Your face mask is only effective if you’re using it properly. If your face mask is damaged or you’re not cleaning it, for example, your so-called personal protective equipment may not actually be protecting you. However, one of the worst things you could be doing with your face mask, making it ineffective in slowing the spread of COVID-19, is not wearing it the right way from the get-go. Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, says the biggest mistake you could make when wearing a face mask is letting your nose or mouth be exposed.
“The tighter the seal of the mask against the face, the better the protection,” Zeichner says. “If the mask does not make direct contact with the nose, chin, and cheeks, it cannot do its job.”
“If your mask does not cover your nose, it won’t do anything to protect you or those around you,” he adds.
So if you’re dropping your face mask below your nose—or worse, resting it on your chin—you’re putting yourself in danger for more reasons than one. Firstly, it’s not covering your nose and mouth, and secondly, that means you’re likely making adjustments to your mask with potentially contaminated hands while out in public.
“Once fitted, the mask should not be adjusted at all,” says Keane Veran, co-founder and CEO of OURA, a company that creates antimicrobial products. Adjusting your mask in a potentially contaminated environment exposes your nose and mouth to the contagion, thus rendering your face mask ineffective.
The “false sense of security” face masks give people is one of the biggest issues at play right now, says Wayne Hicks, maker of the Untouch Safety Hoods, a face mask that prevents you from accidentally touching your face. After all, Hicks says “transferring the contagion from the hands to the face, which allows the virus access to the eyes, nose, and mouth, is far more likely to bring about infection” than someone coughing or sneezing near you. And for more mistakes to avoid during the COVID-19 pandemic, check out the 32 Worst Ways You’re Infecting Others and Don’t Know It.