Wearing a surgical mask is one of the easiest and most convenient ways to protect yourself from pollution as well as to limit the spread of germs. However, you need to know which side of a surgical mask to wear to be able to fully enjoy the benefits and protection of having a face mask.
The face mask is also known as surgical, isolation, or medical masks, and they are often used by medical professionals to help protect themselves during their work. Those who reside in East Asian countries such as China and South Korea wear face masks to reduce the chance of breathing in airborne pollutants as well as reduce the chance of spreading airborne diseases to the general public.
The Physical Form of a Surgical Mask
Surgical masks are made with three layers. A middle layer of melt-blown material is layered between two pieces of non-woven fabric. The middle material is the most important part of the surgical mask because it acts as a filter to prevent germs from passing through the material of the mask.
Surgical masks have a pleated design to allow the mask to expand to cover the wearer’s nose and mouth. Also, these masks feature ear loops, strings, or headbands to secure the mask on the wearer’s face. The most common and cheapest type of surgical mask is the pleated mask with ear loops.
Which Side of the Mask Should You Wear?
If you look at a surgical mask, you will notice that the masks have two sides: one colored side and one white side. Knowing which side of the mask to wear against your face and which side is facing outward is essential in being able to use a surgical mask properly.
According to Dr. Seto Wing Hong, the co-director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Control, there is only one way to properly wear a surgical mask. In essence, the colored side must be facing out.
The white layer of a surgical mask is absorbent, which means that this side will absorb any bodily fluids from your mouth and nose to help keep your face dry. If you are sick, wearing a surgical mask will prevent the germs from spreading towards other people and getting them infected.
The colored layer of the surgical mask faces outward because it helps block airborne pollutants, moisture, and airborne fluids from other people. For healthcare workers, it helps protect them from becoming infected when they are taking of sick people. For civilians, wearing surgical masks helps protect them from pollutants as well as germs from sick people that they might meet while at work, on public transportation, or simply walking the streets.
There is a misconception floating around on the Internet, which says that surgical masks can be worn either way. However, wearing a surgical mask incorrectly not only makes it uncomfortable to wear, but it also reduces the effectiveness of the mask. Keep in mind that the colored side of the mask repels moisture, so if you are wearing it against your face and you cough into the mask, your saliva and germs will bounce off the surface of the mask and land back on your mouth and nose.
Are Face Masks 100% Effective?
Using a face mask gives the wearer a layer of protection against airborne pollution as well as against bodily fluids such as mucus, saliva, and blood. However, due to the loose-fitting nature of the mask against the face, it does not offer complete protection against minuscule microbes and other contaminants that can be transmitted through coughing or sneezing. Depending on the quality of the mask, the efficiency can range from less than 10% to almost 90% when it comes to filtering and blocking harmful airborne contaminants.
How to Put on a Face Mask
Here is a short step-by-step guide on how to put on a face mask with ear loops:
- Before touching the mask, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use 70% isopropyl alcohol.
- Examine the mask to ensure that there are no tears or holes.
- Determine the top side of the mask. This site has a stiff piece of plastic that you will mold against your nose.
- With the colored side facing out, secure the mask against your face by placing a loop around each ear.
- Pinch the edge against your nose to create a snug fit.
- Open the pleats to cover your mouth and chin.
How to Remove a Face Mask
Here is a short step-by-step guide on how to remove a used face mask:
- Clean your hands with soap and water before removing your face mask.
- Hold each of the ear loops and remove gently at the same time.
- Slowly lift the mask away from your mask, taking care not to touch the surfaces of the mask.
- Throw away the mask properly. If you are sick or have come in contact with a sick person, disinfect the mask with alcohol before placing it in a sealed plastic bag.
- Wash your hands with soap and water after throwing away the mask.
Face Masks: To Wear or Not to Wear?
Now that you know which side of a surgical mask to wear, the question is whether you should wear it daily, even if you are not a healthcare worker. If you are sick but you need to leave your home, or you are living in a location with high levels of airborne pollution, wearing a mask offers protection for both you and the people around you. However, if you are not sick, you can forgo wearing a mask outside. Just make sure to always wash your hands with soap and water before touching your mouth and nose. Know more about first aid kits.