Clear or Transparent Face Masks – the facts

If you’re looking for a face mask that will allow you to communicate effectively the ideal option may be to use a clear face mask or one with a transparent panel. The extensive use of face masks has an especially negative impact on those who are hard of hearing, have learning disabilities, speech difficulties, autism, dementia, or for whom English is a second language, there’s no substitute for seeing the expressions on people’s faces when you’re trying to communicate.

While lip-readers are exempt from face mask wearing, communicating with the rest of the world might be difficult if you wear an opaque mask. Lip reading is impossible with the typical face coverings. 

A solution to this problem is the use of clear face masks, sometimes known as transparent face masks.

However, a typical complaint about these masks is that they can soon get steamed up, making it difficult to see someone’s mouth. We were told by a hearing-loss charity that some individuals do find them useful for communication despite the fact that they continue to suppress sound. Research from a leading hearing loss charity and a disability and mental health organization, asked individuals to share their personal experiences with clear face masks.

Types of clear face mask

There seem to be two distinct transparent face masks:

Masks with clear panels and face shields

Fabric masks with a translucent panel woven in allow you to view the wearer’s mouth while wearing a clear mask. Other than that, it’s a completely transparent mask (the Clear Mask). Others said they preferred a completely clear mask, since the translucent ones still obscured part of the face and didn’t go far enough to facilitate communication, according to several users.

However, face shields are better for eyesight than particle dispersion reduction. You’ve probably seen them in hospitality situations since they provide decent visibility and may be pleasant to wear. However, they’re not the best answer because when used alone without a mask, they’ve demonstrated to be ineffective at stopping particle escape.

In situations when lip-reading is required for communication, it’s helpful to know that a mask is not required if you are exempt. People with disabilities who find it difficult to put on, take off, or otherwise interact with a mask are also excused from the rule. There are badges that can be worn on public transportation to explain why you aren’t wearing a mask.

But, it’s important to remember that a transparent face mask gives far more protection than a simple shield with it’s inherent ‘spilling’ issues.

When shopping for a clear face mask, consider the following based on customer feedback:

Clear panel steaming up

In the vast majority of the comments we got, the transparent panel fogging or steaming up was cited as the most prevalent issue. Anti-fog or moisture-resistant coatings and materials can be found in certain transparent face masks, like the Stealth Clarity Mask. Misting or condensation is more prone to form on transparent vinyl that isn’t laminated. There were a variety of suggestions, such as using dish soap, shaving foam, or an anti-fogging spray (a couple of people suggested a spray that is used on motorbike helmets). But the feedback we got indicated that these are just short-term fixes and that misting up is likely if you wear the mask for a lengthy period of time.

Breathability

Plastic is less permeable than cloth, which might cause the mask to get hot and humid. Check to see whether you can breathe easily in it before taking it out and about since the plastic may make it more difficult. To avoid the danger of infection, you should replace your mask if it is accumulating a lot of humidity.

One mask that allows you to breathe very easily is the Stealth Clarity Face Mask.

Construction

The effectiveness of these masks in removing particles remains a major unanswered subject. We’re not sure since we haven’t put them to the test yet. A basic barrier is provided, but the stiffness of the panel, which may affect fit to the face, and how it affects ventilation, are likely to be the most critical challenges. However, you may take the following measures to protect yourself:

Look for any cracks or flaws in the transparent panel that might allow microscopic particles to enter the mask. The translucent panel and the fabric must be overlapped and bonded securely.

Some customers complained that the plastic panel was excessively firm, preventing the mask from molding to their faces and preventing them from wearing it comfortably. Others noted that the plastic shattered after a few usages if it was too hard. There aren’t any specific criteria for transparent face masks, therefore the quality may vary widely. The majority of these masks are created by smaller vendors and grassroots organizations.

Washing

Some appreciated that the transparent panel could be wiped clean and sanitized, and then the mask could be washed by hand to clean the fabric. People generally experienced better washing results when using clean water as anything else can, and did, leave marks and detract from the mask panel clarity.

But bear in mind that just wearing a piece of fabric or cloth over your face isn’t enough protection, particularly for those with a disability.

Where can you buy clear face masks and what is the quality like?

Our interviewees who had purchased transparent masks for personal use from a range of sources had a wide variety of alternatives to choose from. It’s always a good idea to do some research before purchasing anything from an online marketplace, since quality may vary greatly. There seemed to be a lot of home-made masks on platforms like Etsy and Facebook and a significant choice on Amazon and Ebay. But be careful, but be wary as many are of sub standard quality: the cotton or fabric was weak and/or flimsy with no noticeable ability to stop bacteria, despite the claims being made. And as we mentioned above the plastic panels are either too flimsy and get very misty (permanently), very quickly.

Our favourite, and the most effective is, of course, the Stealth Clarity Mask. Rated at FFP3, this mask stops up to 99.99% of all particles including bacteria. The Clarity Mask is made using HEPAC filter technology that besides giving superior filtering performance, affords some of the lowest breathing resistance in the industry. It’s latex free and the clear panel is anti-fog so it won’t steam up on you. The clear panel is also splash resistant so you’re less likely to get water stains and external marking.

The Clarity face mask is being used by practitioners and private individuals alike and feedback so far is extremely positive.

You can see the mask, on the Stealth mask website here

Do clear face masks help with communication?

While some individuals may find it impossible or very difficult to speak while wearing an opaque mask, the degree to which a transparent mask improves communication seems to be type-dependent. For short-term solutions and for improved communication, transparent masks were shown to be more preferable than opaque masks. Aside from these characteristics, the degree of satisfaction was highly reliant on how much the mask fogged up and how comfortable it was to wear.

A few people told us it was simpler to use a conventional cloth mask and momentarily remove it from the back of the ear when it was necessary to converse. Clear masks, on the other hand, may be more vital in schools and hospital settings where constant communication is required. Healthcare facilities may employ the Clear Mask in particular circumstances during a pandemic, as permitted by the Health and Safety Executive. Patients can request that these masks be worn during visits (subject to availability).

How to aid communication when using a face mask?

For people with hearing loss and those who communicate with them, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) provides a communication card with the following suggestions:

  • Don’t shout and speak plainly
  • Move to a quieter location
  • Jot down your thoughts
  • Make use of only a few hand movements
  • With hearing aids, you can use assistive devices like microphones on remote devices

More clarity needed on see-through masks

Despite recent vaccination advancements, more has to be done to increase awareness about mask-induced communication issues and to establish quality requirements for clear face masks. 

There are now some relatively clear government guidelines and specifications for transparent face masks that will enable potential purchasers to make better decisions. You can read it here.

Conclusion

Our favourite, and the most effective is, of course, the Stealth Clarity Mask. Rated at FFP3, this mask stops up to 99.99% of all particles including bacteria. The Clarity Mask is made using HEPAC filter technology that besides giving superior filtering performance, affords some of the lowest breathing resistance in the industry. It’s latex free and the clear panel is anti-fog so it won’t steam up on you. The clear panel is also splash resistant so you’re less likely to get water stains and external marking.

The Clarity face mask is being used by practitioners and private individuals alike and feedback so far is extremely positive.

You can see the mask, on the Stealth mask website here

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