This Is Why You Should Never Wear Your Face Mask Inside Out, WHO Says

The blue and white sides of your face mask are not interchangeable, WHO director says.

Since face masks became a necessity in response to the coronavirus pandemic, they've been the subject of much debate and discussion. Even among those who agree that we should wear them, there are still misconceptions about how to wear your mask properly. One widely shared rumor, which began making the rounds on social media in mid-March, claims that disposable surgical masks can be worn with either the blue side or white side facing out. As the viral post explains, the color the wearer chooses should depend on who they want to protect: blue side out if they're sick and want to protect others from their germs, and white side out if they're healthy, and more concerned with being infected themselves. Unfortunately, this post and others like it have caused quite a bit of confusion, so the World Health Organization (WHO) is setting the recording straight. According to the experts, the idea that masks can be worn facing either direction is patently false: There is only one right way to wear a medical mask—and that's with the blue side facing out.

Wing Hong Seto, co-director of the WHO's Collaborating Center for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Control, set the record straight in a video interview for Bloomberg. He flatly stated that wearing the blue side out is the only way to wear a mask correctly, and referred to wearing a mask white side out as "totally wrong." Medical masks are proven to be effective, he explained, but not if you wear them inside out.

There is, however, one thing that the viral post got right. The two sides of the mask do serve different functions: the blue side, Seto explained, is waterproof, and designed to protect the wearer from incoming droplets from others. The white side, on the other hand, is absorbent. "So, if I cough, it absorbs it," Seto noted.

The key, he explains, is to trap your own germs while repelling the germs of others. Reversing the mask can have the opposite effect, dangerously trapping the germs of others on the outer surface of your mask, and increasing your likelihood of contamination.

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So, if you've been wearing a blue mask to keep yourself and others safe from coronavirus, make sure it's on properly—meaning always blue side out. And if you're wondering how long masks will be a part of daily life, check out Here's How Long You'll Have to Wear a Face Mask, Experts Say.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more