Health

Proper fit of face masks is more important than material, study suggests

A team of researchers studying the effectiveness of different types of face masks has found that in order to provide the best protection against COVID-19, the fit of a mask is as important, or more important, than the material it is made of.

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The researchers, from the University of Cambridge, carried out a series of different fit tests, and found that when a high-performance mask – such as an N95, KN95 or FFP2 mask – is not properly fitted, it performs no better than a cloth mask. Minor differences in facial features, such as the amount of fat under the skin, make significant differences in how well a mask fits.

The results, published in the journal PLoS ONE, also suggest that the fit-check routine used in many healthcare settings has high failure rates, as minor leaks may be difficult or impossible to detect by the wearer. While the sample size was small, the researchers hope their findings will help develop new fit tests that are quick and reliable, in the case of future public health emergencies. The current study only evaluated the impact of fit on the wearer of the mask – the team will evaluate how fit impacts the protection of others in future research.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made well-fitting face masks a vital piece of protective equipment for healthcare workers and civilians. While the importance of wearing face masks in slowing the spread of the virus has been demonstrated, there remains a lack of understanding about the role that good fit plays in ensuring their effectiveness.

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