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Editor’s note: As we will report below, experts agree that face masks do not replace or relieve the need to wash your hands and social distance, and absolutely do not alone prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The World Health Organization broadened its guidance on wearing face masks, advising people wear them anywhere they can’t practice safe social distancing — that includes face masks for kids. Previously, WHO had advised face masks for those in ongoing and close proximity to COVID-19 patients. Since April, the CDC has been recommending people wear a face covering in public, including homemade cloth face masks. While a cloth mask won’t completely protect you from contracting the virus, it can help reduce the possibility of spread. And while you can make your own at home, cloth masks have become more readily available online. One popular marketplace for face masks, Etsy, has seen growing demand for these homemade masks — the retailer gives a platform for independent sellers to earn some extra cash. Unlike branded face masks, Etsy’s face masks are made by individual sellers, and often made by hand. And while each face mask seller creates their own version, Etsy has created a standard for the face masks it allows on its site. To help guide you through the nuances of buying face masks on Etsy, we consulted experts on shopping tips. Here’s what you need to know about shopping for face masks from the marketplace.
What is Etsy?
Etsy is an online retail marketplace that allows makers to advertise and sell their own products. The e-commerce website has reported a spike in sellers making and selling non-medical face masks, with 12 million sold in April alone, generating $133 million in sales that month. Etsy has since rounded up sellers with quality options and fast shipping options. They also say they’re prohibiting sellers from making medical claims, selling mass-produced masks or price gouging. Otherwise, sellers must follow local and national laws — regarding face masks, that means sellers must provide accurate information about their products, including photos, descriptions and prices — says Dayna Isom Johnson, Etsy’s trend expert. (Johnson is also a judge on NBC's Making It.)
How to shop for face masks at Etsy
There are three things to consider when shopping for a mask on Etsy’s site: comfort, material and personality, advises Johnson. Masks should be breathable and washable, and can be worn comfortably. Though wearing a face mask is a health requirement in many places, that doesn’t mean you can’t combine safety with style. “As they continue to be an everyday essential, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a personalized touch and allow shoppers to express their personal style,” said Johnson.
Since the marketplace includes multiple sellers, keep an eye out for masks that follow the CDC’s guidelines: Masks should fit snugly and be secured with ties or ear loops. Masks should also be machine washable, have multiple layers and allow for unrestricted breathing. Read our comprehensive guide to buying face masks for more information. When shopping Etsy face masks, be mindful of their delivery time. Some sellers are experiencing high demand — as are many retailers and brands. Many also don’t offer returns given the nature of the product, she said.
Best face masks on Etsy right now
Etsy’s most popular face mask style is a simple black mask, said Johnson. But other designs are rising in popularity, including animal prints and kid-friendly designs. Below, we list the most highly-rated face masks on Etsy whose listed features both meet the CDC’s criteria and the guidance we got from the medical experts we consulted.
These black cotton face masks come with a valve for better breathability and an insertable filter. Masks are made with multiple layers of 100-percent cotton and have adjustable elastic ear loops for a tighter fit. You can also buy 20-packs of disposable filters.
Masks come in two types — single or double layer — and two colors, black and gingham. Masks are made of a cotton blend and are one-size-fits-most. They are available for bulk purchase, if needed.
These cotton face masks come in more than a dozen different patterns and styles, from plaid to floral to stars. Masks come in both adult and kids sizes, with a nose wire and adjustable ear loops for a tighter fit. Masks are 100-percent cotton and machine washable.
Made from a jersey cotton blend, these machine-washable face masks come in five colors and designs, including snake print. Masks are double-layers and allow the ability for an insertable filter to be placed in the middle.
Each of these cotton masks comes with five disposable, insertable filters. Masks come in either black or white and are one-size-fits-most. (Shop for additional face mask filters here.)
These face masks are made of two layers, a spandex outer layer and a 100-percent cotton inner layer. Masks come in black and are washable, and are designed to fit tightly around your nose.
These black masks are made of cotton material and come with a pocket for an insertable filter. They are reusable and adjustable to fit different sizes.
These washable masks are made of two layers of 100-percent unbleached cotton and include a pocket for an insertable filter. Masks come with adjustable ear loops for a more snug fit. Buyers also have the option to embroider a personalized message onto the mask, allowing for gifting options.
How to shop for face masks
Regardless of where you buy your mask, be it from a popular retailer, brands who donate to coronavirus relief efforts with each face mask purchase or an independent sellers' marketplace like Etsy, you should diligently consider quality and breathability, advised Nidhy Varghese, MD, a pediatric pulmonologist in Texas.
“The truth is that, regardless of the source of your mask, there is no standardization in this new industry,” she told NBC News Shopping. “So it’s up to the consumer to make sure that the mask they purchase meets their requirements.”
Look for masks with two to three layers of tightly-woven fabric like cotton, explains Richard Martinello, MD, a professor of infectious diseases at the Yale School of Medicine. Some masks come with a filter built in or as a replaceable feature, which can only help the mask’s effectiveness in filtering out particulate, Varghese said. (Keep in mind that face masks — with or without filters — do not replace or relieve the need to wash your hands and practice safe social distancing.)
Material is only one aspect of the mask — a snug fit is essential to a mask’s effectiveness. Martinello recommends shopping for masks that have a fabric piece that pinches around the nose for a tighter fit. Fabric ties may be more effective than elastic ties, as elastic bands can stretch over time, he said. “You have to wear it the right way. You see people wearing their masks under their nose,” Martinello said. “And the joke is, their mask only works half as well.”
Most homemade cloth masks will work to reduce transmission of the virus to others by blocking large droplets from coughing or sneezing, said Nishi Viswanathan, director of Texas Health Catalyst, a state university program focused on health innovation. But they cannot fully protect you from contracting the virus from someone else, Viswanathan added.
“The most important thing to remember is that masks are not a substitute for social distancing. Don't let a false sense of security let you neglect other key measures such as regular hand washing,” she said.
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