It is a bit the latest trend in masks and it was popularized in the United States by the new American president Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, its vice-president during their campaign but also after their election. More and more people put two masks on top of each other. According to the US Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), the combination of two masks superimposed on each other provides better protection.
Wear two masks for better protection
This advice comes from the American health authorities who have recommended to wear two masks instead of one but not just any masks, and not just any old fashioned way.
A study was posted on the CDC, US Centers for Disease Prevention and Control website earlier this month.
The CDC did lab simulations on reducing air leakage with different models, including a fabric mask overlaid on a surgical mask. According to their results, with the combination of the two, the protection rises to about 92.5%.
The fabric mask presses the surgical mask onto the face, it would thus stick very well to the skin and this would prevent any permeability with the outside. Following this study, the CDC therefore updated their information to the public with these new options.
On the other hand, the US health authorities do not recommend at all to wear two surgical masks or two FFP2 masks one on top of the other. Because unlike the fabric mask, the second surgical mask or FFP2 will not press the first mask well on the face.
In France what are the recommendations?
Dr Fabien Squinazi, hygienist and member of the High Council of Public Health explains that at present, in France and in Europe this recommendation is not yet on the agenda.
Neither the WHO, nor the French and European health authorities recommend wearing two masks.
He quotes a study conducted in 2005 at the University of Shanghai which affirms that there is no point in wearing masks in layers. There wouldn’t be a big gain in efficiency if people wear 2,3,4 and even 5 masks like this has been tested by scientists.
Complicated to breathe!
The whole problem is that it is complicated to breathe well with several masks on top of each other. This is what AFNOR, the French standardization association, explains on its site.
She recognizes that “Wearing two masks layer upon layer can improve filtration, if the fabrics are different” (….). On the other hand, this will certainly pose a problem of breathability, making it difficult to support the mask “ and even more when a person is talking or walking.
According to AFNOR, this technique of two masks could even be counterproductive and increase the risk of contamination.
Indeed, if you wear two masks, it is even less comfortable, and therefore you will spend your time adjusting them, removing them and therefore touching them without necessarily having washed your hands. You expose yourself even more to contamination because, in the end, it is even more difficult to fit two masks than one.
The latest recommendations
There has been a lot of confusion lately about this. With the arrival of new variants deemed more contagious, the High Council of Public Health considered that it was now not recommended to wear category 2 fabric masks.
These are the homemade cloth masks or the low-quality, thin-skinned masks that you can buy in some stores. According to the various tests, these masks would only protect 70%.
The recommendation is therefore now to wear a category 1 mask, validated and compliant. In general they provide 90% protection. Basically, these are the fabric masks bought in pharmacies, or supermarkets, and of course, surgical masks and FFP2 masks.
It is not easy to know what the category of your fabric mask is, but there are still ways. Just look at the packaging of the masks, look for the category 1 label or the UNS1 logo. You can also ask the seamstress who made it for you or your shopkeeper if he knows.
There is also another innovation which concerns schools. From now on, from the age of 6, students will no longer be able to wear category 2 fabric masks at school. It will therefore be necessary to favor the category 1 fabric mask or the FFP2 mask from the start of the school year.