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 October 2021, 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 KF94, KN95 masks your teenager can wear to school, or advice on double masking, we can help.
The CDC has always recommended that all children over 2 years old wear a mask, either when inside or when social distancing isn’t possible. With the school year under way, those guidelines were recently updated to recommend that all students, teachers, staff, and visitors wear face masks in K-12 schools this year, regardless of vaccination status, so investing in a good mask is now crucial for little ones. In lots of ways, kids’ face masks should follow the same guidelines about fit and fabric quality as masks for adults: They should be made of at least two layers of breathable fabric and should fit securely, covering the nose and mouth completely without causing discomfort. We also know that having metal in the nose bridge and adjustable ear straps make for a tighter, more comfortable fit. But kids can be a particular type of picky.
So even though we’ve already pulled together a comprehensive list of face masks for kids, we turned to the real experts — parents — to find out the masks their children willingly put on their faces. And after talking with 21 parents of kids ranging in age from 2 to 11, we found that the masks kids are most excited to wear often have bright colors or a fun pattern. In other words, it’s something that kids actually like to look at. But they also need to be safe and fit well, which is where the parents’ experience comes into play. With all that in mind, here are 19 face masks for kids that are approved by both parents and the kids themselves.
Best overall kids’ face masks
If the clog is the status-y shoe of the Park Slope mom, the face masks from Ottotto are the status-y masks for their kids. Several people from the Park Slope Parents group we spoke to recommended these masks, including Sarah Wallace, who says her 4-year-old daughter owns three of these masks and “literally looks forward to putting them on,” perhaps the highest praise anyone can give a face mask. They’re created by a mom from Park Slope named Reina Nishida, who pivoted her embroidery business to mask-making when the pandemic hit, and she takes orders through her Etsy shop, including customized designs. Jessica Kausman got a custom mask for her My Little Pony–obsessed 4-year-old daughter: “I emailed her and I said, ‘Could you source the fabric?,’ and so we picked the fabric together and she made my daughter her favorite My Little Pony mask.” And not only does Kausman’s daughter like the design, it fits well: “She doesn’t mess around with the ears, it covers her face perfectly, and she can pull it down when she needs to and it doesn’t fall off.” Ben Epstein’s 5 and 9-year-old daughters also liked the personalization, but he says, “On top of being incredibly well made, they have nose bridges for a proper fit that stays over the nose and adjustable elastic bands.” These masks also have a filter pocket for added protection.
“This is the most popular mask in all the New York City mom groups,” Miraim Cohen, founder of the blog The Very Best Baby Stuff, says. “People rave about it.” It was too small for her 5-year-old son, but it works for her 2-year-old daughter who typically refuses to wear a mask. “Usually when I mention masks, she says, ‘It hurts me,’ which it doesn’t, she doesn’t like the idea of her face being covered and you can’t blame her,” Cohen says. She had no choice on a recent paddle-boating trip but to wear a mask, and with the Joah Love everything went smoothly. “She wore it for a few minutes and then she wore it again when it was time to get off, and she ended up not even taking it off.” Nina Pearlman, a member of Park Slope Parents, likes these for her 5-year-old too, saying they are comfortable and lightweight. “We were just in the park for like five hours, and it’s like he doesn’t even notice they are on.” She particularly likes that they have the adjustable ear straps “so that you can make sure they fit really snugly.” The adjustable straps also mean no ear-pinching, which is crucial for Roberta Correia’s 5-year-old son because that “drives him nuts.” Correia, who is the editor-in-chief of The Everymom, also likes that these masks don’t shrink in the wash and come in many different styles and patterns. She adds that the adjustability not only helps with fit and comfort but is also great for growing kids. She says, “I haven’t had to buy new ones because they are truly expandable.”
Best (less expensive) kids’ face mask
Many parents we spoke to have had some encounter with these masks from Target. Brent Hernandez, the director of student services in the School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation at the University of Maryland, and father to a 5-year-old daughter, likes how it is specifically made to fit a kid’s face, so there aren’t any gaps, and it comes with a pocket for filters. Bari Kartowski, a member of Park Slope Parents, says her 11-year-old is a fan. “He did two weeks of seven-hour-long outdoor masked camp in them without complaint,” she says.
As far as mask bells and whistles go, these have metal in the nose bridge for a more contoured fit and it has a pocket for a filter. The only thing this doesn’t have is adjustable ear straps, but to get around that, Tova Halpern, the CEO of Fresh Theatre Arts and mom of three, purchased her own cord toggles to help get a perfect fit on her small, 6-year-old son’s face. This two-pack also happens to be the least expensive of the masks on this list, which was a selling point for Torrina Bennett-Michael, mom to a 7 and 9-year-old in New Jersey, who says her kids seem to lose their masks from time to time so she appreciates that these are affordable if they need to be replaced.