A quick guide to finding the perfect face mask

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Since the start of the pandemic, face mask controversy has been the saviour of small talk. Uncertainty about whether they are effective, what type to wear and when we should wear them have provided sustenance throughout a conversational drought, with the lack of conclusive evidence sustaining many a fruitless argument. But the government’s somewhat half-hearted move to make masks compulsory in UK shops from 24th July marks a new stage in our socially distanced society. At last, we have our instructions, and the only question that remains is whether each of us can find our perfect fit.

Types of mask

PPE is nothing new for health workers, but while they are subject to stricter safety measures – sometimes including shields and professional respirators – for most of us, standard surgical and procedural masks (the loose-fitting, blue paper coverings you see in hospitals) are sufficient. Unfortunately, a shortage of these disposable masks during the pandemic has endangered staff on the front line, leading most people to turn to home-made alternatives and leave supplies to the NHS.

While professional protective gear does seem to be back in stock, the most popular form of mask now appears to be the cloth mask, with people buying from independent artists or sourcing patterns online in order to make their own reusable, environmentally friendly alternatives. There are types for all occasions, be it hot weather or even a dystopian-style date, though which are safest is still up for debate.

Face mask fashion

The trend for fashionable face coverings is now more than a DIY movement: it’s a form of expression. Masks have become our latest shoppable accessory, with designers and amateur crafters alike proving that you don’t have to compromise style for safety. In many ways, this development is unsurprising – if masks are to become a wardrobe staple, it’s inevitable that some people will want to use them, as they would use a trusty handbag or a favourite pair of glasses, to show a bit of their personality.

It’s perhaps more shocking that prominent politicians are using masks as a statement piece, with Nicola Sturgeon opting for the iconic Scottish tartan. In an abrupt turn of the tide, even Donald Trump has now revoked his resistance, declaring that wearing masks is “patriotic”.

Masks and communication

However, while masks can be fun, they do still need to be functional. For those who lip read, face coverings are a huge communication barrier. The best way to combat this is by getting your hands on transparent masks designed for the hearing impaired. Unfortunately, unless this becomes standard practice, everyday interactions are going to become a lot harder for those with less visible disabilities.

As well as isolating people, masks may make it harder for caregivers to reassure patients. Some have approached the problem by attaching smiley-faced pictures to their clothes to appear more approachable, but if you work with the vulnerable, even something as simple as wearing a bright and colourful mask may help to give a more positive impression.

Rosamund Kelby

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