UPDATE—April 19, 2022: Don’t stop stocking up on disposable face masks just yet. While masking is no longer required by federal mandate on planes and other forms of public transportation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends masking up to prevent the spread of COVID-19—especially with new variants (hello, BA.2) gaining traction and causing rates to go up in certain areas of the country. (The BA.2 variant currently makes up 75% of all cases in the U.S.) Per the CDC, masks and respirators should be worn in indoor public settings, regardless of vaccination status, in areas of high COVID-19 transmission. Elsewhere, you’re encouraged to wear a mask if you are immunocompromised, live with someone at risk of severe complications from COVID-19, or simply want to wear one.
Well-fitting masks approved by NIOSH “offer the highest level of protection” against SARS-CoV-2 infection, the CDC explains; these include N95s, plus others like N100s, P95s, and R99s. KN95 respirators and surgical masks offer slightly less protection, but they’re still more effective choices than cloth face masks. Whether you’re looking for a simple white protective mask or a medical-grade version in a chic print, shop 15 top-rated disposable face masks below.
ORIGINAL STORY—August 14, 2020: In ranking the most effective face coverings, researchers at Duke University recently found that disposable face masks, or three-ply surgical face masks, were the second most reliable option after fitted N95 or KN95 face masks. Washable, woven fabric face masks that cover your nose, chin, and mouth rank a close third at blocking airborne particles from floating through the air and reaching others, with neck gaiters and folded bandanas—while offering a comfortable, secure fit—being seemingly worse than not wearing a face covering at all.
With the CDC’s recommendation to use a face mask when you’re unable to social distance, and many states considering reopening schools, we wouldn't be surprised if we saw an upswing in demand for single-use face masks. Often sold in bulk packs of 25 and 50, they can be easily distributed to large groups of people.
After months of wearing face masks, we know that breathable cotton and silk options are more cost-effective over time—but with daily use, elastic ear loops rip, nose clips or nose wires warp, and fabric stains, sometimes all you want is something easy and effective. And keeping a reserve of protective face masks in your car, bag, or pocket can be a smart move when in a pinch. With so many top-rated options out there, there’s no excuse not to mask up.
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