Surgical masks are designed to be worn in one direction only. However, it can be difficult to know which way round a medical face mask should go. Should the blue side be outward or inward? And what about those all-white surgical masks?
In this article, we’ll cover how to wear a surgical mask the correct way, and why it’s important to make sure you’re wearing it the correct way round.
WATCH: Which Way Round Should I Wear a Surgical Mask?
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Most Surgical Masks Are Made of Three Layers
Surgical masks are most commonly made up of three layers. These are:
1. Outer fluid-repellent layer: Typically colored blue or green, this layer repels fluid, helping to reduce the chance that viruses and bacteria from the air attach to the mask.
2. High-efficiency filter middle layer: The middle layer is what does the hard work in capturing viruses and bacteria. Any particles which get past the outside layers are filtered here.
3. Absorbent layer: The inner layer captures and absorbs moisture, reducing the chance of any mucus or bacteria from leaving the mask when the wearer coughs or talks.
With this information in hand, it now should be easier to determine just which way round to wear a surgical mask.
How to Wear Surgical Mask Properly?
First of all, check the instructions if included. Otherwise, you can follow these simple rules to know how to wear your surgical mask:
1. Blue or white on outside?
Typically, the fluid repellent layer of a surgical mask is colored side. That means the colored side should face out. Think of it this way: You want to show off your colors!
If your mask has the same color on both sides, move on to the next rule.
2. Soft side towards the face
Some masks have the same for both sides of the masks. Some are even all white, like this one.
For these masks that are white on both sides, you can use the feel of the material to determine which way round to wear the mask. The side that is softer to touch is the moisture-absorbent layer and goes towards your face. The rougher layer is the moisture-repellent layer, that faces outwards.
Don’t Use Mask Ear Loops as an Indicator for Mask Direction
It may seem like a smart idea to use the straps as an indication of which way to wear a surgical mask. We suggest not to! In four out of the five surgical masks we checked, one had the straps that attached to the outside layer, and four had the straps that attached to the inside layer.
How to Wear Surgical Masks
Following these simple steps will ensure your surgical or medical mask is fitted properly:
- Place the elastic bands around your ears.
- Extend the surgical up above the nose and down to the chin. Make sure it fully covers the mouth, nose, and chin.
- Bend the metallic strip at the top of the mask over nose bridge. The surgical mask should sit snuggly to the face.
- Avoid touching the surgical mask after putting it on. If you do, wash your hands afterwards.
- Discard used masks in the garbage and wash your hands.
- Standard practice is to replace surgical masks after each use. But if supplies are limited, replace masks that are dirty or damaged.
A handy guide from the Singaporean government explains the steps for wearing a surgical mask.
Does Surgical Mask Orientation Affect Its Ability to Capture Viruses?
We ran tests to find out if wearing a surgical mask the wrong way around affects its ability to filter virus-sized articles. The short answer: it does, but not much.
How to Significantly Improve Surgical Mask Performance
N95 masks are one of the best-performing masks on the market, but they come at a higher cost compared to surgical masks and have seen shortages in the past. So can you make your own DIY N95 mask? A recent study showed that simply using rubberbands to improve the fit of surgical masks can improve a surgical mask’s performance to the N95 standard.
BONUS: 6 Amazing, Underrated Health Benefits of Masks
Empirical research shows strong evidence that wearing a mask can actually impact your health in a huge way.
Along with wearing masks, air purifiers with HEPA filters are also one of the best ways to stay safe from a variety of pollutants in our air including viruses and dangerous PM2.5. A recent CDC study confirmed significantly lower COVID-19 infection rates in schools that used HEPA air purifiers. HEPA filters can significantly lower the risk of a variety of deadly diseases including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and high blood pressure.
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