How to stay comfortable in a mask all day for work, school, flights and more

How to stay comfortable in a mask all day for work, school, flights and more

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As the country returns to school and heads back into the office, many will be expected to wear face masks in light of the CDC’s latest recommendations for masking up indoors. While we are used to wearing face masks in general, those who have been staying home up until now will need to get used to wearing masks for longer periods of time. But fear not—masks can and should be comfortable to wear, even during an eight-hour shift.

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Whether you or a loved one are on the job, at school, or traveling on a long-haul flight or train ride, there’s plenty that you can do to make wearing a mask the whole day a lot more pleasant. Read on to see tips from medical experts on how to make your mask as comfortable and breathable as possible.

Find your best fit

One of the best ways to ensure a comfortable mask is by making sure your mask fits you properly. With a mask that fits you just right on the nose, chin, and ears, you can avoid common pain points like ear strain from the loops or the fabric rubbing against your mouth or nose.

One way to get a better fit is by double-masking as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends for extra protection. The masks should be one reusable mask and one disposable mask layered on top of each other, not two reusable or two disposable masks. “If you can’t get a good fit [with other techniques], putting on two masks can make it fit better,” says Dr. Gabriela Andujar Vazquez, infectious disease physician and associate hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center.

If you still feel irritated by your mask rubbing against your face, you can try using a silicone mask bracket that cups around your mouth and nose to minimize contact with your skin. It helps one to feel less confined or constricted in a mask. Just make sure to properly wash your mask bracket after each use to avoid further discomfort.

Wash your masks often

There is a possibility that your mask may cause irritation on your face, especially after long periods of wear. “Mascne”—or acne under or around where your mask sits—can occur, along with other skin irritation problems like contact dermatitis, which is a kind of itchy skin rash. Dr. Cassandra Pierre, an infectious disease specialist at Boston Medical Center, recommends washing your mask regularly to prevent such conditions. The CDC says a reusable mask should be washed “whenever it gets dirty” or at least once a day. If you use disposable masks, throw them away after each use.

You can toss your reusable masks into your washer with any laundry load, using regular detergent to clean it. If your masks have metal nose wires or delicate ear loops, you may want to hand wash them with laundry detergent or soap. Allow your mask to air dry in direct sunlight if possible or toss it into the dryer on a warm or hot setting.

Anti-fog your glasses

Is your face mask making your glasses fog up? While there are some temporary fixes for this common annoyance, sometimes it’s just an inevitable part of mask-wearing with glasses or sunglasses. “It can depend on the temperature and humidity of the area,” says Andujar Vazquez. “It’s especially hard in the summertime when you go from the sweat, heat and humidity from outside, and then you go inside [into the cold].”

While Andujar Vazquez says fogging can happen even with properly fitted masks, such as a fitted N95 mask, Pierre says the fit can still be a contributing factor. “If you have gaps around the side, your warm breath will rise up and cause your glasses to fog more easily,” says Pierre.

Pierre also says you can use adhesive nose strips to help adhere your mask to your nose, potentially reducing the fog escape from any gaps around the nose bridge. You can also try an anti-fog spray or pre-moistened lens wipes to temporarily diminish the amount of fog on your lenses.

Choose comfortable ear loops

To ensure further mask comfort, you’ll want to make sure your ear loops aren’t too tight or too loose—a little like Goldilocks, if you will. With ear loops too tight, you may experience aches and pain behind your ears as the day goes on. However, if they’re too loose, you run the risk of having a poorly fitting mask that’s both uncomfortable and not as protective.

We recommend using reusable masks that have adjustable ear loops or tie around the head. Either option will provide more comfort around your ears and create a better seal to the face. Andujar Vazquez recommends the use of an adjustable mask extender strap that attaches your mask’s ear loops at the back of your head rather than resting on your ears, saying “[the extender straps] can make it better fitting.”

Have extra masks on hand

If you’re an educator, work in a shared office space, or communicate often during the day while wearing a mask, Pierre recommends bringing a few backup masks along with you should the need for a fresh mask arise. “If you’re using surgical masks, bring multiple with you. If you’re using a cloth mask, make sure you bring several back-ups,” she says.

Not only can your mask become soiled from respiratory secretion, becoming uncomfortably moist to wear, it can also decrease your mask’s protection. “If you’ve been speaking for long periods of time, you could gather some moisture inside of that mask that penetrates—this reduces the efficacy of the mask,” says Pierre.

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