When Covid-19 first struck, everyone had to scramble for face masks. The price for each face mask went sky high but now we are spoiled with an abundance of choices for our face masks. It is the current (compulsory) fashion trend with local brands in Malaysia leading the way, adapting our cultural influences into their products. But even the prettiest, most expensive mask will not be effective if not worn properly. It is important to buy the right face mask and wear them properly in order to play our part in preventing the spread of Covid-19. A face mask acts as a barrier to protect others from yourself and others wear face mask to protect you from them as we discharge mucous and saliva that contains germs when we talk, laugh, sing, cough or sneeze. This is especially important as 70 percent of cases in Malaysia are asymptomatic as stated by Malaysia’s Director-General of Health, Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.
Here’s your essential guide on face masks!
Type of face masks
The first step is buying the right face mask. It is essential to know if you are buying and wearing an effective face mask. The mask we wear must be effective in containing droplets and allows you to breathe easily. There are two types of recommended face masks for the public:
3-ply disposable face mask – Also known as surgical mask, this type of mask is recommended for health workers, those with respiratory issues and/or chronic diseases as well as senior citizens who are 60 years old and above.
These masks are NOT reusable so be sure to dispose them away after wearing them for the day.
Reusable fabric mask – Recommended for the working population, individuals without respiratory symptoms at Covid-19 outbreak areas as well as healthy individuals at public spaces where social distancing is hard to follow such as the grocery store or when using the public transport. Fabric masks should be washed and the filter must be changed daily after use. Some face masks of this type come with a disposable filter insert.
While reusable fabric masks are more eco-friendly, make sure it protects you from the virus! Like the disposable face masks, it should also have 3 layers of materials.
Inner layer – This part that has direct contact with your face should be made of hydrophilic material as it easily absorbs droplets from exhaled breath. It should also be light in colour in order to allow users to easily know if it is soiled or wet. If you are planning to make your own mask, you can find this material in a knit or woven cotton t-shirt.
Middle layer – This layer is pocketed between the two layers and can either be an insert or a layer of fabric as a filter. It should ideally be a strip of polypropylene fabric (a spun bond non-woven fabric material). Some of the materials you can use for this layer are silk and chiffon which can also be used for the inner layer of your mask.
Outer layer – This can be made of synthetic material such as polyester, or polyester and cotton blend as they are hydrophobic material that repels droplets and moisture. Cotton fabric from your bedsheet or pillow case can also be used here; the higher the thread count, the better!
While masks are compulsory for adults, they are dangerous for babies and certainly not suitable for those who are 2 years old or younger. The government has mandated that children 2 years or younger need not wear face masks in public spaces. However, parents must also be discouraged from bringing their young children to public spaces to reduce exposure and the risk of catching Covid-19.
Wearing your face mask properly
As mentioned earlier, regardless of its price, a face mask is of no use if not worn properly. As time passes by, we’ve seen more and more people being negligent in terms of social distancing and wearing masks. The onus is then on us to ensure we take all safety measures necessary when going out to public spaces. Here are some important guidelines to adhere to.
Wash your hands
This is THE golden rule in our new reality. You must always wash your hands before and after touching any object or a surface including your own mask. Remember to wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds. If soap is not available, use hand sanitisers that contain at least 70 percent alcohol.
Check your mask
Make sure your mask is new if it is a disposable mask and check if your fabric mask is still in good condition. If your mask has signs of wear and tear or dirty, do not use it. It is time to get yourself a new one.
Touch only the loops
Wear your mask by holding its loops and hook it to your ears or behind your head. For those wearing hijab or whose ears get irritated easily, wearing the normal loops on mask may not be practical. Instead, you should get a mask extender to make your life easier. No more red ears or hassle with brooches!
Put it on the right way
Your mask should cover your mouth, nose and chin and should be adjusted to ensure that there are no gaps to the side. It needs to fit your face. Remember, a loose mask is just as bad as not wearing a mask!
For disposable masks, the coloured side is always worn on the outside and the metal strip is the top part of the mask. Pinch the metal strip so that it moulds to the shape of your nose.
Do not bring down the mask to your chin as this will mean the inside layer of your mask will be contaminated by your exposed neck. This will cause your mouth and nose to be infected by bacteria, viruses or germs. If you need to remove your mask to eat or drink, just remove it completely.
Source: Ministry of Health Malaysia
Get rid of your habit of touching your face. Do not touch the outer or inner layer of your mask. Even without the Covid-19 virus, the outer layer of the mask that you wear will be covered in germs, dust or even other invisible viruses out there. Moreover, most probably your hands have been in contact with surfaces that were touched by countless other people. So, don’t risk it.
Do not share your mask with others even if it is your own family member.
Taking off the mask
Clean your hands with soap and water, or hand sanitisers, before touching your mask. Remove the straps from behind the head or ears without touching the front of the mask. Lean forward and pull as your remove the mask from your face. If you’re taking it off momentarily for a meal, place your mask in a non-porous container or a sealed plastic bag to keep the mask isolated when not in use. Remember to clean the container or bag after usage. But if you are done for the day, either wash or dispose your face mask depending on what type of mask you’re wearing. Do not litter with your mask as it is just as bad as picking up a cigarette bud! Disgusting right? So don't do it! Plus, we need to be kinder to our environment.
To dispose your disposable mask:
Break the strap attached at the side of the mask
Fold it towards the inside and tie it using the broken strap
Throw the used mask into a covered rubbish bin
Wash your hands (as always!)
Friendly reminder: If your mask becomes dirty or wet, change it immediately as it is no longer effective when it’s damp.
What to do after wearing your mask (fabric mask)
For those using fabric mask, it should be washed at least once a day with soap or detergent. The Ministry of Health recommends the usage of hot water for this. Hang it to dry and remember to wash your hands afterwards. Do not use disinfectants to wash your mask as they contain harmful chemicals that you might inhale the next time you wear your mask.
It is also just as important to know when to replace your current mask. Keep an eye out for these signs:
Visibly worn out
Stain remains after wash
These are the basic information you need about wearing and handling your face mask. We hope this helps! But remember - wearing face masks alone cannot protect you from Covid-19. Always avoid the 3Cs (crowded places, confined spaces, close conversation) and practice the 3Ws (wash, wear, worn).
If you need to get new face masks, check out these local pharmacies at cari@unifi:
Together, we can break the Covid-19 chain!