Can you answer the question What becomes more dangerous the smaller it gets? I’ve recently come across it on Quora. And frankly, I’ve spent quite some time pondering over it. What surprised me was that the most upvoted, but the least obvious answer was ‘particulate matter.’
Particulate matter or PM is one of the major air contaminants. It is a mixture of solid and liquid particles such as gases, soot, smoke, metals etc. that can get deep into your lungs and bloodstream and may lead to a range of health complications, including cancer, heart attack, and even premature death.
Fine particles called PM2.5 have the diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers, which is nearly 30 times smaller than a human hair. Invisible to a naked eye, PM and other air pollutants are responsible for 1 in every 9 deaths worldwide, according to the recent World Health Organization statistics.
Though not bulletproof, there are several ways to deal with pollution when traveling. Buying a high-quality respirator must be on the top of your list.
Meet our top pick – a certified, lab and real-life tested anti-pollution mask. Extremely lightweight, fully customizable, and with an ‘easy seal check’ feature, Totobobo will become your best companion when the Air Quality Index hits high.
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There are several studies that support the use of face masks to fight the harmful effects of air pollution. One research found that wearing a mask in cities with high concentrations of ambient air pollution shows promise in decreasing cardiovascular mortality and has a positive effect on blood pressure. Another study showed that reducing personal exposure to PM by wearing a protective mask also showed small but consistent improvements in the heart rate variability in patients with coronary heart disease.
However, not every mask will provide you with the necessary protection. For example, the study from the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that ordinary cloth masks, which can be often seen on the streets in China, are not effective enough for adequate protection. They were only able to filter from 15% to 57% diesel combustion based particles.
Commonly used surgical masks, though proved to have higher filter efficiency, are not designed for filtering airborne contaminants, but to serve as a physical barrier against large particles such as wood dust or bodily fluids. Thus, they will also not shield you from the insidious PM.
Instead of throwing your money down the drain buying cloth or surgical masks, try to opt for a certified anti-pollution respirator. The process of certification is run by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which sets the standard and approval requirements for respiratory protective devices. Once passed, the respirator will be labeled with one of the letters: N, P, and R.
This class of respirators is not resistant to oil-based particles (such as fuel, paints, pesticides, solvents, etc. when sprayed or contained in aerosols). N-type respirators are able to filter a minimum of 95% (N95), 99% (N99), or 99.97% (N100) of oil-free airborne particles sized 0.3 microns or more. This type of masks will filter PM, dust, fumes, and protect you from bacteria and flu virus.
N95 is a minimum protection you should strive for when buying a mask to protect yourself from air pollution.
R-class respirators are somewhat resistant to oil-based pollutants and can filter out a minimum of 95%, 99%, or 99.97% of airborne particles based on their filtering efficiency.
P-class respirators are strongly resistant to oil and are mostly aimed at industrial use. They are also the most expensive.
A recent study has found that despite being NIOSH certified, ‘many commercially available face masks may not provide adequate protection, primarily due to poor facial fit.’ Out of 9 masks that claimed to protect against PM2.5, only one type tested showed the average total inward leakage of less than 10%.
A good seal is one of the essential qualities you should look for in the respirator. That is because if there are gaps between the mask and your face, it will create an inflow of polluted air compromising the mask’s effectiveness. This is the reason why men have to clean shave every time before applying the mask. Facial hair, even a small beard, makes it impossible to mold the mask to the face.
Take detailed measurements of your face before choosing the mask as many manufacturers now have different sizes available. Try to opt for the mask that can be either customized or has adjustable elements, such as metal nose bridge, stretchable straps, etc. These features will increase the chances of a good fit.
You can also choose between disposable and reusable respirators. The former should be changed regularly, sometimes every 2-3 days in case of poor air quality. Reusable masks are a more eco-friendly option as they can be washed and come with replaceable filters.
An exhalation valve or two is an extra useful feature for those who lead an active lifestyle. The valve creates a passage for the hot air to flow out of the mask and thus reduces the heat and eases breathing and speaking.
Many commercially available face masks may not provide adequate protection, primarily due to poor facial fit.
In summary, here are a few tips for choosing an anti-pollution respirator:
We have chosen 4 best anti-pollution respirators available on the market.
All of them are NIOSH certified and provide a high level of protection if used correctly.
Note that the given products offer no protection against chemicals, gases, or vapors, such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, etc. but only filter out dusts, fumes, and mists as well as larger particles (pollen, sawdust, pet fur).
Totobobo is one of the most lightweight masks available on the market. It weighs only 20 grams and is made of a non-toxic and rubber-free elastic material. Since it is so flexible, you can easily trim and shape the mask to customize it for yourself or even for your child.
It is always difficult to tell whether your mask is 100% sealed to prevent polluted airflow, so the company has patented its own ‘water-mark’ method to ensure the perfect seal. To check if there are no gaps between the face and the mask, wet your face with damp cotton. The surface of the mask will turn transparent when it touches wet skin and remain translucent in the gaps between the mask and the face. The seal is also ensured by a super elastic strap.
Totobobo mask is reusable. Since the mask is transparent, it is also easy to see when the filter needs to be changed. Generally, the filter must not be used longer than 2 weeks, or sooner if it turns half-gray. This is a more environmentally-friendly option since you will be changing the filters only, not the mask itself. Moreover, all the mask materials are recyclable.
The biggest drawback is that there is no exhaust valve. And some users noticed that the masks can lose its seal when the breathing increases. In the warm and humid climate, the absence of ventilation can lead to the condensation buildup inside of the mask.
You will also need some patience to reshape the mask to fit your face using a hair drier.
3M respirators are among the most popular anti-pollution masks. They are affordable, certified by the NIOSH, and known for their high efficiency (particle challenge results – 99% and quantitative fit test results over 95% for PM2.5). 3M respirators are disposable and cannot be washed. Apart from filtering pollutants, 3M masks are good at blocking off pollen or pet fur in case you’re suffering from a severe allergy.
3M has many models of N95 respirators, but this particular one 8511 is extra thick and features a metal nose bridge for a better fit and a Cool Flow Valve to reduce heat and fogging.
On the downside, the masks come in one size, and it might be hard to adapt them to your face. The straps are not adjustable, and some users find them to be too tight. The mask can also give off a chemical odor when new.
The respirator will be an excellent choice for short periods of use, for example, if you need to leave your hotel or apartment to grab something to eat, but it may get uncomfortable when worn for longer than an hour. Since these respirators are disposable, you need to always take a few spare respirators with you on the road.
Vogmask’s motto is ‘Thrive in Style.’ They create the widest variety of cute designs among the available anti-pollution masks proving that it can not only save your life but serve as a fashion accessory.
Vogmask is NIOSH certified and come with a carbon filter able to clear a minimum of 95% of airborne particles free of oils and reduce odors. You can choose between organic cotton or microfiber material as well as opt for a mask with one or two exhalation valves, or even without it. The valve is permanently heat sealed to the mask and is located on the side. So the mask can be folded in half and is easy to carry.
Vogmask is reusable, making it more environmentally friendly than average disposable masks. The filter is stitched into the fabric and lasts for 3-6 months depending on the pollution level. Vogmask is washable but needs diligent care to ensure the integrity of the valve. This is especially useful when traveling as the mask won’t take much space and you don’t need to carry a stash of replaceable filters with you.
The mask features a metal flexible nose strip and stretchable ear loops for a secure seal. As a disadvantage, the straps are not adjustable, and you may be forced to buy an additional head strap for a better seal. Moreover, they may be slightly tight and may hurt your ears after prolonged use.
The users have noticed that the sizing may differ from the one stated in the measurement table and the mask if often too small then it’s supposed to be. It may also give off the unpleasant smell at first.
Protect Lifedust masks are NIOSH approved and fall under the N95 class, which means that they are able to filter out up to 95% of the airborne oil-free particles larger than 0.3 microns. They closely resemble their main competitors 3M but are slightly cheaper and less known. Protect Life masks are not washable and should be replaced whenever it becomes hard to breathe in.
All masks feature an exhalation valve preventing excess moisture buildup and fogging. It also makes breathing and speaking in the mask more comfortable when compared to an average mask without the valve. The masks come in one size, but thanks to the adjustable nosepiece with nose foam and secure fastening straps, you can adapt the mask to your face shape to assure the secure fit.
The masks are good value for money and can provide reliable protection for your lungs if used properly.
There might be a slight chemical smell out of the box. If you’re wearing glasses, be prepared for a bit of condensation. A high pointed nose can also interfere with the glasses or other protective equipment.
How often do you use an anti-pollution respirator?
Share your story in the comments!
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