7 Ways You're Still Wearing Your Face Mask Wrong

Wearing a mask incorrectly can be the difference between protecting yourself from COVID-19 and catching it.

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You've heard a million times by now that face masks are key to slowing the spread of COVID-19. And while wearing a face mask helps protect you and those around you, it only does so if you're correctly wearing it. Pulling your face mask under your chin or wearing the wrong size mask is not helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19, rendering the face mask useless. If you want to make sure your face mask is doing its job, make sure you're not making these mistakes. And for more you should know about the proper use of face masks, check out the 5 Ways You're Cleaning Your Face Mask Wrong.

1
You're not paying attention to which side of the face mask goes outside versus inside.

man holding onto face mask that may be too small
Shutterstock

A rumor circulated around Facebook in late March, saying you could choose which side of a disposable face mask you wore, depending on what kind of coverage you wanted. White side out was for when you were not sick and wanted to keep the virus out, while the blue side out was for keeping germs in while you were sick. In an episode of Bloomberg QuickTake, Wing Hong Seto, MD, co-director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Control, disputed this rumor. According to Seto, the blue side should always be worn out because it's waterproof, while the white should always be worn in because it's absorbent and will absorb a cough or sneeze.

Similarly, there's a right way and a wrong way to wear your cloth face mask. That pocket your cloth mask likely has is for a filter and should be on the inside of your mask, while the side without the pocket should be worn on the outside. And for more about face masks, check out How Many People Need to Wear Masks to Stop the Coronavirus.

2
You're wearing the same face mask all day.

Businesswoman using a digital tablet at night in the city wearing a healthcare mask.
iStock

Your mask is a filter, which means it "needs to be changed regularly," says Dimitar Marinov, MD, an assistant professor at the Medical University of Varna who works with the control and prevention of infectious diseases. If you don't swap out your mask, "viral particles can accumulate and spread into the environment."

So if you're out in public all day, you should be switching out your face mask often. In fact, Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at SkinSafe Dermatology and Skin Care, says it's recommended that cloth masks be changed every two hours. And for more face mask tips, check out the 7 Precautions You Must Take Before Wearing a Mask.

3
You're pulling down your face mask to speak to someone.

young couple talking with mask pulled down
iStock

Pulling your face mask down to talk to someone while out in public completely defeats the purpose of the mask, yet so many people do it because they feel their voice is muffled by the mask, says Shainhouse. When you pull your mask "off of your nose to let it sit on your chin," she says you're potentially exposing yourself and anyone else around you to the virus.

In fact, it's especially important to wear your face mask when talking to other people, considering a recent National Institutes of Health study found that speaking in a loud voice can introduce thousands of droplets containing COVID-19 into the air every second. And even worse, those droplets are detectable in the air for up to 14 minutes after you're done talking.

4
You're touching your face mask with gloves on.

Woman wearing protective gloves putting on protective mask on her face at work place
iStock

The truth of the matter is, you shouldn't be touching your face mask at all while you're wearing it, whether it's to pull it down to talk to someone or just to make adjustments as to where it sits on your face—especially when you're wearing gloves, says Shainhouse.

"If you choose to wear gloves, they should be removed–flipping them inside out as your remove them, and balling the first one into the second–and then remove or touch your face mask," she says. "Wearing gloves tends to provide wearers with a false sense of security, as they end up touching everything with their dirty gloves–thinking they are safe because they are keeping their hands clean. The gloves have germs that can be transferred to your face, especially when you fidget or play with your mask." And for more common errors to avoid, check out 8 Mistakes You're Still Making Every Time You Leave Your House.

5
You're not covering your nose while wearing a face mask.

Woman putting on a surgical face mask. She is applying it to her face and is adjusting the mask for a proper fit. Back lit at sunset.

Your mask isn't only meant to cover your mouth. Your nose can have just as much of an impact in spreading the coronavirus, says Dušan Goljić, PharmD, medical writer and co-founder of DealsOnHealth.

"We often breathe through our nose, and if we put our masks only over our mouths, we are exposing ourselves to the virus," he says. "Plus, in case we're infected with the virus and sneeze, we will release viral particles through our nose and contaminate people surrounding us."

6
You're wearing a damp face mask.

The hand of a man who is throwing a black mask into the washing machine
iStock

One of the reasons you need to change your face mask often is because they can become wet with sweat, says Shainhouse—which also renders your face mask ineffective in protecting against COVID-19. Wet masks cannot filter out respiratory particles in the same way a dry mask can. This also means you have to wait for a face mask to fully dry after washing the mask before wearing it, she says. And for the ultimate guide on cleaning your face mask, check out The No. 1 Way to Clean Your Face Mask.

7
You're wearing the wrong kind of face mask.

Reusable antiviral mask with breather filter valve and activated carbon filter on blue. Prevention of coronavirus. Space for text.
iStock

Does your face mask have a respirator valve? If so, then it's ineffective in terms of slowing the spread of COVID-19, according to Shainhouse. After all, the purpose of face masks is to help people "keep their germs to themselves," reducing the likelihood of possibly contaminated droplets infecting other people.

"The one-way respiratory valve allows the wearer to breathe out all of their droplets and germs into the surrounding air," Shainhouse explains. "While it keeps them from sucking in other people's germs—filtering them out like a professional N95—it does not hold their own germs in, and thus exposes anyone in their immediate vicinity to their germs."

Best Life is constantly monitoring the latest news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed. Here are the answers to your most burning questions, the ways you can stay safe and healthy, the facts you need to know, the risks you should avoid, the myths you need to ignore,and the symptoms to be aware of. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.
Kali Coleman
Kali is an assistant editor at Best Life. Read more
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