The Most Breathable Face Masks to Survive the Next Heat Wave

Zee Krstic, Lexie Sachs, Good Housekeeping Institute
Photo credit: Design: Danielle Carson
Photo credit: Design: Danielle Carson

From Good Housekeeping

As uncomfortable as it can be, wearing a face mask in the summer heat is unavoidable if you plan to head into public spaces. Not only can a face mask protect others from those who may be unknowingly spreading the novel coronavirus due to a lack of symptoms, it's also becoming a requirement for many local and state governments in places where social distancing is difficult to maintain.

The good news is that not all face masks are the same and there are plenty of breathable options to help you feel more comfortable, whether you're exercising in public, working outdoors, or simply facing the latest heat wave. The Good Housekeeping textile experts and health editors reviewed dozens of lightweight face masks to find the ones that are breathable, yet still offer good protection. Read on to learn more about the unique fabrications for lightweight face masks along with our picks for each category, but first, here's what to keep in mind as you shop for breathable face masks:


  • Check CDC Suggestions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the most effective types of masks to prevent users' from spewing infectious droplets into the air are surgical-grade medical masks, followed by those made from tightly woven 100% cotton. You'll also need to ensure that the mask is designed to cover your nose and mouth entirely, and can be secured against your head, neck, or ears.

  • Consider whether you'll be sweating. While cotton face masks are convenient and often breathable, the cotton fabric will absorb your sweat and stay wet if you're working out. In these cases, you're better off with a performance fabric that wicks moisture.

  • Look for protective features. Since lightweight, breathable materials may be less protective, make sure there are multiple layers of fabric. For even more protection, some masks have a nonwoven filter layer, while others have a pocket to add a disposable filter. A metal nose piece can also help create a more secure fit around the face.

The best materials for breathable face masks

Lightweight Cotton

Cotton is the most popular fabric for face masks, but some can be heavier (similar to denim), which won't be as breathable. Lightweight variations like poplin will feel cooler and more comfortable in the heat, while still adhering to the CDC's suggestion of 100% cotton woven fabric. You can also opt for cotton jersey fabrics, which feel more like a summer T-shirt. Just keep in mind that these are knit instead of woven, so be careful that they don't stretch too much while you're wearing them.

Performance Fabrics

Most exercise clothing is made of performance fabrics instead of cotton because these materials are lightweight, smooth, and better at wicking away your sweat. Activewear brands that are well-known for their innovative workout gear have adapted their fabrics into face masks that are specifically designed for exercise.

Wicking Materials

Certain polyester fabrics are engineered to wick moisture by transporting the sweat from your body to the outer fabric and spreading it out quickly, leaving your skin feeling cool and dry.

Water-Resistant Fabrics

Face coverings with a water-resistant finish on the outer fabric are ideal if you're concerned about less protection with lightweight, breathable masks. These help protect against droplets from passing through without feeling overly stuffy.

How to keep cool while wearing face masks

Regardless of which face covering you choose to buy, there are a few things you can do to make your face mask more comfortable.

  • Use a mask with ties. If you plan on wearing the mask for multiple hours at a time, ones with ear loops may feel more uncomfortable. Some masks are made with ties that can be tightened individually across the crown of your skull and the nape of your neck. These aren't as quick to put on and take off for quick errands, and you want to make sure they're fastened securely so the ties aren't slipping or sliding on your face throughout your day.

  • Schedule your tasks with breaks in between. Having a mask pressed against your face for long periods of time can lead to rashes or even acne due to sweat, breath, and skin oils permeating the mask, according to dermatologists at the Mayo Clinic. Try scheduling brief breaks at home where you can get a respite from mask wearing. Washing your hands and removing the mask to wipe away any sweat will give your skin a brief break, and you can put on a fresh, clean mask before you head out again. Face masks should be washed thoroughly after they've been worn, and you shouldn't leave sweat-filled masks to percolate in a laundry basket for too long (they'll breed more bacteria).

  • Bring multiple masks with you. If your mask has become fully saturated (from humidity, sweat, or rain) you'll need to change your mask, says Rodney Rohde, Ph.D., the associate dean for research for the College of Health Professions at Texas State University. He advises that people have multiple face masks to change into in these conditions. You'll need to remove your current mask and then immediately wash or sanitize your hands thoroughly before handling your new one, as you can contaminate it before you even put it on. A clean, dry mask might alleviate some of the difficulty you're experiencing in drawing in breath — but keep in mind that even athletes can't perform at full capacity due to face coverings, and you should expect to feel tired sooner than you normally would.

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