By now we all know to wear a face covering in public to help stop the spread of the coronavirus—but even after months of acclimating, finding an actually breathable face mask is easier said than done. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that “staying physically active is one of the best ways to keep your mind and body healthy” during the pandemic, but exercising with a mask can make breathing even harder—especially as temperatures rise.
Truth is, the face mask or bandana you’ve been using to cover your face may not be the best for outdoor activities, which is why we reached out to experts for advice on what the most breathable face masks are for warm-weather recreation.
Consider the face mask’s fabric.
Because there’s been high demand for face masks, fashion and beauty brands have pivoted to create nonmedical face coverings by using recycled or excess fabric. Many activewear and swimwear labels have followed suit, repurposing performance materials from their own technical apparel in order to design options that can absorb sweat and offer UV protection—but the material that gets the job done is far more simple.
Choose “any kind of cotton because it’s breathable,” says Niket Sonpal, M.D., board-certified internist in New York City and adjunct assistant professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine. So while you may be tempted to buy a mask to match your leggings, “cloth and natural fibers are better,” Sonpal says. “Nylon, from a temperature standpoint, may be uncomfortable and wouldn’t provide as much ventilation as you’d hope.” Quilter’s cotton is even better, according to Sonpal: “It has a good 60% to 80% filtration compared to plain old cotton.”
What’s the deal with dropping your face mask while exercising?
“If you’re running and there’s no one around, it’s okay to drop your mask,” says Atlanta E.R. doctor Darria Long, M.D. “Duration of exposure is key, so unless someone were literally running behind you, anything that you exhale will be widely dispersed and make it unlikely that someone could be exposed to enough virus to be sick.”
What about balaclavas, bandanas, or neck gaiters?
As far as design goes, neck gaiters, balaclavas, and bandanas can be easier to pull up and down than masks with adjustable ear ties when exercising, but researchers at Duke University recently found that fleece neck gaiters were the least effective mask alternative (followed by folded bandanas), as the fleece material “seemed to break down larger droplets into smaller particles that are more easily carried away with air.” So while it’s encouraged to wear something rather than nothing, folded bandanas and neck gaiters will not block respiratory droplets as well as three-layer surgical masks and cotton masks, according to the study.
How often should you wash your face mask?
That totally depends on how much you sweat, so your best bet is to treat it like the rest of your exercise clothing. The benefit of having cotton is that it’s easy to wash, says Sonpal, both by hand or in the machine. You can easily wash your face mask in the sink with warm water and soap, or if you have a dedicated laundry day, you can “just have a couple and then batch them in a load,” says Long.
If you’re thinking about going to the beach…
You’re fine wearing the same type of cotton mask as you would for any other activity. However, if you’re going to be near the water, you have to be mindful that if it gets wet, it’s going to get less breathable and harbor more bacteria. “Wash and dry your face mask that same day,” Sonpal says, in addition to practicing social distancing when you’re in the water as an extra measure of protection.
With these recommendations, we rounded up some breathable face masks for running, biking, rollerblading, and whatever outdoor summer activity you have in mind. (P.S. If kids are coming along, here’s a resource on where to buy kids’ face masks.)
Breathable Cotton Face Masks With Ties
$18.00, Urban Outfitters
$7.00, Lucy Paris
Polyester-Blend Face Masks With Ties
$25.00, Beyond Yoga
$30.00, Under Armour
$90.00, Michel Men
Disposable Face Masks
As news about the novel coronavirus pandemic rapidly evolves, Glamour is committed to bringing our readers the most accurate and up-to-date facts. As a result, information in this story and others like it may change, and we will update when necessary. For the most recent news about COVID-19, please visit the CDC, the WHO, and your state’s department of health.
Originally Appeared on Glamour