mask-ne part 2: masks i've tried and my faves
ok so maskne is still a thing and since my last really long post about it, i've done some research and have some new thoughts. and here they are for you to peruse! these are my opinions and observations as a hyper-sensitive and aware person of details, and as a professional skin therapist focused on acne.
different masks i've tried
i was on a mission to try as many different kinds of masks as i could. enjoy the following fashion show, with my notes on the different masks i was able to get sent to me from the states, or find locally in japan.
$2-10, pretty much everywhere
in japan, i saw either the disposable surgical masks (below), or these thin and flimsy neoprene ones that basically don't do anything, because droplets flow freely in and out of them. in japan these are known as "fashion" masks, worn more as a show of respect than any other functional reason. these were the masks i DID NOT bother testing for this experiment and i don't recommend using them for covid prevention purposes!
they are very comfortable and washable though. if you are short on disposable masks, you can put this on top; wash this neoprene mask, and reuse the disposable + more protective mask a few times (especially helpful if supplies are short).
about $1 each, sold here in japan $50/box of 50. american capitalism prices will vary, if you can find them.
the most rampantly available and cost-effective for disposables. for me, this style was much more comfortable than the fabric mask of the same flat rectangular shape (down below), because the fabric was much thinner and more breathable. the meltblown filter fabric composition of the mask also offers more reliable safety than cloth ones.
however, this wasn't my fave for a few reasons:
- they were still super scarce at the time.
- they are disposable, and i didn't want to add more waste for the planet to deal with. i really wanted something reusable.
- the folds still lay on my lips, (definitely not as much as the fabric ones, but still) making for messy + uncomfortable sweaty breathing / humid mask cave.
**if you are using these, please clip the earloops before tossing; they can tangle up in the legs of wildlife, among other places.
photo backstory: this was my overgrown-80's miami-vice-jackie-chan hair after sheltering in place for 4.5 months, waiting in line to get a buzz at the 10 minute, $10 barbershop at the takadanobaba train station's QB house. it's a chain that salarymen go to for cheap and quick cuts. i had been denied service at another pricier barbershop, so i was stoked QBH was willing and able to see me. this was the day i learned that a 3 in the usa means buzzer guard #3, where in japan it means 3 millimeters.
$69 in 2019, now $75. comes with 2 replacement filters, a back-of-the-head-strap and a carrying pouch.
this was the fanciest one on the market most widely available before covid, that i got for smog and smoke protection. it does a great job of filtering both of those out (can't hardly smell carcinogens or other stinky things like petrol exhaust with it on) BUT in terms of covid, the valves are a no-no. droplets can escape through the circle-shaped vents as the wearer exhales, potentially exposing those around you - so i've stopped wearing this one for now.
*for the west coast fire situation combined with covid, you might consider wearing this for smoke AND a surgical one on top to cover the valves for covid, or tape the valves shut with masking tape.
photo backstory: this was me at the sri lankan airport, trying to get to japan as covid was getting super serious. it was a very stressful + frustrating experience leaving, so this was my exasperated, sitting in the customs departure office "i'm ready to leave get me outta here asap arghhhhhh" look.
about $10-$15 for the mask, and $20-45 for the headwrap.
for the first 2-3 months while in japan, surgical masks were impossible to find, but cloth masks were plentiful online. i also hadn't been able to get my head shaved so my hair needed to be covered up because it looked crazy.
so, i bought a super cute matching headwrap and mask set made of 100% cotton from a super cute italian + nigerian designer i met in singapore, named iffy. her shop is called olive ankara. (i also got another cute matchy-matchy set from obaaheema on etsy). this was a super stylish set up (and proceeds of olive ankara's mask sales go to singaporean nonprofits).
in any case, this combo ultimately didn't work for me because the fabric was too thick. the weather was way too hot and humid (averaging about 90-95F with humidity in the 80%'s) for the beautiful, hearty 100% woven cotton combined with my hot breath within the mask. it wasn't breathable for me. i think it would have been ok in a climate that was either less hot or less humid or both, but for me in japanese hot + sticky spring/summer, it just didn't work.
also, the shape of this mask lay on my mouth.. so breathing within the mask AND dealing with the heat and humidity, i basically was suffocating. i tried wearing the mask with the plastic "cage" (more info below) which helped with the laying on the mouth / soaking wet fabric on my lips issue, but the fabric was still too hot and sweaty.
THE AIR QUEEN
about $2-3.50 each, depending on how big of a box you buy.
there are many knockoffs, but the original comes from TOPOC co. in korea. they're very fancy and very expensive. each mask individually packed, are made of durable yet tissue-thin, lightweight and 3-d contoured meant to fit perfectly around the nose + mouth.
however, for me, the mask still sat on my lips, and moved around too much. i'm not sure if it was because my nose bridge is too low, my jawline isn't big enough to hold it in place or the mask was just too big for my face. also, as i breathed i could feel air going in and out of the scallop-edged sides, which to me defeats the purpose of wearing a mask against infectious disease.
CONE SHAPED K95 MASKS
on amazon.co.jp, about $25 for a box of 20.
ok so i'm still not 100% sure this is the equivalent to an N95 mask, but i think the k- means that it's made in korea (?).
it's cone-shaped, which allows you to make unobstructed duck faces and doesn't leave you as sweaty of a mess as the flat rectangular masks that have no structure. you can also wear lipstick and it won't rub off onto the mask or all over your face (an actual marketing point in japanese ads).
however, they are still disposable and i really wanted to find something reusable and washable.
$25, plus shipping (free with $50+ purchase). comes with 2 plastic "cages" and 10 kn95 filter cartridge pads.
this one i found scrolling on instagram, and had one sent to my mom so she could include it in the care package she was sending to me. it took about a week for it to get from southern california to san francisco.
it's made of 3 parts - the silicone body, a non-woven filter pad/cartridge that sits inside, and a plastic "cage" piece that holds that filter in place. it's also cup-shaped, so it doesn't do that sweaty-laying-on-your-lips thing (and you can wear lipstick, haha). though it does get a bit sweaty right where the mask sits on the skin, the mesh silicone body and breathable filter pad design are pluses.
i could still smell things while wearing it though, so i'm not sure exactly how well it does to filter and protect from covid or fire smoke (i guess if it's covid-safe you can still smell things and if it's smoke-safe you can't?), but the seal between the mask and my nose + mouth is the best out of all the masks i've tried.
you can wash or boil the silicone mask to sanitize both the silicone mask and plastic cage.
photo backstory: this was at a wonderful, almost empty huge community osento (hot spring bathhouse) in shizuoka prefecture. spas like these in asia give you different outfits to wear in co-ed spaces, depending on what you're doing and where you're going. this was the outfit for receiving massages and facials. there was another outfit for co-ed heated sauna rooms, and you bathe in the same-sex baths nude.
other masks i haven't tried but look cool
APLAT cotton face mask
designed and made in san francisco, these come in many different colors, are beautiful in an origami-kinda way, are washable and because they contain no elastic or plastic, are fully biodegradable. they even include a pattern and instructions in case you want to DIY.
$20 for the mask and 3 filters
a good friend who's done some extensive mask research says this one is his favorite, for its comfort, breathability, washability and the fact that it holds a filter!
were the last two i tried - the kn95 cone, and the gata mask. they both still rendered me a bit sweaty in humid and hot seasonal japan, but were the least sweaty and most breathable out of all the kinds i tried. i like that the gata is washable and reusable, even though the filter has to eventually be thrown out. however, the small filter is a smaller piece of trash to toss than conventional disposable masks.
in either case, i still got sweaty under my masks, so i carried a clean, small hand towel with me to wipe myself off when i needed to. (in japan this is customary, as folks carry these around to dry their hands off after washing in public bathrooms).
they were also priced pretty reasonably - especially if you reuse them a few times before replacing the replaceable parts.
i eluded to these earlier in the post. there are these plastic "cages" you can insert under your mask to create a cone around your mouth, under any type of flat mask. unless you pin, glue or sew them in, they can fall out (nothing is perfect). i think you can find these on amazon, or maybe your local daiso?
ok! that wraps up the face mask fashion show, hope this guide was helpful. check out our next post on my top strategies to alleviate mask zits.
let me know if you have questions, or ideas to share on what masks worked for you - and didn't. i'd love to hear.
PLEASE STAY SAFE, healthy and sane.