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Infectious Diseases

Updated 14 September 2020

Researchers redesign the face mask to improve both comfort and protection

Imagine a reusable face mask which protects the user and other people, but also fits comfortably and stays in place for an entire day? Researchers have designed a new mask to do just that.

  • Forever fiddling with your current cloth mask and wishing it was more comfortable?
  • As the wearing of masks became more prevalent, researchers looked at their design
  • The prototype is stretchy, yet contoured, which allows for less leakage and more comfort

As Covid-19 spreads and masks become mandatory in many more parts of the world, there have been plenty of debates about which types of masks are most effective. The valve mask, for example, provides comfort, but it doesn’t protect other people against droplets that escape through the vents. Some prefer masks with elastic bands that loop around the ears, while others prefer simple cotton buffs.

Research has shown that some masks are more effective than others, but even the simplest single-layer cotton mask can decrease the amount of droplets expelled. Even though we theoretically understand this, masks are, however, still a bit of a struggle for some.

Now, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have designed a new mask to incorporate protection and comfort – and are providing plans so that people can make it themselves.

What does this mask look like?  

The full research is published in The Journal of the Textile Institute, and according to a press release, the modular Georgia Tech mask combines a barrier filtration material with stretchable fabric to provide a comforting fit while staying in place.

The prototypes have hook and eye fasteners on the back to keep the masks secure. There is also a pocket for an additional filter to add protection. The researchers found that even after 20 washes, the prototype didn’t shrink or lose its shape.

The front part of the mask contains a barrier component with filtration material and is contoured to fit the face snuggly while still allowing space for the nose and mouth. The mask is made from moisture-wicking material normally used in athletic clothing.

The stretchable part of the mask is made from a blend of Spandex and lyocell to stretch around the head and under the chin.

The researchers also wanted to ensure that the materials chosen for the masks are available in a variety of colours and designs.

"Masks have become an essential accessory in our wardrobe and add a social dimension to how we feel about wearing them," stated principal research scientist Sungmee Park.

The problem with current masks

The researchers stated that the fundamental flaw in existing reusable fabric masks is that they leak air around the edges, which can still spread droplets and smaller aerosols that may be carrying the virus.

Many users who wear glasses also complain about their lenses fogging up as the exhaled breath leaks out around the nose. Home-made fabric masks may also not fit properly, causing the user to constantly adjust them with hands that may be contaminated.

"We want people to be able to get the mask in the right place every time," stated Sundaresan Jayaraman, professor at Georgia Tech's School of Materials Science and Engineering. "If you don't position it correctly and easily, you are going to have to keep fiddling with it. We see that all the time on television with people adjusting their masks and letting them drop below their noses.

While Covid-19 has necessitated the use of masks, Jayaraman and Park's efforts weren’t initially influenced by the pandemic. They started their research 10 years ago after receiving funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate the use of masks during an avian influenza outbreak.

"There is so much misinformation about what face masks can do and cannot do," Jayaraman said. "Being scientists and engineers, we want to put out information backed by science that can help our community reduce the harm from SARS-CoV-2."

READ | Here are the best and worst materials for face masks 

READ | Considering a valve mask? You might want to read this first

READ | Importance of wearing masks during Covid-19 pandemic

Image credit: Getty Images