Face Masks and Shields Guide

Our guide outlines the regulations and explains the requirements for different industries.

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What is a Face Mask?

Face masks and face shields are protective coverings designed to help reduce the risk of infectious diseases, viruses or bacteria spreading to and from the wearer. Most types are worn over at least the nose and mouth simultaneously, with some face coverings shielding a larger area including the eyes.

Since the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, face shields and masks have seen a huge surge in day-to-day use.

Face Masks and Coverings for Coronavirus

Why Do You Need to Wear a Face Mask for Coronavirus?

Wearing some form of protective shield over the mouth and nose when out in public has been scientifically proven to help lower infectious disease transmission rates.

Medical experts have made it explicitly clear that wearing an appropriate face covering significantly reduces an individual’s risk of both catching and passing on the virus.

When Do You Need to Wear a Face Mask, Shield or Covering?

This is largely dependent on where you are and if there are other people around you.

Some confusion has arisen because specific guidance on when to wear a face mask will vary slightly from person to person. However, rules and recommendations for specific individuals will always depend to some extent on a wide range of personal variables.

Factors affecting what is sensible for a given individual will include their unique working and living environments, personal health and risk levels, and the type and frequency of their interactions with others.

At the time of writing, face masks for coronavirus are mandatory by law in certain locations, professions and activities. However, even where they are not strictly mandatory, they are strongly recommended in public areas and shared spaces.

In Ireland, face coverings must be worn in the following indoor locations:

  • Public transport

  • Shops

  • Transport hubs

  • Hospitality premises (except when seated to eat or drink)

  • Amenities such as banks, post offices, and estate agents

  • Places of worship

  • Care homes

  • Hospitals and surgeries

  • Storage and distribution facilities

Click here to see current guideline.

Face shields and coverings are also a key part of sensible approaches to safety at work, particularly for employees returning to the workplace.

It should be noted that face shields - i.e. plastic full-face protective visors, offering spatter or debris protection for the eyes as well – are not usually suitable as a standalone defence against smaller airborne virus particles. If you require full face protection and COVID protection at work, you may need to combine a shield with some form of respiratory (mouth and nose) mask.

Wearing a Face Mask or Shield in a Workplace

Face masks in work - whether that is an office or any other type of workplace - are broadly seen by the UK Government as an important step in making a safe return to work and commuting publicly outside our homes. Although the current guidance is for employees to work from home where possible, it is recognised that this is not a possibility for all individuals and professions.

A more detailed guide to face masks and general COVID safety for specific jobs, workplaces and roles has been created by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Click here to see their guidance on working safely during Coronavirus. Official guidelines are, understandably, being updated regularly as the landscape around the pandemic shifts.

How to Wear a Face Mask or Shield Properly

There are two main elements involved in knowing how to wear a face mask properly. Firstly, you need to know which type of covering you are going to be wearing (i.e. mask or face shield). Secondly, it is important to know how to fit and position it for effectiveness and comfort.

Any covering should fit as snugly and tightly as possible to create a seal around the mouth and nose, while also being breathable and comfortable enough to wear for the duration of your time spent indoors in public areas.

  • Always wash your hands before handling and putting on your face mask, disposable or otherwise. Once in place, you can adjust it to provide the best seal possible, but then you should leave it alone and avoid touching it

  • If your model has a mouldable nose piece (usually made from a short length of wire or similar), this will help to create a seal

  • Avoid touching the mask repeatedly when it is in position on your face, especially while out in public spaces. If you must adjust it, try to do so using the elasticated loops, rather than by touching the front panel

  • If you are using a disposable face mask, replace it when it becomes damp and do not re-use

Face Mask

How to Remove a Face Mask or Shield Properly

The key to removing a face mask and disposing of it (for single-use models) or washing it is to do so promptly, responsibly, and with as little handling of the front panel (or your face) as possible.

Remove it by the loops or ear straps, and if it is a reusable covering, ideally put it straight in the wash. For disposable masks, discard them responsibly in an appropriate bin. Try to avoid touching your face as you remove it. Always wash your hands immediately afterwards.

Face Mask and Shield Buying Guide

The best type of mask to wear in a given scenario will depend on numerous factors. Chief among these are what you are doing and where, who you are interacting with, and the risk levels involved for both yourself and those around you.

With so many variables involved, it is impossible to give a clear one size fits all directive on exactly where the ideal balance between caution and practicality lies. In many cases, you will need to make that decision for yourself, based on a combination of official government advice along with all available professional, scientific and medical guidance.

With that said, the following section of this face mask guide offers an outline of several popular types of coverings and face shields available to buy online in the UK.

What Features to Look for in a Face Mask or Shield

Certain activities or environments - particularly in the workplace - will demand specific grades of protection to meet mandatory standards of hygiene and safety. In most cases, professional guidance will make it clear if these standards apply to you in your job or role.

Elsewhere, regardless of which type of face mask you are shopping for, you should try to ensure that any covering you do wear is:

  • Close-fitting, forming a reasonably snug seal around your mouth and nose

  • For cloth-based masks, sufficiently tight-knit that it is not especially easy to see through if you hold it up to the light

  • Comfortable and breathable enough to wear for the duration of any public interactions, especially while indoors

  • Easily adjustable, ideally via elasticated ear loops and without having to handle the front panel once in place

Types of Masks and Shields

There are numerous types of face mask currently on sale in the UK. Some of the more popular types of face shields, masks and coverings are listed below.

Reusable Face Masks and Shields

Reusable Face Masks

Reusable face masks and shields tend to be more robust than disposable variants. They can often be slightly better fitting too since they are likely to be designed with more intricately adjustable loops and straps. Some are available in a range of sizes, rather than being a single-size solution like many disposable models.

It is important to wash reusable masks promptly and frequently between uses. Most guidance suggests you should wash them after each use, so it is always sensible to have a spare.

Shop Reusable Face Masks

Disposable Face Masks and Shields

Disposable Face Masks

Disposable face masks are designed as a quick, cost-effective and hygienic solution in scenarios where you are likely to be put at risk of transmission repeatedly in a short space of time. This can make it impractical to keep changing to a clean reusable version if, for example, you are involved in close interactions with numerous different people in quick succession.

As such, disposable masks will tend to be an appropriate measure for people spending time in certain types of workplaces. However, they may not be robust or close-fitting enough for practical use in some scenarios. You should always take note of any professional guidance in your workplace to decide whether or not this applies to you.

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Face Masks and Shield Kits

Face Masks and Shield Kits

Face mask kits tend to be handy packages providing a convenient way to change coverings or clean your hands between uses. They may contain multiple single-use shields or masks, or a reusable model along with some sort of alcohol wipe or hand gel for quick cleaning on the go. This type of product will be of most use to someone whose work involves travelling between different sites or clients.

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Sanitary Face Masks and Shields

Sanitary Face Masks and Shields

Sanitary face masks (coverings specifically designed for use in sterile environments) may well be washable and water-repellent. They often feature added filter layers, for more advanced protection of both the wearer and others in the vicinity.

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Medical and Surgical Face Masks

Medical and Surgical Face Masks

Medical or surgical face masks usually imply disposable, one-size coverings dispensed rapidly from a bulk box, ideal in many standard surgical or operating environments. They are mainly designed to protect against larger droplets.

They will also provide a degree of protection from airborne particles in general use cases, but their filtration may not be up to full antiviral standards when used around more vulnerable people in a professional medical context.

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General Purpose Face Masks

General Purpose Face Masks

General-purpose face masks provide a basic degree of protection. While not entirely appropriate in most professional medical contexts (or other professional scenarios requiring close contact with vulnerable individuals), they will be broadly suitable as added protection for most people going about their day-to-day activities in public.

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Anti-Fog Face Shields

Anti-Fog Face Shields

Anti-fog face shields are designed to prevent misting up as the wearer breathes, which can make it difficult to see clearly through a full-face plastic covering. They are most likely to be useful to people who need eye protection in addition to having their mouth and nose covered, but who also need to maintain a clear and detailed view of what they are working on.

Typically, a face shield alone will only protect from droplets and spatter. To better protect the wearer and people around them from inhaling or exhaling finer airborne virus particles, shields will usually need to be worn in addition to some sort of respiratory mask or covering.

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Aluminium Face Mask Clips

Aluminium Face Mask Clips

Flexible aluminium face mask clips can be bought as extras to help with achieving a better fit and seal, particularly around the nose. This is especially useful for many types of disposable face masks, which are often sold as one-size, single-use varieties. These may not fit quite as snugly as some reusable or highly adjustable covering types, so adding a clip can help mould the covering more effectively to the contours of your face.

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What are the Best Face Mask Materials Available Online?

There are many different kinds of face mask material to choose from. The best material for a given face covering will depend on factors such as:

  • The level of protection you require

  • The likelihood of exposure (for you and others)

  • The length of time you will need to be wearing a mask for

Common face mask materials incorporated into both reusable and single-use protective face coverings may include:

How Many Layers Do You Need on a Face Mask to Make it Safe?

Broadly speaking, the more layers a mask has, the more protection it will offer, both to the wearer and others around them. Most guidance suggests that 3-ply fabric masks are a good standard to aim for, but even a single layer - while not advisable for most public uses - is better than nothing at all.

How Do You Wear a Face Mask with Glasses?

Many people who wear glasses notice that their lenses tend to fog up while wearing a mouth and nose mask. The best way to prevent this is to make sure the seals around the edges of your face covering are as tight-fitting as possible - particularly around the top, nearest the glasses.

If you are wearing a disposable mask that is difficult to mould into place, you can use an aluminium clip - or even a piece of tape - to help create a better seal.

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