Face Masks: How To Wear Them To Protect Yourself And Others

This article was provided by the Henry Ford LiveWell blog, a tool developed by Henry Ford Health System to feature health and wellness advice and insights on a variety of topics that encompass the whole person – body, mind and spirit.

While stores, salons and restaurants start to ramp up operations following the stay-at-home order, that doesn’t mean everything will go right back to normal. For the time being, we are having to adjust to a “new normal” when we shop, go to the doctor’s office and come in contact with others. Masks are just one safety precaution used to allow for in-person interactions.

“Mask recommendations have been updated continuously throughout the coronavirus outbreak,” says Farvah Fatima, M.D., a family medicine doctor at Henry Ford Health System. “The current Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines ask that you cover the mouth and nose with a cloth face mask when around other people.”

The biggest reason you should still wear masks in public is to protect those around you. While the number of cases of the virus have decreased, asymptomatic individuals can still pass the virus on to others – especially those with compromised immune systems.

Face Mask Best Practices

The CDC recommends that healthcare workers use disposable medical masks to avoid the virus. The general public should wear homemade cloth masks when going out in public. Additionally, face masks should not be worn by children under two years of age or anyone who has trouble breathing or is unable to remove the mask without assistance.

Whether you’re wearing a homemade mask or a disposable medical mask, they should all be worn the same way. When masks are worn incorrectly, it makes them less effective at protecting you and those around you.

Here are some tips for properly wearing your mask:

Wear securely over your nose and mouth. Use the strings of your mask or elastics to secure the mask behind your ears or at the back of your head. Make sure the mask is pinched or secure over the bridge of your nose. If your mask isn’t covering your nose or doesn’t stay up on you nose, you may need to tighten the mask to your face.

Avoid touching and adjusting. Using your hands to adjust your mask can get your mask dirty quicker and expose you to more germs. Try to only adjust your mask when necessary (before and after going out in public).

“Sometimes it takes getting used to a mask before you feel comfortable with it on,” says Dr. Fatima. “You can try wearing a mask at home to get used to it for when you wear it in public.”

Know when to change your mask. Wearing a soiled mask can put you at a great risk for getting sick. If you cough, sneeze or have a runny nose under your mask make sure you throw it out or wash it after use. If your mask has visible dirt or makeup on it or begins to smell, you should also discard it or wash it. If you mask isn’t soiled after you wear it, store appropriately so it doesn’t get dirty before you wear it again. An easy way to do this is to keep your mask in a paper bag.

Common Face Mask FAQs

Q: How do I prevent my glasses from fogging up while wearing a face mask?

A: Glasses fog up because the hot air your exhale escapes from the top of your mask. Avoid this by making sure your mask is shaped around the bridge of your nose. Look for masks that allow you to mold the top part around the curve of your nose. You can also try wearing your mask higher on your nose and setting your glasses on top of the mask. Just make sure your glasses are clean of dirt or oils from your skin first!

Q: Is it okay to wear a mask while exercising?

A: You absolutely can wear a mask if you are exercising, unless you have cardiovascular or respiratory conditions that would make breathing with a mask on more difficult. Be aware that wearing a mask slightly decreases the amount of oxygen going to your lungs, so you may feel more tired or out of breath while working out. Take your time. Take a break if you start feeling dizzy or lightheaded.

Q: Can face masks make you break out more?

A: It can. An increase in acne could be caused by the mask activating irritants on the skin’s surface. Breakouts could also be due to increased stress and disrupted routines. Make sure you keep up with your skin care routine – washing your face, moisturizing, etc. Stick to cotton masks that are more breathable and consider washing or replacing your mask after each use.

Q: How can you prevent bad breath while wearing a mask?

A: With a mask covering your face, you may be more aware of unpleasant odors from your mouth. The best way to avoid bad breath is to practice good oral hygiene. Brush your teeth at least twice a day, floss, drink water, rinse with mouthwash.

At the end of the day, masks are only part of the preventative measures you need to take to limit the viruses spread. In addition to wearing a mask, make sure you continue to wash hands frequently and thoroughly, avoid touching your face, clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and maintain 6 feet of social distance. Remember, a mask is not a substitute for social distancing.