Here's Why This Popular Face Mask Alternative Isn't Really Effective

This mask alternative may be great for skiing or running, but it's not the best coronavirus defense.

In early April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended wearing a face covering in public to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Some states subsequently made it illegal to enter an establishment without a mask on, leading many to scrounge for items in their home that could function as a mask. From bandanas to homemade cloth masks, you'll find people sporting various materials fashioned a protective covering. However, not all masks are the same, and some offer very limited protection. Although a study from PLOS One shows that wearing any mask is likely to lower your risk of transmission, neck gaiters—or tubes—are not recommended by experts.

If you're an active person, you may already own one of these multi-functional items to keep warm while skiing or to hold your hair back when running. However, you should think twice before using a neck gaiter as your first line of protection against the coronavirus.

Neck gaiter

The CDC recommends wearing a mask made of tightly woven cotton because the fibers are less likely to let anything pass through them. Most neck gaiters are made of polyester and spandex, however, and not super tightly woven. This means that they could potentially let viral droplets through. Additionally, these materials tend to hold onto virus particles for a long period of time.

"They've looked at the virus's ability to survive on surfaces, and spandex is the worst," Daniel Griffin, Ph.D., told NPR.

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One way to put your own neck gaiter to the test is to hold it up to a light. "If you can see light coming through right away, it's not an ideal fabric [for protection against coronavirus]," Paul Pottinger, MD, an infectious-disease specialist, told Outside.

If you're set on wearing your neck gaiter, Pottinger suggested doubling up. Slip another one over your see-through gaiter for some added protection. Also make sure that you are wearing it over your nose and mouth.

To learn about another mask you should avoid, check out This Is the Face Mask the CDC Doesn't Want You to Wear.

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