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The greatest quest of 2020 has no doubt been the search for the perfect face mask. While we may scour every shopping site, overthinking descriptions and reviews, perhaps we should be more driven by instinct—the way that kids are.
After my first socially-distanced outdoor meetup with my nieces was peppered with questions about my own mask and face shield, I realized the value of their honest feedback. My sister graciously offered to let me borrow the two—eight-year-old Olivia and five-year-old Abby—and turn them into an expert panel to figure out what the best face masks for kids are, according to kids. They tested a dozen face masks for kids, as we played a game of “what I like” and “what I don’t like” about each one.
Overall, comfort reigned supreme for both kids. When asked separately about the characteristics of a good mask, each mentioned ear loop fit, which Abby said needed to be “just right” while the fabric should be “soft and fluffy.”
Olivia echoed the sentiments, but also brought up the importance of filters for extra protection, as well as “no holes,” referring to a complete seal around the face without any exposed areas for contaminants to seep in.
Of course, design matters too, as the five-year-old’s first words were, “A good mask has to be a unicorn!” While she may have meant it literally, figuratively, she had a point, as finding one with all the right characteristics soon proved to be an elusive challenge.
The mask-testing project started with a pair of disposable varieties: CV19 Essential’s three-ply teddy bear and fish masks for kids and Nano Air Mask’s small white masks. While the younger one loved the designs of the CV19 and the way the Nano Air Mask’s lightweight material opened up like origami, neither were comfortable for her. The older one questioned the environmental aspect: “You wear them and throw them away?” she said with disbelief. “That’s bad because it’s trash—and trash goes into the ocean.”
On the opposite end was the reusable, valve-free N95 Castle Grade G7 Kids Mask, a silicone respirator designed for children seven to 11 with four layers of filters—by far the most visually different of the group. Both girls gasped upon seeing it, but it quickly became more of a toy than a protective device. We also looked at the Lilysilk Anti-Saliva Protective Hat Mask, which they found “weird” and worried about germs coming down through the bottom.
The antimicrobial properties of Tru47’s Kids Silver Mesh Mask had potential since the mask was thinner and more breathable than fabric masks, but neither liked the fact it was so porous, with Abby saying that she liked how “sparkly” it was, but that it felt like “bird skin.”
Perhaps because of what they’re used to, the top picks were the reusable (and machine washable) fabric masks, particularly those with designs they loved—though the patterns tipped the hat more for the five-year-old than the eight-year-old, who prioritized a secure fit and filters, even over those emblazoned with her favorite things. Below, seven kid-approved styles to make mask wearing more comfortable.