5 tips to make your face mask more protective

Vaccines may be critical to ending the pandemic, but masks remain one of our best individual weapons against the coronavirus.

As new, more infectious variants spread across the world, public-health experts have emphasized the importance of making sure masks are layered and sealed tightly.

The bottom line: Eyes, nose and mouth have to be protected from other people’s air space. But not all masks are designed with the same level of protection in mind.

Outlined five helpful tips to make masks more protective.

Most of the tips involve basic surgical masks, which studies have found are highly effective — when worn properly — at blocking respiratory droplets and smaller airborne particles called aerosols.

Covering your nose is perhaps the most critical element of wearing a mask. A study published in May found that nasal cells were more likely to become infected with and shed coronavirus than cells in the throat or lungs.

But noses can be tricky to shield. Masks often ride down or form a gap along the nose bridge.

For this reason, the CDC recommends choosing masks with a nose wire, or a metal strip along the top. Adjusting the wire over the nose helps to ensure that masks are sealed tightly so no droplets or aerosols can leak out.

An added bonus: Nose wires can keep your glasses from fogging up, a good sign that they're improving the seal.

The mask brace fits over a surgical mask with "teeth" that hold it down over the nose and cheeks.

Surgical masks are made of nonwoven fabric, so they're usually the safest option for people who don't have access to an N95 mask, the gold standard for face coverings.

But surgical masks don't offer a perfect seal. A recent study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that a medical-grade procedure mask blocked just 59% of respiratory aerosols from a cough.

However, research suggests that layering a mask brace or fitter on top of a surgical mask can make it nearly as good as an N95.

Fitters have been scientifically demonstrated to improve filtration performance by as much as 90% or more, which, again, is getting into that range of filtration efficiency afforded by N95 respirators.

Most surgical masks are one size fits all, but the CDC recently outlined a Do-It-Yourself way to achieve a tighter seal.

Start by folding the mask in half, edge to edge. Then tie both ear loops so the knots are as close to the mask as possible. Finally, unfold the mask and tuck any extra fabric beneath the knots.

The mask is tighter-fitting on your face because the mask moves in and out as you breathe. The "knot and tuck" method can improve the mask's filtration by up to 20%.

The combination of a cloth mask over a surgical one, they found, was more than 70% effective at filtering tiny particles (less than 0.3 micrometers) and more than 90% efficient at filtering particles 1 micrometer and larger.

The surgical mask acts as a filter while the cloth mask helps to ensure a tight seal.

The second mask should push the edges of the inner mask against your face.

The fact that they got 92% means that there's this effect of greatly improved fit preventing leakage out of the sides.

Ill-fitted masks will have gaps at the top or bottom, or along the sides. That's why public-health experts advise against using bandanas or scarves as face coverings.

If the mask has a good fit, you will feel warm air come through the front of the mask and may be able to see the mask material move in and out with each breath.

Ultimately, though, any mask is better than none.

The fact that they got 92% means that there's this effect of greatly improved fit preventing leakage out of the sides.