If You're Layering These Masks, the CDC Says to Stop Immediately

You should steer clear of these face coverings if you're trying to double mask.

Masks have been encouraged since early in the pandemic to offer protection against the fast-spreading coronavirus. But as new variants of the virus started spreading at more alarming rates, people went looking for further ways to ensure that they were fully protected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated their mask guidelines to endorse double masking, the idea that wearing two masks layered on top of each other better ensures protection against COVID. However, the CDC did make some stipulations in their updated guidelines. When it comes to layering your masks, there are some types of mask that shouldn't be used. Read on to find out which masks you can't double mask with, and for more essential mask guidance, If You See This on Your Mask, the FDA Says Toss It Immediately.

The CDC says you should not layer two disposable masks together.

Woman holding out a surgical face mask. She is either about to put it on or is showing, or offering it to another person.
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When layering masks, the CDC explicitly says you should not use two disposable masks. Why? It won't actually help protect you more. According to the CDC, "disposable masks are not designed to fit tightly and wearing more than one will not improve fit." For a mask to fit tightly, it must sit over your nose, under your chin, and against your cheeks without any gaps. And for more mask recommendations to heed, The CDC Warns Against Using These 6 Face Masks.

But you can use disposable masks to layer with another type of mask.

Young man wearing double or two face mask to protect from coronavirus or covid-19 outbreak - concept of safety, healthcare, medical and hygiene.
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You can layer disposable masks with other masks, however. The CDC recommends people double mask by wearing one disposable mask underneath a cloth mask. When doing this, "the second mask should push the edges of the inner mask against your face," the agency explained. Earlier research has endorsed this particular order of layering as well.

A Jan. 21 study published in the journal Cell said that people should "wear a cloth mask tightly on top of a surgical mask where the surgical mask acts as a filter, and the cloth mask provides an additional layer of filtration while improving the fit." As long as both these masks fit well, the researchers found that this could stop the spread of the coronavirus with more than a 90 percent efficacy. At the same time, the researchers clarified that reversing this mask order could change the fit and make it less effective. And for more ways your mask may not be as protective, If Your Mask Doesn't Have These 4 Things, Get a New One, Doctor Says.

The CDC also says you should not layer KN95 masks.

white KN95 or N95 mask for protection pm 2.5 and corona virus isolated on grey background. Prevention of the spread of virus and pandemic COVID-19.
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The CDC also warns against double masking with KN95 masks. According to the agency, you should not combine a KN95 mask with any other mask, nor should you layer another KN95 mask on top of a KN95 mask. Best Life reached out to the CDC for further explanation on this stipulation, but has not yet received a response. And for more coronavirus news, The CDC Says You Don't Have to Do This Anymore Once You're Vaccinated.

Experts say there are a few reasons you should not use KN95 masks when double masking.

portrait of a woman wearing protective face mask in accordance with the European health guidelines FFP2/KN95
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Paul Hickey, president of PuraVita Medical, a company that manufactures KN95 masks, said layering KN95 masks could be dangerous. "KN95 masks are designed to be a respirator," he said. "A respirator is designed to create an airtight seal around your face so you only breathe air that comes in through the respirator material and the air you breathe out only goes through the respirator material. Because of this, if you double layer a KN95 respirator or an N95 respirator you will have a difficult time breathing and so yes, it could be dangerous. Respirators are designed to only be one layer and not double stacked."

On the other hand, Sam Barone, MD, chief medical officer of BioPharma and president of Halodine, said layering another mask with a KN95 may also negatively affect the KN95 mask's fit—which is already designed to be extraordinarily effective. "N95 and KN95 masks are designed to filter 95 percent of aerosol particulates through a tight fit provided by proper wear. Placing another mask over top of these masks would alter the fit and could result in them being less effective," Barone explained. And for more on the spread of coronavirus, This Is Where You're Most Likely to Catch COVID, New Study Says.

The CDC says double masking can make mask protection nearly 40 percent more effective.

Woman holding a cloth mask and a medical mask
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Alongside these updated guidelines to endorse double masking, the CDC published a study on this method on Feb. 10. According to the study, when someone is double masking by wearing a cloth mask over a disposable surgical mask, they reduce their exposure to possibly contaminated aerosol particles by around 90 percent. In comparison, a surgical mask on its own only blocks 56 percent of the particles when subjected to a simulated cough, while a cloth mask on its own only blocks 51 percent. And for more up-to-date information, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Double masking is not a requirement, however.

Woman with double masks
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President Joe Biden recently mandated mask-wearing during traveling and according to the CDC's report, 38 states and Washington D.C. currently have mask mandates. So, are you now required to wear two masks? According to White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, no. The CDC's updated guidelines are simply a recommendation on how to achieve further protection. "What the CDC is saying [is] at minimum, wear a mask. That's all [the CDC is] saying. One mask at least, but if you want to really be sure, get a tighter fit with a second mask," Fauci said during a Feb. 11 interview on Today. And for insight on the future of the pandemic, Dr. Fauci Says You Should Be Able to Do This One Thing by April.

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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