2022's hottest trend is buying a better face mask

Cloth masks do offer some protection against COVID-19 variants — but high-filtration masks are a much better choice.

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The omicron variant: the viral craze that’s sweeping the nation. Maybe you’ve had it already — but if not, you probably know someone who has. We don’t know all that much about the latest COVID-19 variant, but we do know it’s extremely contagious. And that cloth face mask you’ve been wearing for years now isn’t helping as much as you think it is.

Experts are saying disposable surgical masks — those pleated blue ones you can buy in bulk at the pharmacy — offer better protection from the omicron variant. Doubling up on those, or wearing a cloth mask over one, can be a good choice for many. But N95 or KN95 masks are the best, research shows.

Leana Wen, an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management, says this isn’t really a new directive. The advice has been handed down from health professionals for many months now — the fast spread of the omicron variant has just made it more pressing. The good news: N95 and KN95 masks are much easier to come by now. Best to skip the cyberpunk and go straight for the real deal.

Go for high filtration — High-filtration masks like N95s and KN95s offer significantly more protection than cloth masks and surgical masks do. These are guaranteed to filter out up to 95 percent of airborne particles. Surgical masks, on the other hand, don’t need to meet any sort of filtration standard, and they’re not fitted enough to offer such high levels of protection.

Cloth masks have grown popular because they’re convenient to wash and reuse. But reusing N95 masks is totally fine, too, according to Dr. Abraar Karan, who has been researching COVID-19 transmission for nearly two years. Buying just a pack or two should keep you going for quite a while.

Still a chance for style — Face masks, once thought to be a temporary public health measure, are now an integral part of life around the world. They allow us to see our loved ones and complete necessary tasks like food shopping without sacrificing the health of ourselves and others.

Another reason cloth masks have become so popular: they’re very customizable. We can use them as accessories to show off our personalities and pretend they’re just another casual part of the outfit. And brands love them, too. A great way to capitalize on a years-long public health event that’s killed millions around the world.

N95 and KN95 masks, while less visually interesting for the most part, do at least come in different colors. Grab a few options to match with various outfits and soon enough you’ll forget you ever felt protected by those dinky cloth masks.