After more than two years suffering through the Covid-19 pandemic, South Africans have surely, by now, come to appreciate the value of a good, comfortable face mask.
Over that time we have tried all manner of disposables to re-useables, and considered the best masks for exercise, the best mask if you wear glasses, and some pretty expensive mask options.
Two new mask companies approached Business Insider South Africa and asked us to put their brands to the test. So we sent our journalist out in the real world to see if they stood up the rigours of modern life. He decided to take them on the one experience that a mask must stay on, no matter how uncomfortable they can get: an aeroplane flight.
This is what he found, as a sample of one.
A cost-effective pink mask made with Copper did well.
Back in 2021, we came across a local company that said it was making masks that were self-sanitising and capable of killing the SARS-Cov-2 virus just a few minutes after it touches the material.
The secret behind the mask is copper, known to be effective in killing microbes in hospital ward furnishings and equipment. The mask fabric is impregnated with copper oxide, a process which blows copper oxide into the fabric at a microscopic level on a conveyor belt system, which gives it its pinkish look.
The company behind this technology is Copper Fresh, which means the masks can be re-worn dozens of times rather than having to wash, or worse, be thrown them away after a single use.
Read More: It can beat SARS-CoV-2 with pink face masks, this Johannesburg company says
Fast forward to 2022 and the drop off zone at Lanseria airport. Making our way from Johannesburg to Cape Town the pinkish mask drew more than a few curious stares. What immediately caught my attention was how similar it looks to your ordinary disposable blue surgical face mask.
Much like the majority of masks you see out on the streets, Copper Fresh’s mask is manufactured with simplicity in mind. It has a flat metal rod which you can easily shape to fit above your nose and comes with a white elastic cord that fits around your ears.
It’s also manufactured to be cost effective, selling at R150 for a pack of 5, which should last you a good couple of months.
What stood out for me was the mask’s durability. Unlike disposable masks designed to last only a single use, a lot of care has been placed into making sure the Copper Fresh mask doesn’t fall apart. Since taking it on its flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town, I’ve since worn it dozens of times. It’s been scrunched up in gym bags, been with me to shops, braais, and even to get my Covid Booster vaccine and still has held its shape with no problem at all and doesn’t look as it if will break anytime soon.
Another positive is that the masks are re-usable and can be worn for up to several weeks (or longer) without needing to be washed. If the mask material is intact, you are protected. If your mask gets dirty, simply get a slightly damp cloth, and rub the dirt off lightly.
But with that simplicity comes a cost. After wearing the mask for two hours, it began to pull at the ear and get uncomfortable. In total I wore the mask for three-and-a-half hours including the flight to Cape Town, and an Uber ride home.
Towards the end of that time, it stretching the edges of comfort and it was a real relief being able to take it off when I got home. But given the time frame and the realistic amount of time most people wear a mask; I think this would need to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Unfortunately, for those of you that wear glasses, this is not the mask for you. Even when securely fastened it fogs up quickly and this will be an issue.
If you are looking for an easy-to-use mask that needs to be worn for periods of around an hour each time it is a good option. Overall I would rank the mask as a solid 7/10 with its key features being its durability and affordability.
*The fabric, which is made by MedCu Technologies is TUV,CE and FDA approved.
The fog test is the ultimate measure of a mask – and so far all have failed. No matter how comfortable, no matter how clever the design, we have yet to come across a brand that prevents glasses from misting up. Until now.
A small Pringle Bay-based company has been quietly working on the idea long before Covid-19 was even a thing. After struggling for 40 years with extreme joint pain, founder Marc Barnfather was diagnosed with Ankylosing spondylitis, an type of autoimmune arthritis that, over time, can cause some of the small bones in the spine, neck, and even ribs to fuse. The recommended medication to slow the process and ease pain had a cost – lowering the immune system and making it hard for the body to protect itself from airborne diseases like TB, lung infections, and the common cold.
Which is why Barnfather needed a mask with could be worn in public when travelling.
“Back then it was just me and not everyone – so I steamed up glasses and breathed my own recycled coffee breath which was even more annoying and awkward. I thought back to an earlier ski trip to Switzerland and longed for the freedom of standing at the top of a slope, kitted for the extreme cold, and breathing normally. I really needed a mask that would do this for me.”
Out of this, as well as the increased need to wear a mask in public during the pandemic, came the inspiration for Just Breethe‘s HempLuxe Air mask.
The secret is a two-chamber design. Inside is a mesh insert, found between the bridge of your nose and mouth that lets air escape when you breathe in and out. This is something that I have not seen in a mask before and it made a lot of sense as to why it didn’t fog up. Most of the air escapes through this tiny gap, rather than up past your nose.
With it the company says it can make their mask 70% fog free, when used and sized correctly.
I can honestly say I was hyperventilating trying to get it to fog up – and it just barely did.
A second bonus of this type of design is that it reduces re-breath, which means smelling your own coffee breath throughout the day is virtually a thing of the past.
On my flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg, the mask made for a strange experience. The mask sits completely differently on your face. Where other masks normally create a pocket of air between the bridge of your nose and mouth, Just Breethe’s mask sits right over that gap on the top of your lip.
It takes some time getting used to – especially when trying to talk. If the mask is not the correct size the bottom half of the mask slips down over your mouth constantly. While this means you need to be quite specific about getting the correct size when ordering, there are a variety of sizes from which to choose.
Another key feature is the mask’s Velcro strap. The mask also has soft ear loops that are quite comfortable to wear. This provides a welcome relief from tie-up-at-the-back-knot-type-masks that when too loose slip off the back of your head all the time, or, if secured too tight make you feel that your head is going to pop like a pimple.
After extended use in a plane, as well as further testing at an outdoor concert wearing it for six hours straight, you hardly realise it’s on.
The company has gone to great lengths to make sure it is hand-made locally in Cape Town and with sustainability in mind. The material is made from 55% hemp and 45% cotton linen offering 3 layers of protection, and is washable.
While their choices are laudable, on a hot summer day, the material can feel heavy in the heat. Their look and colour scheme certainly lend toward office appeal as opposed to taking it out to the beach. But honestly, I would be happy to wear them anywhere.
Cost-wise the mask sits at the higher end of the price bracket. The Air currently retails for R340 you can order from their website www.just-breethe.com or Takealot. The company does sell another version designed for smaller spaces called the HempLuxe Pro which retails for R380 which does not have the mesh layer, but rather cloth.
In conclusion I would rank the mask at 8/10. It is by far the best mask we’ve tested to stand up to the fog test to date. It also ticks all the boxes when it comes to durability and sustainability. But because of its unique design, it is unlike anything you’ve likely tired before and will take time to get used to wearing, especially in hot weather.
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