The No. 1 Mistake You're Making When You Take Off Your Face Mask

How you remove your face mask is just as important as how you wear it.

The use of face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic is strongly recommended—and, in some areas, enforced—to help curb the spread of the virus. However, it's not as simple as just throwing anything over your mouth and hoping for the best. Face masks have to be properly cared for and worn in order to effectively slow the spread of the coronavirus. And that's not all. Taking off your face mask correctly is also necessary to keep your mask effective, yet many people make the same mistake when it comes to taking their mask off.

According to Jay Woody, MD, chief medical officer of Intuitive Health and co-founder of Legacy ER and Urgent Care, many people think they can haphazardly pull their face masks off at the end of the day, with no caution as to how they're removing them. Unfortunately, this causes many people to touch the front of their face mask when removing it, which he says is the biggest mistake they can make.

"If you are not already infected, the highest risk of contamination is the front of the face mask," Woody explains. "Masks should be removed from the back, not the front. If not, unwashed hands are touching the inside of the mask, and then their hands touch their face. When this happens, the face mask becomes pointless."

Woman during pandemic isolation at city. Removing mask from face.

The reason the front of the mask is so dangerous is because this is where "a majority of the virus particles will stay if you have been in contact with a COVID-19 positive person," says Ann Messer, MD, a board-certified family physician and founder of One Good Turn. This can cause the virus particles to transfer from the mask to your hands and then to your face, infecting you with the coronavirus.

So how should you take your face mask off? Keane Veran, co-founder of OURA, a company that makes reusable antimicrobial medical-grade masks, says you should always remove a mask with clean hands by pulling from the "straps or ear loops," and always assume that the front part of the mask is contaminated. If you do take any incorrect steps when removing your face mask, he says you should "immediately wash your hands," as well as wash your mask before reusing. And for more tips on caring for your face mask, learn The No. 1 Way to Store Your Face Mask, According to a Doctor.

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