Which Type of Face Mask Should I Buy for My Kid?
We love the start of the school year… the leaves are beginning to change, the kids meet their new teachers and reconnect with their classmates, and having a more regular routine in place after the summer holidays is a nice change of pace. Okay, admittedly this year is a little different. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months (we wouldn’t blame you) we’ll quickly recap the current state of affairs regarding kids, COVID-19, and school starting.
School districts across the country are reopening this fall in a variety of ways: some are opening their doors as normal, some are going fully virtual, and some are implementing a hybrid approach. Many districts are offering parents the option of how they’d like their kids to attend classes — via distance learning or in-person. As both parents and kids get antsy after months of distancing, many are eager to socialize more normally. With increased socialization and in-person classes resuming, there have already been some swift consequences. Heartbreakingly, it appears that children’s COVID cases are rapidly on the rise, with reports of a 90% increase over a 4-week period.
For the first several months of the pandemic, major news outlets were reporting that children under 12 didn’t need to wear facial coverings in public places, but recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines have changed to include recommendations for children as young as 2 to wear masks. Many parents don’t even know where to find child-friendly face masks or how to determine a high-quality product from a low-quality one. Let’s talk through the traits of the best face masks for kids so you know what to look for.
How Do Children’s Face Masks Prevent the Spread of COVID-19?
The CDC recommends wearing masks to curb the spread of the virus, citing “source control” as a highly effective measure. In a nutshell, a mask provides a physical barrier to keep respiratory droplets emitted when talking, coughing, or sneezing from being carried from person to person. Since COVID is, in part, a respiratory virus, containing these droplets is of the utmost importance, especially in settings where 6 feet of distance between people is not feasible. This is critical not just for those who are feeling sick, but for everyone, since COVID can be carried and transmitted by asymptomatic people.
The most effective face masks are those made with multiple layers of material that allow for unrestricted breathing while still containing droplets. They should fully cover the nose and mouth while staying securely fastened with ties or ear loops. They should not slip down even during physical activity. This is especially important in children’s face masks since they’re smaller, and if not fitted correctly may not work effectively. The CDC does not recommend that face shields or masks with exhalation vents be used as they may still allow droplets through.
Disposable Children’s Face Masks
Both disposable and reusable masks have been shown to be successful in preventing transmission of respiratory droplets, so it really comes down to your personal preference. We recommend letting your kiddos try one of each and seeing which fits better and is more comfortable for them.
Disposable children’s face masks are typically made of 2-ply or 3-ply material (which refers to the number of layers of material.) In general, 2-ply masks are not super effective at air filtration and provide minimal protection from smaller particles making their way through the fabric. 3-ply masks have an additional filter layer, which is much more effective in catching both respiratory droplets and small particles from pollutants and allergens in the air. You’ll see 3-ply masks on medical professionals like dentists and hygienists for this very reason.
Disposable masks are an attractive option because, well, they’re disposable. Kids can run wild while wearing them at the park and then toss them afterward. If the mask-wearer is infected with contagious respiratory illness of any kind, the germ-carrying droplets will be trashed with the mask. Disposable children’s face masks are lightweight and easy to breathe through. However, these masks also may end up in landfills and oceans, contributing to our earth’s big pollution problem. It can get pricey to keep purchasing them, as each mask is designed for one-time use. And some kiddos find them itchier than cotton masks and may be more prone to acne breakouts or rashes from irritation.
Reusable Children’s Face Masks
Reusable face masks are the other popular option. Again, the highest quality reusable masks will include 3 layers of material. Often, they’re made of cotton, making them both softer than disposable masks and also machine washable — a huge perk for parents who don’t want to spend a small fortune on their kids’ personal protective equipment. Often, reusable masks provide even better air filtration than disposable masks, and they’re certainly more environmentally friendly.
However, there are a few downsides here too. Reusable masks tend to absorb sweat and saliva, staying damp, which can get uncomfortable and may irritate the skin, especially in warmer climates. They’re also intended to be worn once and laundered after each use, so you’ll still need to make sure your kiddos have enough of a supply to last them between laundry days. Additionally, the ear loops are typically made from fabric instead of elastic like the disposable masks, so occasionally finding the perfect fit can be more challenging. And you’ll need to replace them as soon as they become worn or frayed.
Parasol has just released a new line of children’s face masks that meet all the standards of the CDC’s mask guidelines. Our non-woven, 3-ply disposable masks provide 95% bacterial filtration efficiency and are soft enough for our little one’s faces. With elastic ear loops and an adjustable nosepiece, they’re perfect for kids ages 6-12. Our periwinkle blue cotton reusable children’s masks are individually packed and sterilized with E.O. gas technology. With 3 layers of breathable fabric, including a polypropylene filter, they provide 99.9% antibacterial filtration. These reusable masks are machine washable and can be used on kids age 3-12.
When Should Children Wear Face Masks?
Face coverings are essential when children attend school or childcare, as social distancing will be nearly impossible to maintain at all times in these settings. It is highly recommended that kids wear their masks when visiting their grandparents or any immunocompromised friends and family members. This is especially important as kids begin to return to school or socialize more freely and frequently with each other.
Masks need to be worn in public settings or anytime they’re unable to maintain 6 feet of distance from another person. Depending on where you live, many stores won’t even allow customers in without masks. While not all of them enforce children’s face masks, it’s a good idea to have your kids wear them just in case — if only to avoid potentially being publicly reprimanded! Remember to ensure that your children’s masks fit them properly, and have your kids engage in more active play while wearing them to verify that they stay on.
High-risk children, typically those who may be immunocompromised, should wear an N95 mask for added protection, and their families should wear surgical masks if possible. These extra precautions are not necessary for kids who aren’t immunocompromised, and the CDC asks that surgical masks be left for those who really need them, including healthcare workers. Children who have special cognitive or respiratory needs may not tolerate masks, in which case other precautions will need to be taken.
Encouraging the use of children’s face masks, especially as kids head back to school, sports, and social activities, is an important step in stopping the spread of COVID-19. Getting your kids into the habit of wearing their masks (and keeping them on) is part of our responsibility as parents right now. Whether you ultimately go with disposable or reusable — or alternate between them — mask-wearing will become a little less cumbersome for your kids with some practice, just as it has for us adults.