The 18 Best Face Masks for COVID-19 Protection and Comfort
A new variant means it's time for a new mask.
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What you need to know about face masks
As the highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19 makes its way through the country, there’s no better time to upgrade your face mask. For the past two years, health experts and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recommended reusable cloth masks for decreasing spread. However, in the face of the Omicron variant, those coverings may not offer sufficient protection. Experts are now urging Americans to wear medical-grade, disposable surgical masks, N95 masks, and KN95 masks.
Because face masks can help prevent you from getting and spreading COVID-19, the CDC currently suggests wearing a mask indoors if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission, regardless of vaccination status. “Mask wearing is one of the easiest and most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and stem this public health crisis,” says Denzil Seedial, MD, a board-certified doctor of internal medicine, pulmonary and critical care at PCSI in Florida.
In fact, the Biden administration recently announced that it would be distributing 400 million non-surgical N95 masks to pharmacies and health centers nationwide to give away for free. But, because each person will be limited to three free N95 masks, you’re going to want to stock up on your own.
How to choose the best face mask
Not all face masks offer equal protection—especially when it comes to the Omicron variant. “We need to be wearing at least a three-ply surgical mask,” Leana Wen, MD, an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management, told CNN. “You can wear a cloth mask on top of that, but do not just wear a cloth mask alone.” In crowded places, Dr. Wen suggests a KN95 or N95 mask.
The differences in protection are shocking. A December 2021 study published in the journal Science found that surgical masks were 95 percent effective at filtering out virus particles, while cloth masks were just 37 percent effective. That’s because N95 masks filter up to 95 percent of particles in the air. KN95 masks offer a similarly high degree of protection; however, the CDC warns that around 60 percent of KN95 masks in the U.S. are counterfeit. (Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with verified options.)
The most important thing to consider when choosing a mask is fit; a face mask will not be effective if it’s worn improperly. Your mask should fit snugly but comfortably over your nose, mouth, and chin. A moldable nosepiece can improve the seal, and sturdy elastic ear loops will securely anchor it. To get a better fit on a surgical mask, knot the ear loops where they meet the mask and tuck the unneeded material under the edges (here’s a video from the CDC with instructions).
Dr. Seedial recommends switching out cloth masks every day and storing them in a paper bag until they can be washed with hot water and dried on high heat. If you’ve gone the respirator route, the CDC recommends wearing your N95 no more than five times per device. The CDC does not recommend reusing disposable surgical masks that are intended to be used once.
Here are some of the best face masks we’ve found to keep you comfortable while keeping you safe. In line with recent recommendations, we suggest pairing each cloth mask with a surgical mask.
Best N95 mask
Kimberly-Clark Professional N95 Pouch Respirator, 50 Count
Consider the N95 the gold standard of face masks. According to USA Today, the masks are made of a polypropylene material that “goes through a process where it’s melted and extruded through small-diameter holes into hundreds of tiny fibers that are tangled together. The fibers are then charged by passing them through a device that produces static electricity.” This charge makes them 10 times better at capturing virus particles. (KN95 and KF94 masks also produce this charge.)
N95 coverings are certified by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a U.S. federal agency. Kimberly-Clark’s set of 50 respirators—and all N95 masks—provides a minimum of 95 percent filtration efficiency of 0.3-micron particles (most respiratory droplets are between 5 and 10 microns). Each mask has a pouch design with a large chamber for comfort and breathability. The elastics go around the head for a secure fit. We recommend purchasing them while you can; N95s are selling out fast.
Best KN95 mask
Hope Health Supply KN95 Masks, 15 Pack
While N95 masks are certified by a U.S. federal agency, KN95 masks meet standards specific to China. These masks are still highly effective, filtering up to 95 percent of 0.3-micron particles. This set of 15 from Hope Health Supply is FDA-registered through rigorous lab testing and made in accordance with industry standards. The masks feature an adjustable nose bridge to prevent glasses from fogging and to create a custom fit. They also have an ear-strap design for convenience.
Make note: The CDC says that as many as 60 percent of KN95 masks in the U.S. are counterfeit. While Hope Health Supply’s are certified, you’ll want to be extra cautious when purchasing KN95 masks from other retailers.
Best KF94 mask
Flexmon Korea Black Disposable KF94 Face Masks, 20 Pack
There’s one other electrostatic mask type you should be familiar with in addition to N95 and KN95 masks: the KF94. These masks meet standards specific to South Korea (KF stands for Korean filter) and offer 94 percent filtration efficacy. Flexmon’s set of 20 features elastic ear loops, an adjustable nose clip, and four-ply material. Each mask is individually wrapped so there’s no cross-contamination.
Best surgical mask
DemeTECH 3-Layer Face Mask
Surgical masks are an effective measure against COVID-19, with studies showing they’re up to 95 percent effective at filtering out virus particles. This 50 pack is ideal for leaving by your front door or in your car. The three-ply, FDA-approved mask has elastic ear loops and an adjustable nose bridge. To ensure efficacy, get a snug fit (that might mean tying the face mask tighter or wearing a cloth mask on top). Each mask is made in the U.S.
Best reusable face mask
SonoMask by Sonovia
Yes, this mask is expensive. But for being a two-layer mask, it has a remarkable success rate in filtering the virus thanks to its coating of anti-microbial zinc oxide, making it worth every penny. Plus, it washes without losing potency because the coating is not water soluble. It’s also super comfortable—which means you’re more likely to wear it. You can buy it in multi-packs, too.
Best breathable face mask
Sea to Summit Barrier Face Mask
This unisex mask is available in three sizes and is thermoformed for a seamless profile that allows you to breathe so comfortably, you may forget you’re wearing it. Made with brushed and quilted 50D polyester stretch-knit fabric, it fits like a second skin. Its quilted, three-layer construction is designed to be ultra-breathable, so you can literally breathe easy.
Best face mask for long wear
Livinguard Safety Mask 3-Layer Face Mask
Designed to be comfortable for extended periods of wear, this durable cloth mask provides three layers of protection and can be used daily and washed weekly for six months without losing its efficacy. Adjustable straps with closures ensure a perfect fit of this mask, which has passed extensive skin safety testing in both the United States and Europe, and which is available in numerous colors and designs.
Best face mask for toddlers
School MaskPack Crayola Kids Face Mask, set of 5
With an attached bead, even little hands can adjust these child-size masks for the perfect fit. They’re soft and breathable, made of 100 percent cotton, and have a built-in nose clip to prevent masks from slipping off, even when your kiddo is tearing it up on the playground. As one would expect from Crayola, the masks come in a rainbow of colors and a set of five so there’s one for every school day. They even come with a mesh bag for laundering.
Best face mask for kids
Children’s Sized Powecom KN95-SM Respirator Mask, Pack of 10
With kids back in classrooms, you’ll want to equip them with a top-tier respirator such as a KN95. This Powecom option is made of hot air cotton, melt-blown fabric, and polypropylene for an electrostatic charge that makes it more effective at filtering viral droplets than other masks. The coverings are 15 percent smaller than adult Powecom sizes and come with an adjustable metal nose piece and latex-free ear loops. Like all certified KN95 masks, they offer 95 percent filtration efficacy.
Best face mask if you wear glasses
Outdoor Research Face Cover Kit
If you wear glasses, you’ve probably had them fog up when you wear a mask, causing a whole different set of issues. This mask—which boasts a Gear of the Year 2021 award from Popular Mechanics—lets you adjust for your unique face size and shape, ears, and glasses, preventing fogginess and allowing you to breathe as though you weren’t wearing a face covering at all. In addition to the roomy design and nose wire for custom fitting, the mask comes with a 3-pack of filters. You can also buy an inexpensive spray to keep your glasses fog-free.
Best cotton face mask
Vida Protective Mask
Vida’s Protective Mask is made of two layers of 100 percent cotton and comes with a medical-grade polypropylene filter. Adjustable straps and a hidden, integrated metal nose piece ensure a snug fit for solid protection and comfort, so you’ll want to buy these for your whole family. Choose from a single mask, a pair, or a five-pack in your choice of warm, classic, or pastel hues.
Best reversible face mask
Martex Health Cozy Cabin Reversible Triple-Layer Face Masks, set of 3
This trio of masks is really the equivalent of buying half a dozen since each one is reversible. Triple-layered in cotton and silver-infused polyester and featuring a 100 percent polypropylene inner layer, each one gives you the option of wearing a solid or pretty print. They’re available in youth, standard, and oversized and come in a variety of designs.
Best face mask for working out
Airpop Active Yellow Black
Providing a serious line of defense while allowing for unparalleled breathability, this mask from the award-winning brand Airpop was designed for high-intensity activity. It’s got a patented seal and frame to ensure a tight but comfortable fit, plus replaceable filtration material that helps block 99 percent of harmful particulates. Its superior performance will translate into your own. Pair it with your favorite workout shorts.
Best winter face mask
Quilted Winter Warmer Face Mask
Consider this a winter coat for your face. The Rafi Nova mask features a lightweight quilted fabrication and wrap-around coverage to protect not just your nose and mouth, but also your ears and neck (for extra insulation against the cold). It’s made of three-ply fabric and even has a moisture-wicking, antimicrobial cotton layer for comfort and peace of mind. There’s an adjustable earloop inside the ear flaps and a nose wire to keep things secure. Wear it around town on extra chilly days, or for sledding or ski adventures.
Best summer face mask
TRAVLEISURE Adjustable, Reusable, Washable Face Mask
The most important thing in a face mask for the warmer months is breathability and coolness. This mask is made of cooling, eco-friendly bamboo material and feels soft and non-irritating against the skin. The ear loops and nose bridge are adjustable for a snug fit. It’s best for socially distanced picnics in the park or walks in the sun, but when you’re in enclosed spaces, you’ll want something with more filtering protection.
Best face mask for acne-prone skin
CLIQUE 100% Mulberry Silk Face Mask
Masks can be harsh, with many fabrics too abrasive for sensitive skin. This luxurious face mask, on the other hand, is a real treat for your face. Hypoallergenic and breathable, it’s made from 100 percent mulberry silk, allowing it to glide over your skin, preventing acne and breakouts. It features a filter pocket as well as an adjustable ear loop and nose clip for a custom fit. Because silk keeps you cool in the summer and warm during the winter, it’s a great mask for all seasons.
Best silk face mask
Wolford Luxury Silk Mask Unisex
Wolford is known for its luxury silk tights—and so it’s no surprise the brand’s silk face masks are just as great. This 100 percent lightweight silk covering has adjustable elastic ear loops and a bendable nose wire. The Wolford logo adorns the exterior. However, it’s only a single layer of protection, so you’ll want to pair this stylish choice with a more protective face mask in higher-risk situations.
Best neck-strap mask
lululemon Double Strap Face Mask 3 Pack Ultralu
A mask with a neck strap offers convenience and takes the stress off the ears. If you’re simply heading out for a socially distanced walk or hike, you can keep it around your neck and pull it up when someone crosses your path. This one from Lululemon has adjustable straps so you can get the proper fit, as well as a center seam to offer shape and lift the mask away from your mouth. The Ultralu material is quick-drying, sweat-wicking, and smooth on the skin. Like the other lightweight masks on this list, it’s not the best choice for close contact scenarios.
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- NBC News, White House says it will distribute 400 million free N95 masks to protect against Omicron
- Denzil Seedial, MD, a board-certified doctor in internal medicine, pulmonary and critical care at PCSI in Florida
- CDC, Omicron Variant: What You Need to Know
- CNN, Why you should upgrade your mask as the Omicron variant spreads
- Science, Impact of community masking on COVID-19
- CDC, Types of Masks and Respirators
- CDC, Implementing Filtering Facepiece Respirator (FFR) Reuse
- USA Today, COVID mask guide for omicron surge
- Byung Uk Lee, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health