pair of lenses comes with a special cloth that activates the antifog properties every time you clean your lenses. Used together, they provide several hours of fog-free lenses. The cloth can be used up to 1,000 times and lasts up to a year.
- Optifog lenses from Essilor are activated by applying a drop of Optifog Activator, once a week, to each side of the lens, then wiping the lens with a microfiber cloth. This keeps lenses fog-free for up to seven days. Optifog lenses are available in plastic, polycarbonate and high-index plastic.
Over-the-counter wipes and sprays
If you don't want to swap out your lenses, you can treat your specs with an over-the-counter protectant, such as an antifog spray or portable premoistened wipes. These treatments usually work by depositing a super-thin film of chemicals onto your lenses that prevent droplets from forming.
Most products dry, and begin working, within seconds. Sprays usually need to be rubbed into lenses with a microfiber cloth to evenly spread the product. It's effective, but that coating will wear off over time. “It's no different than putting wax on your car,” Vitale says. “The wax works really well until the first time you run it through the car wash and some of it gets stripped off. The same thing happens here. Every time you wipe your lens clean, you're wiping some of that coating off, so you need to reapply it every couple of days.”
You may need to try a few brands to see which antifog spray works best. And by all means, read those product reviews. Be sure they indicate that they won't harm any protective coatings you have on your lenses (some shouldn't be used on antireflective lenses). And note the presence of ammonia or alcohol, which may irritate sensitive eyes.
A few options, available at most major drugstores or online, include:
- Gamer Advantage FogAway Anti-Fog Spray ($15 for 2 ounces) This streak-free, silicone-free formula — a favorite among military personnel and first responders — lasts for about 24 hours and is safe for all types of lenses. Cool fact: In one test a lens treated with FogAway was held over constant hot steam for 60 minutes without fog forming.
- Optix 55 Fog Gone Anti-Fog Spray (2 ounces, $10.55) This product is meant to be used every time you step outside. Spritz a drop of spray onto both sides of your clean lens and use your fingers and a circular motion to coat the surface. Let it sit for one minute, then gently wipe the lens with a soft cloth and let it dry. The hypoallergenic formula — safe for all lenses — won't irritate eyes or skin. (It works on steamed-up bathroom mirrors, too.)
- Warby Parker Clean My Lenses Kit ($15) WarbyParker.com offers an antifog spray, a microfiber cleaning cloth and a lens pouch (which can also be used as an on-the-go cleaning cloth). The solution absorbs droplets that accumulate on lenses, preventing them from morphing into fog.
- No Fog microfiber cloth from Sios (available at select opticians’ offices; prices vary). Infused with antifog properties, the wipe can be used on all types of lenses, including those with special treatments, and can be reused up to 200 times, without cleaning. Results last eight to 12 hours.
- LifeArt Dry Anti-Fog Cloth ($10 at Lifeartvision.com). This cloth is gentle on lenses, and the results last for 48 hours; plus, you can reuse the cloth a whopping 700 times.
- Clarity DeFog It Drops ($16, 1 oz; on Amazon). The small squeeze bottle offers up to 100 applications and is easy to tote around. Add a few drops to your lens and rub them in with the provided soft microfiber cloth for a super-thin moisture-repelling coating.
Best Face Mask Materials: Cotton With Chiffon
If you are making a homemade mask, a new study published in the scientific journal ACS Nano found that homemade face masks that use a combination of tightly woven cotton and polyester-spandex chiffon or silk will provide a very effective filter for the aerosol particles that spread the COVID-19 virus. Masks made with one layer of cotton and two layers of chiffon (a netlike fabric often found in evening gowns) or silk will filter out some 80 to 99 percent of particles — similar to the effectiveness of the N95 mask material — due to the electrostatic barrier of the fabric. But here’s the kicker: The mask must have a snug fit. Even a 1 percent gap reduces the filtering of all face masks by 50 percent or more.
Editor's note: This story, originally published on February 26, 2021 has been updated to reflect new guidance from the CDC.