When it comes to face masks, there’s one key thing to remember: if it doesn’t fit properly, it’s not doing you – or the people around you – any favours.
If a mask doesn’t fit to the skin well – if, for example, there are visible gaps around the edges, or you have to constantly adjust it – you may inhale and exhale viruses around the underneath and sides of the mask.
The government states a face covering should: cover your nose and mouth while allowing you to breathe comfortably; fit comfortably but securely against the side of the face; be secured to the head with ties or ear loops; be made of a material that you find to be comfortable and breathable, such as cotton; and ideally include at least two layers of fabric.
With surgical masks being one-size-fits-all, it’s no wonder plenty of people are wearing masks with gaps. So if you have a smaller face or have gaps around the edges of your mask, here are some ways that may help you get a better fit.
1. The knot and tuck
Dr Olivia Cuid, a dentist based in Canada, suggests a simple trick for getting rid of pesky side gaps. In a TikTok tutorial, she takes a disposable mask, folds it in half lengthways, then knots the ear loops as closely as possible to the corners of the mask. Watch the video to find out how.
Once the knots are secured, she opens the mask up and, where the ear loops have been knotted, tucks the sides of the mask into those tiny gaps. She places the remainder of the ear loops around her ears and voilà, she has a tighter and more protective mask.
2. The defogging clip
Masks that don’t fasten tightly around the nose will not only let droplets in and out, but will also be a pain for those who wear glasses.
The solution is fairly simple: invest in some nose clips, which secure the mask around your nose. These from seller JC3D Design on Etsy cost £2.75 and are a bestseller with rave reviews.
3. The figure of eight
As seen sported by the Duchess of Cambridge, this hack involves twisting the ear loops once, then tucking them behind your ears – when you look from the side, the loop is in a figure of eight.
According to the University of Utah’s health team, this method puts slight downward pressure on the top part of the mask, redirecting your breath so it doesn’t flow up into your eyes – another great trick for glasses wearers.
Only do this if you don’t end up with gaps either side of your mask.
4. The ear-saving extenders
To get a tighter fit and give your ears a breather – especially if you wear masks every day at work – it might be worth trying a pair of extenders. These enable you fasten your mask to an adjustable band around the back of your head. You can get a set of five silicone mask extenders from Amazon for £2.99.
Failing that, grab a paper clip and fasten it to either end of the mask’s ear loops so you can wrap it around the back of your head, rather than around your ears.
5. The double mask
A US study found when people wore a properly fitted surgical mask underneath a cloth mask, it increased their protection from potentially infectious aerosol droplets by 92%. In contrast, a plain surgical mask on its own blocked around 42% of particles. It’s thought this is because wearing a second mask over the top offers a tighter fit.
President Joe Biden has been known to double mask, including during January’s presidential inauguration. If you find it’s not particularly breathable, a surgical mask on its own with tightened ear loops (as per the other hacks) should do the trick.