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10 Fashionable Face Masks People With Chronic Illness Recommend

Article updated May 16, 2020.

Many people may wear face masks to help protect against dust or hazardous airborne particles — especially if they live or work in an environment where pollution, chemicals and irritants are commonplace. During flu season, some may also choose to wear masks to help prevent the transmission of bacteria and viruses.

For those with chronic illness, wearing a face mask can be especially important. Here are some of the major reasons why:

  • Facing a suppressed or weakened immune system due to your illness or medication may make you more vulnerable to contracting the flu or an infectious illness
  • Catching a cold or the flu when you have a chronic illness can exacerbate your existing symptoms or cause a flare-up
  • People with chronic illness community may have heightened sensitivities to dust, allergens or certain chemicals and wear a mask to avoid inhaling these irritants
  • If you’re a caregiver of someone with a compromised immune system, you might wear a mask to help prevent yourself from passing contaminants on to your loved one

Studies have suggested masks may not be 100 percent effective at stopping the spread potentially harmful airborne particles, but they can help reduce the risk of contamination. There are two main types of masks, face masks and respirators, and while they look similar, they have some key differences.

Face masks cover the nose and mouth, but are looser-fitting and don’t seal completely. They are designed to be a barrier against droplets of fluid, such as coughs or sneezes, that may contain viruses, but they don’t prevent the spread of airborne contaminants. Some face masks are disposable while others can be washed and reused.

Respirators also act as a barrier, but they are considered more effective than face masks for preventing the spread of viruses because they form a perfect seal (if worn properly) and filter out 95 percent of airborne particles, both large and small. A respirator can be worn to protect against airborne infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and anthrax, and may also be used when handling toxic materials. Some are made for single use while others are reusable and made with filler cartridges that must be replaced periodically.

Deciding whether to use a face mask or respirator depends on your individual health, the people you may come into contact with and your surrounding environment. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone wear a face covering while out in public. Though surgical masks and N95 respirators are in short supply and being diverted to health care settings, many other masks can help reduce your risk of infection.

We wanted to know which brands of face masks and respirators those with chronic illness find most effective, so we asked our Mighty community which masks they wear to lower their risk of getting sick (or getting others sick). Here are their recommendations.

1. Vogmask

floral vogmask

Vogmask is a filtering respirator intended for general public use that can help protect you against allergens, poor air quality and airborne contaminants. It can filter out up to 99 percent of airborne particles. To be effective, a respirator must be sized to fit tightly against your face and create a seal. They are also known for being hot and uncomfortable to wear. The experience has been described as breathing through a blanket, and may not be an option for those who have difficulty breathing. Some respirators come with an exhaust valve to increase their comfort.

“I use a Vogmask,” said Rachel Guerra. “There are lots of patterns to choose from. They are a little pricey (around $30) but mine is super comfortable and it has an exhale valve which also helps with my asthma.”

Britany Harden added, “I use Vogmask. The ear straps were too tight so my mom sewed on different ones, but after that I loved it. It’s not 100 percent effective, but what mask is, especially if you have immunodeficiency.”

Buy the face mask above for $33 from Vogmask.

2. Disposable Surgical Masks

disposable face masks

Surgical masks serve as a barrier to prevent the release of bacteria in liquid droplets from your nose and mouth to prevent the spread of illness. They can also and prevent droplets from entering your nose and mouth. Typically designed with several layers of specially designed materials (not paper or cloth), surgical masks can also prevent you from touching your face. Surgical masks do not usually filter out airborne particles.

Stephanie Ann Middleton told us, “Hospital type masks are fine and disposable. We order them by the case. Each mask is only good until it gets moist – less than an hour. Changing regularly is necessary if you truly have an immunocompromised condition.”

Capri Sprazzle wrote, “I use disposable ones. I had been meaning to look for a non-disposable option but never found any I liked or that could help with things like the flu, not just air quality.”

Buy the disposable face masks above (50-ct.) from Amazon.

3. Guoer

guoer pink floral face mask

Some masks may include an activated carbon or antimicrobial layer or filter in the design. Some research suggests masks with an activated carbon layer were more effective at filtering out a powerful anti-cancer drug and exhaust, for example. Guoer offers face masks in a variety of fun patterns and colors. They are made with a five-layer activated carbon filer and can be washed and reused. The elastic straps are adjustable as well as the nasal split around your nose.

Buy the face mask above from Amazon.

4. N95 Respirator

n95 respirator mask

A respirator fits over your nose and mouth to block harmful particulates (airborne or otherwise) from entering your body. The most common type is the N95 respirator, which is rated to filter out at least 95 percent of airborne particles, though it is not oil-resistant. Other types of particulate respirators are rated to filter out up to 99 percent of particulates (N99). This disposable particulate respirator helps provide reliable respiratory protection of at least 95 percent filtration efficiency against certain non-oil based particles. The Cool Flow Exhalation Valve helps reduce heat build-up inside the respirator.

“N95 Respirator,” recommended Colleen Sullivan. “Can be purchased at medical supply stores or even hardware stores. Just make sure the fit is very tight. As a registered nurse, it’s what I used to care for patients with tuberculosis, meningitis, measles, mumps, etc.”

Buy a respirator mask from Amazon or eBay.

5. Breathe Healthy

breathe healthy face mask

Breathe Healthy face masks are designed to protect against dust, pollen, allergens and the flu. It is made with an antimicrobial agent that kills germs and lasts as long as the mask, even after multiple washings.

Sally Edwards wrote, “I use Breathe Healthy masks. I love them! They have loads of colors and patterns, however I prefer low-key.” 

Buy the face mask above from Breathe Healthy or a similar mask from Etsy.

6. Neoprene Dust Mask

home depot red neoprene dust mask

This neoprene respirator is designed for landscaping or outdoor work, but it provides all-purpose protection and can filtrate up to 99.9 percent of all particulates and dust. Its dual-valve exhaust provides one-way easy breathing, expels moisture and optimizes temperature.

“There are some with mini ventilators I picked up at Home Depot to clean around our farm,” said Mary Oster Boumeester. “My face doesn’t get as hot in them, and airflow is better. It might look funny in public but it’s a mask – people will double-take anyway, comfort matters more.”

Buy a mask similar to the above from Amazon.

7. Cambridge Mask Co.

Cambridge Mask Pro face mask in navy blue

Cambridge masks are washable and reusable. They can filter out almost 100 percent of particulate matter, allergens or irritants, air pollution and harmful airborne pathogens such as viruses and bacteria.

“I use Cambridge masks!” Willow Elizabeth Adler told us. “They come in several sizes, are adjustable, and come in several colors and patterns! They are [a] reusable mask that protects against germs along with allergens.”

Buy the face mask above from Cambridge Mask Co. in the U.K. or Amazon in the U.S.

8. MyAir

myair face mask

MyAir face masks block out 99.997 percent of viruses, bacteria, allergens and contaminants. The reusable two-way mask comes with three replaceable filters and contains advanced filtration technology that helps reduce moisture loss.

“MyAir face mask,” suggested Jenn L. Bullock. “Reusable outer and comfortable… disposable inside for sanitary reasons. Tons of patterns. Loops are Lycra, not elastic, so it is soft and doesn’t make your ears sore.”

Buy the face mask above for $19.99 from Ellessco.

9. Kpop Face Masks

Two black Kpop face masks, one with a bear's nose and mouth in white, the other with a small red heart

These face masks are 100 percent cotton, come in fun designs and help protect against airborne dust, germs, allergens, smoke, pollution, ash and pollen. Cotton or other cloth masks may not be as effective against airborne pathogens in the same way as N95 respirators or surgical masks, but the CDC advised any cloth covering can provide some protection.

“I buy Kpop faces masks,” said Sarah Terese Manning. “They are fun and lift my spirits. I buy mine on eBay. They are cotton and easy to wash. Admittedly they are normally black and white.”

Buy the face masks above (pack of 4) from Amazon.

10. ChronicallyIllKrafts Shop on Etsy

star wars face mask from chronicallyillkrafts shop on etsy

Kaile Norris is the creator of the patterned and reversible face masks she sells on Etsy. She was inspired to start making face masks after she developed several chronic illnesses and would often become septic, causing her to need some extra protection against airborne particles and pathogens.

Amanda Herdman told us, “I have a few made by a fellow chronic illness warrior! She makes them in all different fun designs, and even does custom ones.”

Buy the face mask above for $8 from Etsy.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, masks are selling out quickly. If the masks you see here are out of stock, try Etsy, where artisans are offering a wide variety of non-medical face masks as well as safety supplies like hand sanitizer and gloves.

If you can’t purchase a mask, you can also make your own face coverings out of material you already have at home, like a bandana or cotton shirt. For people comfortable with sewing, you can use this face mask pattern. If you can’t sew, no worries, there are patterns that don’t require any creative ability.

Please remember, when wearing any face mask it’s important to maintain proper hygiene. Masks can help prevent the spread of disease when used properly, which means keeping hands clean as well as removing and disposing of masks properly.

How to Wear a Face Mask Correctly

It’s critical to wear, remove and dispose of masks correctly. Experts warn that improperly worn masks can increase your risk of illness because you’re touching the mask or your face more often than normal. In addition, a respirator that doesn’t fit correctly can trap harmful particles inside the mask around your nose and mouth. 

To properly wear a face mask, with freshly washed hands, place the nose splint over the bridge of your nose, and shape it snug around your nose. Make sure the mask covers your nose and mouth completely and is pulled down around your chin. Do not touch the outside of the mask and don’t take the same mask on and off. When you remove the mask, do so by the elastic loops around your ears and discard the mask in a closed bin. Thoroughly wash your hands after disposal.

Don’t wear any mask too long because infectious particles gather on the outside of the mask. Even if your mask is not disposable and designed for longer use, you should not wear the same mask for longer than a day. If you accidentally touch the outside of the mask while wearing it, wash your hands right away. And keep in mind, wearing a face mask is most effective when combined with proper hand-washing techniques.

The lifetime of a mask can depend on your health and environment. Be sure to check the packaging and date of manufacture on your mask for instructions about how long it will remain effective.

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Have a brand of face masks you’d recommend? Let us know in the comments below!