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Do Mask Frames Improve — or Interfere With — Mask-Wearing?

Photo: Retailer

In light of the Omicron variant and at the urging of public-health experts, the CDC has updated its mask guidelines. The agency’s new standards stress that fabric masks are the least protective against COVID-19, whereas well-fitting N95, KN95, and KF94 masks — which use special nonwoven materials with an electric charge to block tiny aerosol particles — do a much better job of stopping the virus’s spread. Of course, any mask is better than no mask, but since this article was last updated in September 2020, we’ve talked to doctors, scientists, and public-health experts to help you find the best and most protective of the bunch. So whether you’re looking for a comfortable N95 you can wear on a plane, a child-size KF94KN95 masks your teenager can wear to school, or advice on double masking, we can help.

Dr. Ravina Kullar, an infectious-disease specialist, epidemiologist, and spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, told us about the ways a mask frame could be detrimental. Chief among her concerns are that a frame may prevent “the face mask from having a tight seal around a person’s mouth and nose” and “stretch out the mask and prevent it from covering the chin area.” (A snug fit around your mouth, nose, and chin is the best way for a mask to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.) Drew Adler, an M.D./Ph.D. candidate at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, agrees that the fit of a mask frame is key, noting that “if they are increasing breathability by pushing the mask away from the face, it would certainly reduce the mask’s efficacy.” Wearing a frame, Kullar adds, “may also cause someone to adjust their face mask — and therefore touch their face — as sagging may occur. We know that touching one’s face is a route of transmission of the virus.”

Still, in acknowledging the lack of specific studies on mask frames, Dr. David Hirschwerk, an infectious-disease specialist at North Shore University Hospital, says that as long as a frame “doesn’t impair the covering of the nose and mouth and provides an adequate seal,” it should be relatively safe. Adler seconded this opinion: If you wear a frame and can maintain “a good seal around all edges of the mask, one might expect the integrity of the mask would be maintained.” Importantly, Hirschwerk also reminded us that “the best thing we have to keep our community safe are masks,” adding that he’s “a supporter of any additional tools people want to use to make them more comfortable if it will encourage them to be more adherent to wearing them.”

If you do choose to try a mask frame, Adler says the most important criterion when selecting one is that it is washable, because just like with a reusable face mask, regularly cleaning a frame is essential. Although we’ve seen a few mask-frame-makers suggest sewing a frame onto a mask to keep it in place, Adler and Dr. Aaron Glatt, the chair of medicine at Mount Sinai South Nassau, both advise against that. “Making a hole in your mask isn’t a good idea,” warns Glatt. Below, a handful of silicone mask frames — all of which are washable — for anyone who wants to give the latest accessory a whirl.

These brackets have more than 300 five-star reviews on Amazon and are available in packs of three or six. When it comes to fit, one reviewer notes, “if you take the time to secure the mask properly, you can make it safer.” Another adds, “Soft. Comfortable. Creates a breathing space, but a mask can still fit snugly.”

These face-mask frames made from food-grade silicone are available in three colors — clear, gray, and coffee — to help you better match them to the masks you may wear on top of them. Says one reviewer: “The frame is soft yet rigid enough not to collapse on itself when the mask puts pressure on it and leaves only a slight mark on the face after extended wear.”

This Etsy seller offers masks made of food-grade silicone in packs of two, five, and ten. They come in both adult and kid sizes. “I no longer feel like I’m suffocating while wearing a mask,” writes one reviewer, who notes that she didn’t even need double-sided tape to keep it in place. “If your mask actually fits your face, it’ll hold this mask guard up just fine.”

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Do Mask Frames Improve — or Interfere With — Mask-Wearing?