Wearing a reusable face mask when going out in public is an absolute must to help slow the spread of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but some people have noted that not all face masks are as breathable as others. If you count yourself in that bucket, you need a lightweight, cooling face mask—and there are options!
First, know the basics. The CDC advises the public to wear face masks made with 100% cotton that cover the nose and mouth. This is especially important if you're within a six-foot radius of others. Cloth masks have been proven to act as a barrier, preventing respiratory droplets dispersed into the air when anyone infected with COVID-19 talks, coughs, or sneezes.
What are the most breathable face masks?
The thing is, cloth face masks aren't always the most ventilated and tend to absorb sweat easily, says Nate Favini, M.D., M.S., the Medical Lead at Forward healthcare. "Cotton masks can be thick, thus making it difficult to breathe while exercising or in warm weather," he tells Prevention.com. "Exercising with a damp mask makes breathing even harder during physical activity."
Despite "warmer than average" temperatures this summer, we'll be the first to say: You should still wear a face mask! In order to stay cool while braving the outdoor heat, Dr. Favini says to choose masks made with moisture-wicking fabrics. Similar to athletic clothing, these materials are resilient against liquid, allowing you to breathe better while providing protection. Another option? Lighter cottons that safely allow some airflow. Before committing, try a simple light test to make sure your pick is effective, says Iahn Gonsenhauser, M.D., M.B.A., Chief Quality and Patient Safety Officer at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. "In this new COVID-19 reality, you can find masks of every imaginable fabric," he says. "If you can see daylight between fibers, the weave is too loose and multiple layers are necessary."
Although lighter masks may alleviate discomfort, we'd like to point out that these are best suited for anyone spending several hours outside to exercise or work. Simply put, there is not enough research to show its effectiveness in comparison to cotton masks. It's why we suggest wearing multi-layer options or pairing it with a liner for added protection against inhaling infectious droplets. Dr. Gonsenhauser maintains that in the end, any type of covering that follows CDC guidelines will help. "Any mask that covers your mouth and nose, fits comfortably so that you don’t have to touch it often, and is of a multi-layered or tightly woven material will do the job," he says.
There are several brands that make face coverings aligned with the CDC's recommended fit. Here, we've curated 15 best breathable face masks to try this summer:
Made with the same materials as Jaanuu's popular antimicrobial-finished scrubs, these face masks are known to be extremely breathable. Featuring a polyester, rayon, and spandex blend, this mask provides a two-way stretch and covers the whole lower half of the face without gapping, which is extremely important to prevent spewing droplets. These moisture-wicking masks also come with a cotton or mesh lining for added security.
Athleta is shifting its focus from making our favorite workout leggings to crafting these highly breathable, three-layer face masks. The polyester and spandex outer layer is your friend, drying sweat quickly while the inner cotton layers help to contain cough-induced droplets. We love that these have adjustable ear loops and a built-in wire along the nose to provide a secure fit. And because these allow for good air flow, you'll feel comfortable wearing them for hours.
For less than $5 a piece, you’ll get a six-pack of these machine-washable masks made of cotton and a cooling silk fabric. The earloops are made of the same cooling fabric for a comfortable fit that extends up the face and reviewers say the lightweight material makes them perfect for exercise and extra-hot days. After wearing, cleaning is simple: just pop them in the washing machine.
Fashionable and protective? It's no surprise that these multi-layer cloth masks are from Old Navy. Their fun signature patterns and lightweight fabric is everything right now, especially if you live in a constant state of heat and humidity. Crafted with cotton poplin, these are more breathable than other heavier fabric options out there. Thank goodness! They also boast a pleated design that layers the material and provides some give for a better fit.
From material to design, these non-medical face masks from Vistaprint offer protection in the most stylish way. With over 40 different prints and patterns, you can customize your look while adhering to CDC guidelines with a full-coverage cut and adjustable straps. You also have the option of adding your own filter. If you want more than one, the brand also sells them in packs of 10!
These popular masks from Vida feature dual-layer protection with the help of 100% breathable cotton materials that'll protect you and others from droplets released in the air. And you know how masks usually have a sewn-in pocket that requires your own filter? Well, these actually come with one. So in addition to the two cotton layers, you also get a five-layer PM2.5 filter that's carbon activated.
This eco-friendly mattress company also pivoted its focus to creating breathable, dual-layer face masks that are made from 100% organic cotton. These Avocado coverings are certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard and have been tested for toxic substances, boasting OEKO-TEX's STANDARD 100 label. The extra long straps tie around your head and neck, and there's a pocket to add a filter.
Designed with athletes in mind, this three-layer Under Armour face mask is all about keeping you safe with the ability to breathe while exercising. Its exterior is made with the brand's performance-driven polyester fabric and is decked out with an interior polyurethane insert for air flow. Not only is this super breathable, but it also has some cooling action built into the lining and the ear loops. They're currently sold out, but you can pre-order yours now and get it ASAP once they're back in stock.
How adorable are these tie-dye face masks?! This set from Everlane includes a cloth mask in five summer-lovin' colors. Made with two layers of lightweight cotton fabric, you'll feel cool enough to go on a walk with one. Plus the cotton-Lycra ear straps will make sure it stays secure. With every purchase, the brand will donate 10% of profits to the ACLU. It's a whole vibe.
Gaiters really come in handy if you're planning to exercise outdoors, Dr. Favini says. Sure, this neck gaiter securely stays up to cover your nose, mouth, and neck, however, its versatile design steals the show. From a face mask to a balaclava, it's made to accommodate tons of activities. Made with moisture-wicking materials, this breathable gaiter is also resistant to dust particles and provides UV ray protection while you're on the move.
Created with exciting patterns and floral prints, these extremely breathable cloth masks from Sanctuary are easily one of our most stylish picks. They're made with lightly woven muslin cotton, making them ideal for anyone spending time outside. This option comes with a metal nose bridge and elastic ear loops, however, we suggest adding an extra filter or fabric lining for added protection.
While SwaddleDesigns is used to selling safe and comfortable blankets for babies, the brand was actually one of the first to channel its energy into mask making. Crafted by a registered nurse who founded the brand more than 15 years ago, these triple-layer face masks are made with a lightweight cotton chambray material that'll filter out potentially harmful particles in the air while keeping you cool.
You may be accustomed to using Baggu's reusable bags to save the planet, but now the brand is shifting focus to make reusable masks. These colorful masks are made with tightly woven Kona Cotton to catch respiratory droplets, and the fabric straps fit over the head and tie at the nape of the neck. We also love that its design covers the nose and seals with a metal nose bridge.
Do these fabric designs look familiar? Onzie is repurposing the same performance materials used to make their tops and leggings (umm, hello cute tights!) into crafting protective face masks. These have a multi-layered design for double the safety and is outfitted with spandex ear loops. And because it's completely moisture-wicking, you'll remain cool and comfortable while doing any workout under the sun.
Cover your nose and mouth with these antimicrobial face masks designed by the activewear outlet Koral. Stitched from performance fabrics iconic to the brand, these coverings have moisture-wicking abilities, provide UV ray protection, and feature an inner lining made of a polyamide material, so you can feel safe when jogging around the block.