Face Masks Vs. Face Shields: Which is Better? Can I Wear Them Alone?

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The CDC and the WHO have just recently advised the general public that everyone should be wearing masks or cloth face-coverings in efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19. So, wearing a mask has become a necessity so much that some countries in the world are making it a law to wear masks in public. However, since wearing masks can be very uncomfortable, especially when you’re doing it for several hours in a row, people are starting to use another piece of personal protective equipment; face shields.

So far, face shields have only been reserved for healthcare workers, first responders, and workers who are directly in contact with people. But, the general public seems to opt for them as well. So, before you decide to purchase a face shield, here are some things you should know about the protection that face shields and masks can provide. So, let’s get started!

only face shiel without mask is wrong
Image Source: Masks For Heroes

Face Masks Vs. Face Shields: Quick Summary

  • Face mask: face masks, respiratory masks, or cloth masks are used to cover the nose and the mouth and protect from the transmission of viruses, bacteria, microorganisms, pollutants, allergens, etc. With the ongoing pandemic, face masks are recommended as respiratory protection and protective measure by the CDC, the WHO, and other health organizations. We are recommended to wear N95, KN95 masks, surgical masks, and cloth masks.
  • Face shield: a part of eye protective equipment, face shields are used to protect the eyes from hazardous particles, microorganisms, etc. Face shields are supported in the front of the face and feature a transparent visor. This makes them convenient, as they provide protection but don’t obstruct the sight and view. People are increasingly using face shields since they believe these also provide respiratory protection without being uncomfortable like face masks.

1. Why Use Face Masks Or Face Shields in the First Place?

Let’s just start by saying that, well, we all known what’s been going on for the last few months, and masks have become simply a necessity. But, why are we required to wear personal protective equipment? Well, when someone coughs, the droplets they spit out can fly 1.5 to 2 meters away (or 4.9 to 6 feet). Moreover, when someone sneezes, the aerosol cloud can go away 8 meters from the person that sneezed (or 26 feet). With the coronavirus known to travel via liquid droplets that we cough, sneeze, or even release when talking, it seems that wearing a mask or face shield doesn’t sound like a bad idea. So, for safety and protective reasons, as well as to lower the transmission and infection rate, respiratory and other types of PPE are the primary recommendation from the CDC.

2. Are Face Masks Good Against Coronavirus?

N95 masks and medical surgical masks
Image Source: Masks For Heroes

Short answer – Of course they’re good! 

Face masks play a major role in the world when it comes to the fight against COVID-19. Respiratory masks, like N95 or KN95, have more or less 95% filtering efficiency. This means that they can protect you against 95% of all airborne, non-oil particles you would probably breathe in without a mask. Those particles comprise viruses, bacteria, pollutants, allergens, and microorganisms. They can also, most importantly, protect you from aerosol virus transmission, which is known to be the main problem with coronavirus.

Other masks, like surgical or cloth masks also provide incredible protection and filtering efficiency. So, if you ever find yourself questioning the masks, simply remember that without them, everyone would be infected eventually.

3. How About Face Shields? Are They Any Good Against COVID-19?

Wear Face Shields to protect against COVID 19
Image Source: Masks For Heroes

Short answer – Sure, they’re good! But, there is a catch!

It has been proven that plastic face shields can reduce the risk of contracting the coronavirus. According to Jennifer Veltam, MD, chief of infectious diseases at Loma Linda University, the face shield can reduce your exposure to the virus between 68% and 96%. The transparent visor seems to protect the whole face, nose, mouth, and eyes by catching the droplets; it simply creates an effective barrier.

However, that only applies to cases when there is direct and immediate exposure to someone’s sneeze or cough. In other cases, face shields cannot protect you from inhaling the droplets in the environment. Because they only create a barrier and not concentrated protection of the nose and the mouth, face shields are not to be used alone. The CDC even discourages the use of face shields as a sole means of source control.

One study conducted in Switzerland upon the COVID-19 outbreak showed the following; subjects that were wearing masks were tested negative for coronavirus. On the other hand, several subjects who only wore face shields tested positive for the virus. Other, more recent studies show that face shields may block the initial forward motion of a sneeze or a cough. However, they also show that the droplets move around the visor, where the nose and the mouth become exposed. So, what can you do to prevent that? Let’s find out!

4. How Should I Wear A Face Shield?

  • Face Shields Should Be Worn Together With A Face Mask – experts say that in order to take full advantage of face shields, we should wear them together with our face masks. So, when the air and possible droplets or aerosols do move around the visor, you’ll be additionally protected against them.
  • Face Shields Should Fit Properly – if the face shield doesn’t fit properly, it pretty much loses its purpose. So, the face shield needs to be as long as your face, or even longer. Its end should level with the end of your chin or the beginning of the neck area. On the sides, the shield should almost reach the ears. The plastic visor shouldn’t have any gaps, otherwise, it would be completely useless against droplets. The face shield also needs to be properly secured on the forehead; it should fit not too tightly, but tight enough to stay in place.
  • Face Shields Should Be Regularly Cleaned – after use, you should clean the inside and the outside of the face shield with a clean cloth previously saturated with a mild, neutral detergent. Then, you should repeat the process using a disinfecting solution. After you’re done, remove the remaining detergent and solution with a clean, damp cloth, and let the face shield to air dry. You should repeat this process after every use.

Note: The CDC recommends you also refer to the manufacturer’s instructions on how to wear and clean your face shield. Sometimes, the instructions are not available, so in that case refer to the general instructions, as mentioned above.

5. Which Is Better, Face Masks, Or Face Shields?

Experts state that is it rather complicated to compare face shields and face masks. The reason for this is that people wear different masks, use face shields differently (with or without a mask), or use face shields because they cannot wear masks. It all boils down to the mask one wears or does not wear.

For example, if a person wears an N95 mask, they don’t need the face shield to further provide protection, since the filtering efficiency of this mask is more or less 95%. But, if the person wears a homemade bandana mask, then they might need some additional protection because a bandana isn’t good enough due to a lack of layers.

Furthermore, there are people with chronic breathing issues who cannot wear masks. In such cases, face shields work perfectly. So, to say which one is better pretty much depends on personal needs and requirements. Nevertheless, face shields shouldn’t be worn alone, and only paired with face masks (except for cases where one cannot wear a mask due to health reasons).

keep social distance
Image Source: Masks For Heroes

6. Does Everyone Need To Wear Face Shields?

According to the CDC, only face masks are a primary protective recommendation for the general public. Healthcare staff, first responders, workers with direct client contact, and others, however, are required to wear additional protective equipment, including face shields in addition to face masks. Face shields, on the other hand, shouldn’t be used for everyday activities or the protection of newborns, infants, and children, as recommended by the CDC.

However, if you do want to wear a face shield for additional protection, go for it. It will reduce your chances of getting infected significantly. However, do not wear the face shield alone. Pair it with a face mask to get proper protection. Also, make sure to handle your face shield properly; do not leave it in places where other people can touch it and use it, carry it in a breathable container or even paper bag, and clean it regularly. If you use a dirty face shield or leave it unsupervised, you’re increasing the risk or self-contamination or transmission of the virus.

Final Thoughts

So, if you were wondering which you should be wearing, the mask or the face shield, the answer is very simple; we all should be wearing masks, and face shields need to be worn in addition to the masks for additional protection (usually at the workplace). For more information about the face shields and face masks, make sure to check the latest updates from the CDC and the WHO. Check out our stories on respiratory masks, surgical, and cloth masks if you’re wondering which one will provide the best protection.

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