My personal evaluation of three consumer grade elastomeric respirators is available further down in this post: Breathe99 B2, FLO Mask, and ZShield Reveal.
As of July 2022, many people claim to be “over COVID;” I’m not one of them. I continue to mask regularly. I cover my face to protect a high risk member of my household, and because I have enough uncomfortable health issues of my own already. The specter of long COVID looms large enough to make indoor masking my preference.
Long COVID is most common in middle aged people, affecting as many as one in four recovered patients according to a Nature news feature. The CDC gives me better odds than 25% in their Data for Long COVID section, but, the fact is, no one yet knows the true prevalence of the condition.
Long term, I see no reason to ever stop masking in crowded conditions such as boarding a flight or on mass transit, though my specific level of vigilance will probably vary as this pandemic wanes and flu season comes and goes.
The particular genesis of today’s post was a New York Times article by Andrew Jacobs published July 3, 2022. It’s worth reading, but the gist is that American hospitals should have learned the supply chain lesson of the COVID-19 pandemic and switched to elastomeric respirators for essential healthcare workers by now.
Elastomeric respirators are reusable face coverings using replaceable filter elements that work as well as disposable N95s to block the flow of germs. Many are domestically produced, to boot, in marked contrast to the largely imported supply of disposable masks.
Widespread adoption of elastomeric respirators would solve the problem of being dependent upon a hostile foreign nation for vital supplies while offering equal or better protection to each wearer with a better fit and simultaneously creating less waste.
The “elastomeric” part of the elastomeric respirator just means the body of the filtering face mask in question is stretchy or otherwise like rubber.
If the NYT article is to be believed, elastomeric respirators are often judged more comfortable by the wearer than N95s. Disposable filters are still required, but they might require only annual replacement for a few dollars, while the main body of the device—composed of washable silicone—should last a decade at a one time cost of $15-40 each.
For about two thirds of the money spent by the Trump administration attempting to sterilize and re-use N95s, we could have outfitted each of the nation’s 18 million health care workers with an elastomeric respirator according to Nicolas Smit as quoted in Jacobs’ article.
Or, to harp on the affordability point from a different angle, a paper published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons showed: “Outfitting… workers [with elastomeric respirators] was one-tenth as expensive than supplying them with disposable N95s. A separate study found that after one year, the filters were still 99 percent effective.”
And, given the chance to switch back to N95s after the study period in question, none of the employees opted to do so. I take that to mean those healthcare workers found the alternative masks easier to wear or use.
Toward the end of the New York Times piece was a mention of just one particular small business that’s giving up in the face of the healthcare system’s irrational insistence on sticking with disposable, imported masks. Breathe99—whose elastomeric respirator made the cover of Time magazine in 2020 as an innovation prize-winner—is winding down operations at the company’s Minnesota plant.
I followed the link, and found that I could purchase Breathe99’s B2 mask at retail as of early July 2022. Since I still see daily death reports in my newspaper, I remain in the market for comfortable, effective face coverings. I decided to resume exploration of better Personal Protective Equipment (P.P.E.), hoping I can reduce waste while staying safe.
I don’t buy disposable water bottles or accept single use plastic cutlery when I get takeout food, so why should I continue to rely upon paper face masks when more comfortable, equally effective alternatives exist?
One caveat: there are officially approved elastomeric respirators for clinical use, but consumer grade options are unlikely to be officially NIOSH approved. Whether this is due to pandemic backlogs or if it is just a regulatory grey area, I’m not informed enough to say. Just be aware that we still have no official designation for effective, FDA-approved consumer grade face coverings.
Now that mask mandates have ended and masking is a voluntary, personal choice in most settings, the up side to all of that reckless abandon is that no one is likely to complain about any specific face covering I acquire or wear. There should be no push back† to the lack of an official protection rating for any mask I select.
On the down side, I’m left having to hope these products actually work as designed, and as represented by their manufacturers. I’m “doing my own research” here because I have no choice if I want a comfortable, well-fitting, effective face covering. I do go all the way to published papers from scientific journals and material spec sheets whenever possible.
For example, here’s a USA Today fact checking story about why filter media with a physical pore size of around 0.3 micron can be quite efficient at stopping SARS-CoV-2 viral particles which are themselves closer to 0.1 micron.
One clear takeaway of the past couple of years is that any mask offers better protection from airborne viruses than a bare face does. I do feel confident that I won’t end up worse off than I would be wearing a cloth mask or an ill-fitting surgical one when I don a tight-sealing face covering utilizing an effective filter medium at the point(s) where all my breath enters or exits the device.
I will compare and contrast three intriguing designs that I’ve purchased at retail and tested for myself for the reader’s convenience. Because these elastomeric products are relatively expensive—from $60 to 90 per starter kit—I hope my comparison will help others pick a useful style.
Because of the note of doom sounded by the NYT article that sent me down this path, I advise anyone picking up one of these expensive face coverings to stock up on specialized, custom fit filters while they are still available. We as a society seem to have learned very little from the deprivations and death wrought by COVID-19. Even top quality, well designed products may be dropped from the market if their makers go out of business.
I ordered three different face coverings direct via their manufacturer’s web sites, paying the stated retail price. Here’s the list including the July 2022 list price:
- B2 mask by Breathe99 as referenced in the NYT article ($59.99)
- FLO Mask for adults or children though I’m only testing the adult version ($89.99)
- ZShield Reveal rigid mask which I pre-ordered and got in 2021 ($89.99)
B2 filtering mask by Breathe99
My B2 Mask arrived July 17th, or 14 days after ordering. I opened the package, assembled the B2 with a pair of Lite filters—one round filter is required on either side of the face piece, but they’re packaged in sets—and wore it for two hours while working at my desk.
Keeping the B2 Mask on my face for 122 minutes during normal activities was a record for me for a >90% efficiency face covering. My face felt warm, and I didn’t enjoy the damp feeling of any face covering on a muggy day, but it took longer for a “hot spot” to form wearing the B2 than any other high-quality mask I’ve ever used. Instead of removing it because actual pain developed, I ripped it off when I feared I smelled smoke.
It turns out, if my bedroom windows are open when DH uses the grill on the deck below, the smell quickly invades our room! I’m not normally upstairs when he barbecues. The slightly alarming smell of smoke I experienced with the mask on became much more pungent after removal of the B2. Because, by that point, I was also hungry and thirsty, I discontinued my B2 experiment to eat lunch and air out my sweaty face.
I will update this review when I’ve spent more time wearing my B2 mask.
Like the FLO Mask, the B2 feels lighter on my face—and therefore remains more comfortable for longer than—the ZShield Reveal. Comparing head-to-head, the B2 might fit the chin-to-nose distance of my face somewhat better than the FLO. On the other hand, the B2 seems to wiggle out of position and allow occasional leaks more often than the FLO when I open my mouth wide to talk or wriggle my nose like Samantha on Bewitched.
Packaging for the B2 is simple and attractive with minimal excess or waste.
The paperboard outer carton is the sturdy type with flaps allowing it to be closed again after you break the seal. It would be a useful way to store the B2 Mask when not in use, but it’s oversized for that purpose if space is tight. The filter packages for the B2, however, fit beautifully in the starter kit box.
I only have three boxes of filters to date, but it looks like five or maybe six of those could be efficiently stored in the starter kit outer carton.
No scissors or other tools were required to open the box, which I appreciate. Arthritic hands could manage the unboxing task unaided.
Initial “set up” consisted of:
- Removing the filter caps that kind of resemble a yin-yang symbol
- Placing one filter on either side of the ergonomic face piece, i.e., the more rigid, structural piece of the mask
- Twisting the filters caps on over each filter after noting there was an inside and an outside to each cap
- Figuring out which side of the cloth overlay was “up” based upon the presence of a metal nose wire on only one side
- Sliding all four face piece tabs though the slots in the fabric overlay to complete assembly
Because the B2 uses two filters, one on each side, its assembly is slightly slower and more fiddly than other multi-part face coverings I’ve worn. The entire process can still be completed in a few minutes, however, so I don’t consider this a major flaw.
As with unboxing, this was manageable by a person with some limits to her manual dexterity. The only vaguely tricky part came about because I used a Lite filter (as opposed to the Original style); the written instructions call for the “colored side” of the filter to face outwards, but only Original filters are directional.
Distinguishing up from down for the filter caps could also be challenging to the visually impaired, but blind users will require help for Original filters regardless since coloration is the only indication of which side of the filter faces out.
Breathe99’s B2 Mask shipped with its single strap already in place. Unlike every other cloth or elastomeric mask I’ve used, its strap is one simple, single length of elastic. It slides through tube-shaped openings on either side of the cloth overlay. It would be possible to pull the elastic too far and detach it from the adjustment toggle, but that shouldn’t occur often with careful use.
I find it slightly difficult to do the firm pinching motion necessary to release tension from this kind of toggle, but I have arthritis in my hands. For regular use, someone like me should be able to adjust the mask to fit well and rely on the elastic’s stretch for applying and removing the face covering, making it unnecessary to repeatedly depress the toggle button with aching fingers.
There’s no alternate style of strap offered by B2, but its simplicity may be a strength. I would guess one could fashion a new strap out of commonly available elastic cording if necessary. Breathe99 does sell extra “Replacement Stopper” parts for $1.50 each; I’d call this little object a sliding toggle if forced to name it, but it’s certainly a common widget found on many travel and luggage pieces.
My B2 Mask stays in place across the back of my head quite well, despite its minimalist strap lacking pads or silicone grips. Like all behind-the-head straps, it makes my hair look stupid, but I didn’t find myself fiddling with the face covering except when I looked in a mirror.
Something I find very strange is that the cloth overlay includes a metal nose wire, which is normally a vital part of making a face covering even pretend to conform to my face. In this case, however, the fabric overlay remains so far from my skin due to the relative thickness of the face piece and its silicone gasket that I can’t perceive any value for the nose wire.
I’m wondering if the cloth will stretch over time, possibly bringing that nose wire nearer the bridge of my nose. I made certain the pieces all faced the right direction, and all four tabs were inserted in their matching slots in the cover. The fabric overlay does have a bit of give when I tug on it, but its nose piece does not appear necessary for a fog-free fit.
A silicone gasket surrounds the more rigid structure of the body of the face covering, making for a very good seal that prevents almost all air leakage except when my face is very mobile. The B2 wouldn’t be my first choice to wear while singing or yelling/cheering for that reason. It also differs from my other two reusable masks in that the elastomeric portion holds the filters, but its outer cloth covering is the only part connecting with the straps.
Fit update after a few more wearings:
Fit update begins
As I kept poking around the Breathe99 website, somewhere I saw their suggestion to try inverting the silicone gasket to achieve a better fit around the nose. Groundbreaking! Magnificent! My B2 becomes even more comfortable and gives me virtually zero fogging with the gasket inverted. In this position, it hits higher on my not insignificant schnoz.
I’d advise anyone with a high but narrow nose bridge, like mine, to try this trick with any silicone gasket mask.
Two small downsides occur with the inverted gasket, however:
- I absolutely have to remove my glasses to reach in and flip the gasket up every time I remove my mask, so it slows down the donning process. Doffing is unaffected. My glasses often get in the way when changing any mask—straps tangle on stem, knock them off my own face—but far more so for this particular movement.
- The Mask Liner/condensation insert seems more likely to shift with the gasket inverted, probably because it isn’t pinched between my face and the face piece. At one point, I was asking myself, “What part of the mask is touching the tip of my nose?” That’s an annoying feeling, but less annoying than seeing through fog with every exhalation.
Because of downside #2, I will experiment with wearing the B2 minus the Mask Liner in the future. Not today, though, because my region is experiencing a humid heat wave. I need every tool available to reduce all forms of mugginess in the coming week.
End of fit update
Because the cloth/elastic portions of the B2 face covering detach completely from the silicone and plastic frame, it seems as though this mask will be just that little bit easier to clean than all the others. For that scenario, I’m assuming one would always clean the mask while replacing the filters; the filters do insert directly into the structural body assembly as opposed to the cloth/elastic covering, and they would have to be removed to thoroughly clean the parts in question.
Best of all, the entire “ergonomic face piece” can be washed in a dishwasher, not just by hand, according to the Features listed on the Starter Kit shop page. I will always choose a dishwasher safe item over any alternative offered. On Breathe99’s site, they also mention putting all the parts except the filters in a mesh delicates bag and machine washing the lot.
I love having three options for cleaning a face mask. I do laundry often, but I run my dishwasher every day. I do not get around to hand washing delicates—laundry or dishwares—on a daily basis.
Breathe99’s B2 Mask ships as a starter kit for $59 including both parts of the face covering itself (the silicone and plastic filter frame, and a flexible cloth cover to which the straps attach), and one box of five filters of the Original type. Everything you need comes with the mask, though the absence of a storage bag is a slight negative compared with my other reusables.
Fortunately, I already have a small packing cube dedicated to toting masks in my purse. Mine is Uncharted brand, bought on Amazon, but even a disposable plastic sandwich bagª could be used temporarily to keep your mask clean.
I prefer a sturdy reusable for storage, too, though. I recommend Tom Bihn packing cubes and pouches if you want something made in America that will last forever.
If you’re like me, a brightly colored pouch is the best choice for any item you need to grab quickly. I also rely on Tom Bihn key straps to tether all my vital tiny objects to anchor points or the handles on my bag! You don’t need an expensive Tom Bihn bag to organize yourself with his affordable key straps, though they’re lovely if you can afford one.
B2 Mask is sold in one size, which the company suggests for “small/medium sized adults.” Since I tend to wear a Medium where masks are sized, I’d agree with that sizing guideline, though there was at least one Tom Bihn cloth mask for which I preferred size Large.
I have only tried the B2 with a condensation insert installed. I don’t notice its presence at all, so I see no reason to stop using one unless the part is lost or wears out prematurely. I added the condensation insert accessory to my initial order; there was not one included in my starter kit. A two pack of these, listed as Mask Liner, costs $8. The liner is crafted of double-celled polyester foam, hand washable with soap and water.
Breathing normally, B2 Mask provides me with a better, less spectacle-befogged user experience than all* the surgical, N95, and KN94 masks I’ve tried. I had no condensation on my glasses while working at the computer with the B2 on until I engaged in a prolonged conversation with my husband. Its fit is quite good relative to my other options, if perhaps slightly less so than my ZShield Reveal (least fogging) or my FLO mask (squarely between Reveal and B2), either of which works better when my mouth is moving.
Breathe99 makes the B2 Mask and its filters domestically in the Midwest. Personally, I actively seek face coverings that do not rely on the international supply chain, preferring to spend my money to encourage American manufacturing of critical, life-saving products such as P.P.E.
Filters are available in two levels: their 4 layer Original/Standard and the 3-layer Lite. An Original filter uses meltblown and electrostatically-charged polypropylene to achieve 99.6%-98.3% @ 0.1 micron efficacy whereas the Lite is composed of electrostatically-charged polypropylene alone offering >90% filtration @ 0.1 micron.
This downloadable (PDF) B2 Filter Technology Review provides more detail about how Breathe99 designed and tested their Original filter.
Each filter comes individually packaged within its carton, so they should be easy to carry for daily use or travel. I like the perforations on the individual packaging, so no scissors required to free a fresh filter.
Lite filters must be changed “at least once per week” and cost $9 for a box of 5 or $1.80 apiece; Original/Standard filters list price is $10 for a box of 5 or $2 apiece, but they need changing less often. Breathe99 instructions for the Original filters say to “change at least once every 2 weeks.” Lite filters are still available at the time of this writing, but Original filters appear to be sold out.
As I mentioned in my description of initial setup, Lite filters can be installed facing either direction (both sides of a Lite filter are white) whereas Original filters are directional. Instructions must be followed carefully when inserting a new Original filter; each one’s printed/colored side should be facing out, away from the wearer, with the printing visible under the filter caps before the fabric overlay is reinstalled.
Visible branding on the B2 Mask is absolutely minimal and actually invisible in use, which I like. Aside from a molded in 99 logo on the faceplate which gets hidden by the cloth cover, there isn’t any!
I wish I could order at least one more B2 Mask for a family member, and I already would’ve ordered additional fabric overlays in any-color-but-black if they weren’t sold out. I’m incredibly disappointed that I discovered Breathe99 only as they were forced to shut down their company due to lack of demand. I’ve contacted the company, requesting that my contact information be added if they are keeping a list of customers interested in learning if this product gets picked up by a new maker.
If you order a B2 mask using this affiliate link, you and I will both save $5, assuming Breathe99 stays in business and resumes selling this awesome face covering.
Update 2023 on Breathe mask
Another US company, Armbrust, purchased the Breathe mask product line. Masks are now available to order direct from the new manufacturer under the name Breathe99. I haven’t purchased from the new company, but the mask appears to be identical to mine. Customers of the original product can get a discount on filter refills going forward if they join the Amrbrust mailing list.
FLO Mask for adults
My FLO Mask arrived July 11th, or eight days after ordering. I opened the package, assembled the FLO, and wore it for about an hour while watching television that first night before my desire for a snack prematurely ended the experiment; the next day, I kept the FLO on for 90 minutes during normal activities before the bridge of my nose became the first place I noticed some mildly uncomfortable pressure against my face.
For me, the FLO Mask is at least as comfortable as the ZShield Reveal which I’ve owned longer and experimented with more often. I’ll update my opinion of the long-term comfort of FLO Mask in the future, when I’ve had more than 24 hours for experimentation, but my first impression of it is positive.
Packaging for the FLO Mask is remarkably similar to ZShield’s for the Reveal. This entire category of packaging can perhaps best be described as Apple-inspired minimalism. What I like best about it is the relatively low volume of filler, fluff, or extra crud headed for the landfill. The product arrived well protected, but without excess garbage requiring disposal.
The paperboard outer carton is the sturdy type with flaps allowing it to be closed again after you break the seal, so it would be a useful way to store the FLO Mask when not in use. That might come in especially handy for people living in seasonal wildfire zones; FLO was originally designed by a parent looking to protect his kids from exactly that kind of smoke inhalation. A neat stack of original boxes would be tidier in a closet than a set of irregularly shaped pouches.
No scissors or other tools were required to open the box, which I appreciate. Arthritic hands could manage the unboxing task unaided.
Initial “set up” consisted of:
- tearing open a filter packet (I did use scissors to snip a corner, but they were at hand),
- pulling the face plate (official FLO part name: Front Cover) away from its body to open it up,
- inserting the filter whose directionality is quite obvious without RTFM,
- snapping the face plate back on with minimal pressure required,
- then reattaching the straps.
As with unboxing, this was manageable by a person with some limits to her manual dexterity.
Unlike the ZShield, FLO Mask shipped with the straps already in place.
FLO Mask straps are much easier to apply than ZShield Reveal’s, but they are also supposed to be removed every time the filter is changed, rendering this feature far more important on the FLO. I did find that I can pop the Front Cover off without removing the straps, however, so this step may be considered optional.
Like ZShield, FLO offers an alternate style of strap; it’s available as an additional $19.99 purchase. Having had a lot more experience being uncomfortable in commercial masks since I ordered the Reveal early in the pandemic, I added FLO’s optional Halo strap to my initial order of the FLO Mask.
The Halo top strap is marketed for those with long hair or active lifestyles.
I haven’t tested the FLO Mask Halo top strap yet, but I will update this post when I do. Since my fine hair is very slippery, and other straps and headbands often slide off when I use them, I probably do fit the intended demographic for the Halo. Both sides of the halo “loop” between the straight ends have four inches of grippy silicone texture applied compared with 2.5 inches of grip on the standard top strap.
My FLO Mask stayed in place quite well with the standard straps, though, admittedly, I spent more time sitting than I did running around during my initial tests.
FLO Mask is lighter weight than the polycarbonate ZShield, so it wears a little cooler on a hot summer evening/day. A silicone gasket completely surrounds the more rigid structure of the body of the face covering, making for a very good seal that prevents almost all air leakage.
I can create a tiny streak of fog on one side of my corrective lenses eyeglasses if I puff out my largest possible exhalation of air while wearing the FLO mask with the straps comfortably adjusted. I’d judge the seal just slightly less complete on my high/narrow bridged nose—i.e., exactly the type of nose FLO warns might flummox their face covering!—than the ZShield Reveal gives me.
FLO Mask ships as a starter kit for $89.99 including the face covering itself, a few filters of each of its two types, an optional condensation insert, and storage bag. Everything you need comes with the mask.
I have only tried the FLO with a condensation insert installed. I don’t notice its presence at all, so I see no reason to stop using one unless the part is lost or wears out prematurely.
Breathing normally, FLO Mask provides me with a better, less spectacle-befogged user experience than all* the surgical, N95, and KN94 masks I’ve tried. I don’t experience any condensation on my glasses while working at the computer or doing light housework with it on. I consider it a very good fit relative to my other options, if perhaps slightly less so than my ZShield Reveal.
FLO Mask is made in China, but the filters are produced domestically in the U.S.A. According to the manufacturer’s FAQs, “All packaging is printed in California and we perform the final assembly here in the San Francisco Bay Area.” Personally, I actively seek face coverings that do not rely on the international supply chain, preferring to spend my money to encourage American manufacturing of critical, life-saving products such as P.P.E.
Another unique feature of FLO is the availability of two levels of filtration: Everyday and Pro.
Each filter comes individually packaged, regardless of type, which should make them very easy to carry when traveling. Everyday filters can be installed facing either direction whereas Pro filters are directional, meaning the product labeling must be followed carefully when inserting a new Pro filter.
The Everyday filter has a slightly lower filtration efficiency (94.81%, per independent lab testing paid for by the manufacturer) but offers nearly 3x the breathability. Pro filters offer 99.16% filtration efficiency.
Everyday filters are rated for 20 hours of use before replacement is required, and they cost $54.99 for a box of 50 or $1.10 apiece; Pro filters are $59.99 for a box of 50 or $1.20 apiece, but a Pro is rated for 40 hours of use.Visible branding on the FLO Mask is minimal and unobtrusive, which I like. A round logo of around 1 cm ∅ is printed on the back of the top strap which will show on the back of the wearer’s head. Another FLO Mask label is under the user’s chin when in use; that text is about 2 cm across in size.
With only a little testing of the FLO Mask accomplished in the 24 hours I’ve owned it, my initial reaction is very positive. As of today, I’m expecting this to the be the face covering I wear while setting out on my first vacation since the COVID-19 pandemic shut life down in 2020. It’s more comfortable than anything else I have that offers a similar degree of confidence in its effectiveness.
I expect to order at least one more FLO Mask—probably adding the optional black front cover for $14.99 to make them readily distinguishable—for a family member, though I will have him do a test wear of my new mask first. Fortunately, I can wash every part except the filter, making sharing feasible.
The only thing I would change about the FLO Mask is a request for prettier front cover options. I’m not a huge fan of standard white or the optional black. If I’ve got to wear a face covering to protect my health, FLO is offering a pretty good way of doing so, and I really appreciate the fact that this company started out because of a concern for the health and welfare of children living around wildfire smoke.
Pricing for a Child-sized FLO Mask is a more attainable $49.99 vs. $89.99 for the adult size, but I have no 4-12 year olds upon whom to test that model.
ZShield Reveal polycarbonate mask with bottom mount filter
The ZShield Reveal reminds me a lot of full face style CPAP masks I tried on at my fitting for that medical device. CPAP machines treat sleep apnea.
I don’t know of any other face covering quite like the ZShield Reveal. It appealed to me because the material is so obviously easy to clean, and because a smile could show through its clear body. Naturally, I’m not smiling in any of the selfies I took to model the device.
The majority of the ZShield Reveal mask body is rigid, polycarbonate plastic. It’s a little bulky, but obviously washable.
A required disposable filter cartridge made of pleated, non-woven material in a fitted plastic shell slides into a slot in the Reveal mask; the filter sits between the wearer’s mouth and chin once the face covering is put on. For a myopic wearer like me, the most obvious benefit of this design is the way it forces all of one’s breath to exit the mask at the chin, far away from fog-prone lenses.
A flexible silicone gasket completely surrounds the open side of the mask and provides a good seal against the skin of the face. I experience no leakage at all wearing a size Medium‡ Reveal mask. I can usually get an air-leak-free fit with an uncomfortably tight N95, occasionally get a cloth mask with a nose wire to fit without fogging, and only rarely see well enough to drive due to fogging in an ear loop style KN94.
The Reveal straps are of the ear-loop style, but an additional length of elastic snaps together behind the head, providing a hands free option for carrying the mask around the neck when it isn’t needed. I like the addition of a blank space on the reverse of the snap panel for writing the owner’s name on the pricey Reveal.
I must mention, here, that initially inserting the loops that attach the straps to this mask was an absolute, awful bear of a task with my arthritic fingers. It required easing tiny, sewn elastic loops onto narrow polycarbonate hooks. I found this frustrating and did not accomplish the task in a single sitting. You can’t use this mask until you accomplish this job.
A behind-the-head alternate strap is available as a separate purchase from the manufacturer for $14.99, but I haven’t tried it as an exorbitant $8.66 shipping fee would apply if I order just that one item. If/when I get around to ordering additional filters for the ZShield Reveal, I will definitely buy the optional behind-the-head strap at that time to see if it fits me more comfortably. I shudder to imagine the torment of re-installing straps on this mask, but, as previously declared, I do have limited dexterity in my hands.
The ZShield Reveal ear loops are more elaborate than those I’ve seen on other masks. Each side has a shaped, flexible silicone curve—like the top of a question mark—that hugs the back of the ear. Most masks have a simple loop of stretchy webbing. In spite of the clever shaping, and perhaps due to the relatively heavy weight of the hard plastic shell of this mask, I find that the tops of my ears start ache first at around 60 minutes of wearing the Reveal.
It’s worth noting here that my ears hurt eventually with every ear-loop equipped mask I’ve ever worn without an ear saver, and I also wear glasses that add pressure to the same area. I would describe myself as “more sensitive than average.” For this reason, I wear an N95 at an airport from boarding through takeoff, then typically switch to a looser, more comfortable mask once the plane’s HVAC system kicks on and starts replacing and filtering the air.
Replacement filters come in packs of four ($19.99), eight ($34.99), or 12 ($49.99) which works out to $4.17 or more per filter. Filters should be replaced weekly or after 40 hours of use, per the manufacturer.
Filter specs include:
- 3-ply non-woven polypropylene media performing at 95% or greater particulate efficiency for pollutants and aerosols that are .3 microns or larger
- Two-way filtered air flow for inhalation and exhalation
- 16 sq. inches of pleated surface area in a filter
The ZShield Reveal is designed in the USA, but built in China. ZShield Reveal filters are also made in in China.
Perhaps the single most useful scenario I can imagine for the ZShield polycarbonate mask is kayaking or other active sports in light rain, or situations where water might occasionally splash the wearer. Because the filter is inserted at the bottom while the entire upper body of the face covering is made of washable materials, ZShield’s mask should prove uniquely useful for mildly wet environments where disposable alternatives aren’t going to hold up.
I expect to pack the ZShield Reveal for two family members taking a guided group kayaking trip on our upcoming vacation.
Masks that fit well have consequences
When I remove any of these snug fitting face coverings—specifically tested by me to mean after 60 minutes of wearing the ZShield Reveal, or 90 minutes in the FLO mask—I will have an unattractive pressure ring on my face for about half an hour before the red mark fades.
The ugly indentation varies, but I experience the same issue with N95s, so I consider it a necessary evil of effective filtration. There are consequences to protecting oneself, but I prefer the social consequence of a be-ringed face to those of a social disease!
Post updated July 19, 2022 with additional fit information about the B2 mask by Breathe99.
†The exception here might be in a hospital or other clinical setting. For example, I’m still forced to remove my personal N95 and replace it with a facility-provided, ill-fitting surgical mask at my eye doctor’s office in a suburban, hospital-affiliated outpatient center.
ªBreathe99 specifically recommends against storing the B2 in a sealed container because it prevents moisture evaporation. A Ziplock bag should only be used for brief storage when away from home.
*I’ve ordered four mask styles from Costco, tried two products sold at retail pharmacies, and sampled yet another N95 from the national mask clearinghouse website Project N95. The latter site was created in response to the rash of counterfeit, low quality face coverings flooding the US market during the shortages of 2020 and 2021. Members of our household have occasionally been required to use disposable masks provided in medical centers as well.
Almost all of these fit me poorly and resulted in fogging glasses and a general sense that I was not well protected against viral transmission.
‡ I often find myself right between sizes with cloth and other masks. My nose is beak-y and prominent, often pushing me toward a larger size, yet I don’t have a very long face from forehead to chin, so larger masks can feel like they are “poking me in my eyes.” When I’m between sizes, I tend to opt for the smaller size to reduce the eyeball-stabbing sensation.
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