Let’s face it, masks have become ubiquitous in the new normal brought on by the novel coronavirus. But while masks have been used in Japan since way before the pandemic, the habit was less entrenched for myself. Which meant I had to review a few reusable masks before discovering what type worked best for me.
To be perfectly honest, I do not particularly enjoy wearing a mask, as they tend to fog up my glasses and make it harder to breathe. But masks have become a necessity in the current crappy situation, where we have to do our part to limit the spread of the virus as much as possible. And that means wearing a mask when social distancing is not a realistic option.
So I decided to review the five different types of reusable masks I’ve used since the coronavirus upturned all our lives. My review will be based on the four metrics of price, comfort, functionality and aesthetic, giving a score out of 5 for each.
Disclaimer: this is just my personal review of some reusable masks; I am not endorsing any particular product.
Price: 5/5. Two of these masks were sent to every household in Japan as part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s attempts to alleviate the mask shortage during the initial outbreak of the coronavirus. Although in reality they were funded through taxpayer money, I’ll give them full points for the perceived “freeness.”
Comfort: 1/5. The material is scratchy, like they cut up a tote bag into squares and made it into a mask. There’s also a smell on it that is not exactly pleasant, but that can be solved with a few washes.
Functionality: 2/5. The material is multi-layered and relatively thick so it will block droplets, no problem. But the mask is small and doesn’t fully cover the chin, or enclose the lower half of the face properly. It will definitely fly off if you’re taking a rollercoaster, as this “scream inside your heart” guy from Fuji-Q Highland demonstrates.
Aesthetic: 1/5. Since my face is relatively small, it looks passable although not very cool. But on Abe and people with larger faces, it looks like a face bikini and positively ridiculous. The colour is also drab and just meh.
Total: 9/20. Yeah, sounds about right. These masks were a total fail.
2. Fashion dust masks (from China via Rakuten)
Price: 4/5. I bought these cool-feel fashion masks off Rakuten for 999 yen for a pack of four, which is pretty good value for money. Being made in China, the Chinglish on the instructions was pretty funny albeit a little disconcerting.
Comfort: 5/5. Out of all the masks I’ve used so far, this one feels best on my skin. Soft and silky, the material is stretchy and almost like what’s used for swimsuits. Plus it’s fast-drying and offers a “pocket” of air to breathe due to its 3D shape. But the material — which is 30% ice silk, 50% polyester and 20% mixed polyurethane — tends to absorb the temperature of the surroundings. So if you’re indoors with aircon it feels really nice and cool. But if you’re outside in 35 degree heat under the sun, then the mask gets hot fast.
Functionality: 3/5. As a mouth and noise covering, it does the job well, and even purports to protect you from UV rays. The cut of the mask looks cheap (probably hastily trimmed in a factory in China somewhere), but this is not evident from a distance. There is only one layer to provide maximum coolness, and therefore no filter.
Aesthetic: 5/5. Despite the cheap cut, it succeeds in being cool and aesthetically-pleasing. Fits snugly over the nose and under the chin, and goes with any outfit. Reminiscent of stuff K-pop idols used to wear just to be badass.
Total: 17/20. Pretty satisfied with these masks, both with how they look and feel. Plus their cost performance cannot be rivalled.
3. UNIQLO Airism masks
Price: 3/5. These UNIQLO masks, which people lined up for and which flew off the shelves the moment they went on sale in June, cost 990 yen (plus tax) for a pack of three. Given the quality of the material and three-layer thickness, I think this is pretty reasonable.
Comfort: 4/5. Using the famous Airism material found in many UNIQLO products including underwear, singlets and sportswear, these masks are supposed to be cooling enough for summer. But because there are three layers, they are actually quite hot to wear and not very appropriate for warm weather. Likely due to this feedback, the company released an updated version of the mask in grey in August, with a more “breathable” inner layer mesh.
The material is very soft and comfortable, though, and the masks come in three sizes (S, M, L), so you can pick one which fits your face most comfortably.
Functionality: 5/5. The most “proper” mask in terms of blocking particles and dust as it contains a filter. The outermost layer is a UV-blocking mesh, the middle layer a filter, and the innermost layer a breathable mesh. The mask covers the lower half of the face snugly.
Aesthetic: 3/5. The masks come in white or grey (available from August 20), and they look fine. Nothing particularly cool or uncool about it; just a plain-coloured mask typical of UNIQLO’s minimalist branding.
Total: 15/20. I won’t hesitate to recommend UNIQLO products to people as they tend to be high quality and good-priced. But I don’t recommend these masks for summer.
4. Megalos dry mask
Price: 3/5. Since gyms reopened after the state of emergency, masks have become mandatory at all times. I don’t need to tell you how suffocating it is to exercise with something over your nose and mouth. So I was stoked when my gym recently announced they had developed their own dry, breathable masks specifically for exercising. They cost 990 yen each, but a 10 percent discount was applied to purchases made in the first couple of months. All made in Japan.
Comfort: 4/5. The fabric is a fine polyester mesh similar to a basketball jersey, although not quite as soft. For that reason, it does feel a little rough on the skin. However, it is extremely breathable. All out of the masks I have worn, it is undoubtedly the most breathable, and therefore also suitable for walking around in summer. The ear straps are also strings that you tie yourself, so you can adjust the fit to your liking. There are five sizes available (XS, S, M, L, XL).
Functionality: 5/5. Designed as an exercise mask, the holes are less fine than those of normal masks to ensure breathability. It is one layer of material, so there is obviously no filter, but it is more than sufficient to block droplets. The “dry” material means it is fairly sweat-resistant and easy to wash too.
Aesthetic: 4/5. Available in seven different colours, the masks are aesthetically-pleasing and rival that of the 3D ice silk masks off Rakuten. The only qualm I have is the large branding on the left side of the mask. While this is fine when I’m working out, I feel like I’m advertising my gym every time I wear it for other purposes. I would have preferred less conspicuous branding – maybe just one letter rather than the whole name. But still, stylish enough to wear for almost any occasion.
Total: 16/20. I really love these masks for how breathable they are, and find myself wearing them even outside of the gym. The availability of less-convention colours, such as lavender and mint, makes them quite uniquely fashionable too.
Price: 3/5. This Deadpool cosplay mask by Xcoser set me back around 3,000 yen off Amazon Japan with free shipping. It’s selling on the global Amazon site for US$39.90, not including shipping. So I think I got a pretty good deal.
Comfort: 2/5. The mask is made of high-grade latex, said to be non-toxic and environmentally friendly. Right out of the packaging the smell of latex is quite strong, so I recommend airing it out for a few days before using. Given that the only way to breathe is through the mesh eye holes (and in the gap where the mask opens at the neck), it gets hot in there fast. After just wearing it for 10 minutes (on a summer night) my face and hair was plastered with sweat. Still, the mask is lightweight and is free size, so it should fit most heads.
There is another version made of resin, a harder material, which was much more expensive and caters toward collectors.
Functionality: 5/5. Not only covers your nose and mouth but your entire face! Provides full anonymity for any unsavory activities you may be planning, including smacking people who cough or sneeze without covering their mouths. You can’t get better than that.
Aesthetic: 5/5. Looks like the real thing, and holds it shape very well. In a mugshot, nobody can tell it’s not Ryan Reynolds underneath.
Total: 15/20. Not exactly something you would wear everyday to work, but definitely has its unique uses.
Summary review of reusable masks
Since it looks like we’ll be wearing masks for the foreseeable future in Japan, I’ve moved away from single-use masks due to the massive amounts of the waste they are generating. I highly encourage people to switch to reusable masks if possible as well. Not only are they more environmentally-friendly, they also generally feel better on the skin.
With the exception of the Abenomask, all the reusable masks reviewed here have their application for different scenarios. The black fashion ones from China for indoor environments and looking stylish, the UNIQLO ones for maximum protection in cooler weather, the Megalos dry mask for exercising and outdoor activities. And let’s not forget the Deadpool one. For when I need to release the stress this pandemic has brought upon us all.
If you enjoyed this review of reusable masks, you can also check out my semi-serious review of North Korean snacks.