How To Make Wearing A Mask More Effective, And How To Breathe Better While Doing So

This article is not about whether you should wear a mask or not . I’m not here to tell you if you should or should not wear one, that is your choice. But given the recent “new normal” where mask wearing is required to walk into a grocery store, or even just to go to work, I’ve noticed some patterns and thought them important enough to write about. Things you should and shouldn’t do when wearing a mask. I’ve worn masks regularly, during my former employment as a scientist, as a healthcare worker, and while making products for Nature’s Complement. How you wear your mask will determine if it is actually effective.


Tips when wearing a mask

1. Make sure it has a proper fit. Not all faces are shaped the same, and no mask is a one size fits all. A proper fit can help with breathability, comfort, and overall experience of having to wear a mask. Make sure your mask fits properly, isn’t pulling on hair, and leaves some breathing room between your nose/mouth and the mask. A mask that is too lose, or too tight, stops serving its purpose. You want an overall comfortable fit, but want to make sure your nose and mouth are fully covered, with as little gaps as possible between your skin and the outer edge of the mask. A study done in April showed that surgical masks that were worn properly were mostly effective at preventing respiratory viruses from spreading.1Leung, N., Chu, D., Shiu, E., Chan, K., McDevitt, J., Hau, B., . . . Cowling, B. (2020, April 03). Respiratory virus shedding in exhaled breath and efficacy of face masks. Retrieved July 12, 2020, from 2. Wearing your mask below your nose is like cutting the tip off a condom. I’m not trying to offend anyone, but I just can’t think of a better analogy. Your nose does offer protection to a certain degree from breathing in (and out) potential contaminants, thus why we sneeze. However, your nose is far from full proof. Some things are very tiny and can get right through your nose hairs and go straight to your lungs. This also doesn’t protect the person breathing in the air you are breathing out, since you’re breathing it out through your unprotected nose. So if you are the one that has COVID, you are breathing it out to everyone else.

3. Don’t remove your mask to talk. I write this because I see people do this on a regular basis. The point of the mask is to keep the air and potential fluids all contained within your face space, and to keep other people’s air/fluids out. So if you’re having a conversation at the grocery store with someone, removing the mask to talk just defeated the entire purpose of wearing the mask.

4. Do not remove your mask to scratch your nose. While you may not be talking to anyone, or be in close proximity to anyone, if you are in a public place, and your hands just touched something like a door handle or or the keypad of a credit card reader, your hands are now contaminated. So unless you wash your hands with soap and water, or sanitize them with the a proper hand sanitizer, and then remove your mask, then you do two things: put the contaminant on your face, and on your mask.

5. Sanitize your hands (in your car, home, or outside) before removing your mask. Just as with number 4 above, if you leave the grocery store, and immediately remove your mask, you just contaminated your face and mask. What you should do instead, is immediately sanitize your hands after leaving the store, and then remove your mask.

6. If you’re concerned about COVID (let’s say you are at risk), and you wear a mask when out and about, but your family member doesn’t, then your family member is just bringing everything you just avoided back home with you. So it’s best if everyone in the household wears a mask (if necessary). With this same point, masks that offer an exhalation valve only protect you, not those around you if you are the one infected. So if you know you are sick, wearing an mask with a exhalation valve protects no one around you, because the exhalation valve does not filter the air you breathe out.

7. Don’t re-use your paper mask (much). They are intended for single use, and will quickly wear out, rip, or no longer adjust to fit right. There’s a reason they come in boxes of 50 or a 100, because they’re intended for single use. I realize disposable masks may still be in shortage in some places, so buy and use reusable fabric masks.

If you are financially strapped, use a bandana instead, and make sure to wash your bandana regularly (don’t forget to use bleach). If your masks have filters, make sure to change them regularly. Proper maintenance of your mask makes a difference.

8. Have a beard? Consider wearing a gaiter type of mask instead, where it covers your whole neck area and you don’t have to worry about your beard getting in the way.

9. If you wear glasses, you’ve probably experienced your glasses fogging up. Not seeing is not a fun experience. You can prevent the fogging up by wearing a mask that has an adjustable nose bridge, and allows for you to create a tight fit to your nose bridge and cheeks, to prevent your breath from being released upwards towards your glasses.

10. Be mindful of your phone. If you handle your phone in a public place after touching something (like when paying for your groceries), make sure you clean your phone at the same time that you are sanitizing your hands. Touching your phone with contaminated hands and putting it to your face and touching your mask with it, is also touching your face with it. Just don’t do it. The text/call can wait.

11. Watch out for fake claims about the masks you are buying. If you are immuno compromised, or older, or have an underlying health condition, and are concerned about contracting COVID, then you probably already know that not all masks are created equal. Whenever there’s a crisis, there is always someone who wants to sell you a solution, and counterfeit respirators have not been an exception. According to the CDC, there is a very long list (includes many images too) of counterfeit respirators and misrepresentation of NIOSH-approved masks.

When you don’t have to wear a mask

1. You don’t have to wear your mask while driving. You are in an enclosed space, and in your own space. Unless you have people in your vehicle that you don’t normally hang out with, or who could have recently been exposed, then that’s different. But if you are driving by yourself, there is no reason to wear a mask.

2. You (usually) don’t have to wear a mask at home. The one exception to that is if you have a potentially positive family member, such as someone who perhaps works at a healthcare facility where they are regularly at risk of exposure. One study done in Bejing China found that family members wearing masks prior to the affected individual showing symptoms, reduced transmission by 79%.2Wang, Y., Tian, H., Zhang, L., Zhang, M., Guo, D., Wu, W., . . . MacIntyre, C. (2020, May 01). Reduction of secondary transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in households by face mask use, disinfection and social distancing: A cohort study in Beijing, China. Retrieved July 12, 2020, from But in general, if you’re all staying home, all wearing masks when out and about, practicing proper hand washing/sanitizing, then there’s no reason to wear a mask at home.

3. You don’t have to wear a mask when doing activities outside by yourself or with just your immediate family. You are outside, and with the exception of a protest/rally, you should theoretically not be within six feet of anyone, so there’s no need to wear a mask. Just be mindful not to touch any playground equipment, park benches, etc. If you do, use hand sanitizer before touching anything else.

4. Your pets don’t need a mask, just like they don’t need clothes. It’s not cute for them, just don’t do it.

5. Make-up smearing on your mask? Okay, I really had to look this one up to see if this question is really being asked, because, well… do you really need to put on make up if you are going to cover it with a mask? Since most places masks are required and so is physical distancing, in theory, no one should really see you without your mask closer than six feet away. So…. I’m not sure why this is really a problem. I am however seeing make-up manufacturers jump on the band wagon and offer more toxic chemicals that are designed to not smear with your mask or get on your mask. Just save some money (and your health) and skip the make-up.

Breathe easier

1. One of the number one complaints is that people can’t breathe when wearing a mask. Well, that makes sense, you’re covering your mouth and nose with something to filter the air, and that reduces air flow. To breathe better, first, make sure your mask fits right. You don’t want a mask right against your mouth/nose, you want a little room for air between your mask, and your mouth/nose, but still have a snug fit on the outer edge of the mask.

2. Consider what your mask is made out of. One study showed that while some materials worked better than others in effectiveness due to multiple layers of the fabric,3 Household Materials Selection for Homemade Cloth Face Coverings and Their Filtration Efficiency Enhancement with Triboelectric Charging. (n.d.). Retrieved July 12, 2020, from the fabrics with fewer layers still offered some effectiveness. So if If you are struggling to breathe with your mask, perhaps you don’t need that triple layer cotton, and go for the double layer. Or if you aren’t into the mask wearing, and are only doing it because you are required to to get into the grocery store, and know for certain you don’t have the virus and are not at risk, then perhaps invest in a mask where the fabric layers are not as tight. If you are interested in knowing more about the effectiveness of the fabric used for your mask, check out the World Health Organization’s recent detailed guidance on cloth masks.

3. Once you have the proper mask fit, remember to slow down and take deeper breaths to ensure you get enough air in. A common phenomena that can occur is, people breathe faster because they feel they are not getting enough air, and the shorter breaths can make someone feel like they are hypoventilating and not getting enough air. Simply slow down and take deeper breaths to make that feeling go away. It takes a while to get used to wearing a mask for long periods of time, but take your time, and just breathe.

However, if you are doing something physically active, like exercising, then you DO need more air, and wearing a mask during physical activity is not recommended. There are many articles on the internet that state it is safe to exercise while wearing a mask. But from a practical perspective, you probably won’t be able to get enough air flow for intense exercise or activity.  Until I see some studies that show this can work, including the types of masks used, I’ll exercise at home where I don’t need to wear a mask.

A perfect storage place

If you are one who forgets to grab a mask on your way out the door, keep your mask hanging on the rear-view mirror or your car. Make sure of course your mask doesn’t obstruct your view to drive, but soon this will be the latest trend (and I’m taking credit for starting it).

If you have a coat rack, you can hang your mask there to remember to grab it.

Or if you use a key rack, you can hang your mask there.

Style it up

The other day, Rob was telling me about this beautiful mask/hair wrap combination that a lady was wearing at the grocery store, and how mesmerized he was by the beautiful fabric, and the design, and how it matched her head wrap. This sent me on a search for a mask to show my style, and I discovered that if you look in the right places, you can find some amazing creations.

If you can afford it, make mask wearing into an art, and let yourself be envied for your mask. Be walking art. Express yourself. Turn it into a positive experience. Especially if you’re being forced to wear a mask against your will, turning it into a positive experience can help diminish some of the negatives that are rising up in our society.

I’ve seen some amazing creations on Etsy (if you’re not familiar with Etsy, it’s where people that make things at home sell their items). There are some very creative people on Etsy, and you would be supporting small businesses too. Everything from matching wraps to matching bow ties. Check it out at least.

For Health,


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1 Leung, N., Chu, D., Shiu, E., Chan, K., McDevitt, J., Hau, B., . . . Cowling, B. (2020, April 03). Respiratory virus shedding in exhaled breath and efficacy of face masks. Retrieved July 12, 2020, from
2 Wang, Y., Tian, H., Zhang, L., Zhang, M., Guo, D., Wu, W., . . . MacIntyre, C. (2020, May 01). Reduction of secondary transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in households by face mask use, disinfection and social distancing: A cohort study in Beijing, China. Retrieved July 12, 2020, from
3 Household Materials Selection for Homemade Cloth Face Coverings and Their Filtration Efficiency Enhancement with Triboelectric Charging. (n.d.). Retrieved July 12, 2020, from