Focus on fit, fabric, functionality when choosing a mask

More rinks are requiring masks to help stop the spread of COVID-19, but how do you know which mask is best for skating? 

By Tenley Brownwright

More rinks are requiring masks to help stop the spread of COVID-19, but how do you know which mask is best for skating?

Focus on the 3 Fs: Fit, Fabric and Functionality

Fit: A good mask should fit tight to a skater’s face, from the top of the nose to the bottom of the chin, forming a seal around the cheeks. You may need to adjust the straps or ear loops. This improves both the efficiency of the mask (better filtering) and helps it stay secure during jumps and spins. Masks come in many styles, including flat-fold, 3D and dome. Pick the one that fits your face well and is comfortable.

Fabric: An ideal mask should be both breathable and be highly filtering. Look for tightly woven fabric that passes the light test: You should not be able to see light through the fibers of a mask. Skaters may prefer synthetic or synthetic-blend layers rather than 100 percent cotton. A great option to maximize filtration and breathability is a cotton-synthetic blend, or a cotton inner layer and a synthetic outer layer. Avoid stretchy fabrics, which may lose efficiency as they stretch out during exercise, as well as masks with vents (these are often marketed as pollution, smog or allergy masks), which allow unfiltered air back into the rink.

Functionality: Masks present a special challenge when skating, especially for spins, jumps and synchronized skating. Try these trouble-shooting tips:

  • Feel like you’re sucking the mask in when breathing? Try a different fit, like a 3D or dome style instead of a flat mask. Disposable masks, which get wet easily, can exacerbate the feeling of struggling to breathe while exercising. Remember, though wearing a mask during exercise can make it feel like you are working harder to breathe, it is safe for most skaters older than 2. 
  • Mask not secure? Try an alternate type of strap (ear loops vs. ties) and clip the straps to the hair. You can also try a neck buff or gaiter instead of a traditional mask.
  • Mask sliding up? Try a moldable nose piece — you can make your own out of a pipe cleaner, twist tie, or piece of wire.
  • Glasses fogging? Improve mask fit by tightening straps or inserting a nose piece. You can also try skin-safe tape at the top edge of the mask or anti-fogging spray.
  • Too hot or sweaty? Experiment with different fabrics.  
  • Feeling tired or light-headed while wearing the mask? Take a break to remove your mask (standing away from others). Your body will adapt to wearing a mask while exercising and it will become easier the more you practice. Slowly increase the intensity of your workouts to adjust to wearing the mask. If you are concerned about how the mask makes you feel while exercising, talk you your personal physician.

Finally, make sure you’re practicing good habits with your new mask. 

Mask hygiene tips:

  • Replace a sweaty mask with a fresh one. You may need multiple masks for one session, especially if you are opting for a disposable mask.
  • Treat your mask like a used tissue. Immediately discard of used disposable masks or place cloth masks in a dedicated plastic bag until you can wash at home.
  • Never share a mask with a friend.
  • Remove/adjust your mask only by the straps (not the front).
  • After removing your mask, use hand sanitizer or wash your hands.
  • Wash your mask in hot water and lots of soap after every practice.

You may need to work up to wearing a mask on the ice. That’s OK. If you need to remove your mask for a break, including to take a drink or use a tissue, make sure you’re away from others. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after removing and replacing your mask.

Remember, the best mask is the one that you will wear. Experiment until you find the one that’s right for you!

Click here for advice on the use of face masks in the context of COVID-19 (World Health Organization).

Tenley Brownwright has been a coach and skater for 27 years and is an infectious disease epidemiologist. Dr. Kristin Abbott reviewed this article. She’s a volunteer team physician for U.S. Figure Skating and the Chair of the Sports Science and Medicine Committee.

This article is for informational purposes only. You should follow guidelines in your local area regarding the use of masks when preventing the spread of COVID-19.