It’s an accessory trend we’re better off sitting out
When fashion inserts itself into certain issues, there’s no saying that it isn’t allowed or it doesn’t belong there. It reflects the times we live in. So naturally, the clothes on our backs do speak to some segment of our reality.
For six months now, that reality has included face masks. Another thing born out of necessity, but has also given way to the more fun stuff. There are fabric face masks now that come in different colors, styles and designs. And why? Well, more like why not? Making something as clinical as mask-wearing a lot less dull is a valid thing to look forward to anyway.
There are instances, however, where fashion flies off tangent, sometimes leaving behind the very purpose for which something exists. In the time of COVID-19, exhibit A for this is the latest “must-have” that online magazines have been going off about: face mask chains. Yup, exactly like the eyewear retainers grandma used to wear, except for face masks.
I can imagine they’re not nearly as great a cause for alarm in any other time. But hey, we are in the middle of a deadly pandemic. So cute as they are, chic as they are (and though seeing my woman crush AOC wear them somewhat pleads their case), I consulted with a physician who can sound off on these mask chains first.
Speaking to pulmonologist Dr. Josephine Blanco-Ramos, M.D. of the Medical City Ortigas, we address the ways the accessory trend is thought to help, but actually hinders and misses the mark.
In general, face masks are used to cover the nose and mouth to prevent the entry of particles into the respiratory tract. “A face mask protects a person from dust, pollen, bacteria and inhaled irritants like smoke,” says Blanco-Ramos. “Especially now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, face masks work to both protect healthy people from outside elements as well as keep infected individuals from transmitting the virus.”
All Masks Follow the “One And Done” Rule
“We need to adopt the mindset that once a mask is taken off, it isn’t worn again,” she goes on to explain. A single disposable surgical mask, she says, is usually good to wear for up to eight hours straight, after which, it must be disposed of and replaced. She adds: “A cloth mask is a more cost-effective and sustainable alternative. But if you can afford the medical or surgical face mask, this is still better for navigating areas that have reported cases of COVID-19.”
When it comes to fabric masks, however, not just any material will do. “Effective cloth face masks should have several plies and should be made of fabric that is impenetrable by liquids,” notes Blanco-Ramos. “So if the inner portion of the mask gets splattered, nothing should seep through to the outer part and vice versa.”
(Before shopping for a cloth face mask, take a look at WHO’s recommended fabric mask materials and composition here.)
Even in this case, once a cloth face mask is taken off, it should not be worn again. “If you’re going to take the route of reusable face masks, always carry a spare with you,” she suggests. “Extended periods of time where your mask is off, like when you’re out eating lunch or drinking coffee, mean it’s time to retire it. Keep the used mask in a resealable plastic bag for washing later on.”
This instantly makes mask chains, however stylish, redundant. They encourage cross-contamination, too.
The Less Face Touching, The Better
This goes back to the importance of proper mask-wearing: in that there’s a right way to put one on. “To properly wear a mask, you start with disinfecting your hands through handwashing or an alcohol-based hand rub,” recounts Blanco-Ramos. “Then, with clean hands, hold the outer part of the face mask and tuck the ear loops behind your ears. Make sure the mask is snug and fitted on the nose bridge, down the sides of your cheeks and finally, underneath the chin.” Getting a snug fit right the first time, she reminds, is crucial so wearers don’t have to keep fixing their masks throughout the day. Another word of caution: after wearing, the main strip that makes the mask itself becomes a no-touch zone.
Mask chains added to the mix, then, are just another thing its wearers will have to keep adjusting. “When this gets caught in something or when it shifts or moves an ear loop around, you’re going to have to keep putting things back in place,” she says. “The likelihood of you touching your mask increases, which gives way to contamination.”
Why Keep A “Dirty” Mask Around Your Neck?
“All this trend tells me is that people maybe want to be reminded that they have a dirty face mask around their necks,” says Blanco-Ramos, jokingly. “Even if it’s a fresh face mask you have attached to the chains, you’re leaving the portion that goes in contact with your nose and mouth exposed to the elements just by keeping it hanging there.”
In conclusion (and to no one’s surprise, really), this accessory trend isn’t doctor-recommended. “Even us healthcare workers are discouraged from wearing our lanyards for our IDs,” she adds. “Microbes can stick to anything on your body. So the less bling, the fewer accessories you have on when you’re interacting with people during this time, the better.”
Consider this a public service announcement: Chain accessories? Best to leave them to your eyewear.
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver