Face Shields vs. Masks

Which is more effective?

Face shield vs. face mask – which is better? Face shield vs. face mask – which is better?

Ever since we started making face shields we’ve been asked numerous times, “Which is better: a face mask or a face shield?”

Masks and shields protect differently

Let’s start with this fact: While both face shields and masks work to protect you from airborne particles, they do so in different ways. When you wear a mask, you are protecting others from your droplets. The mask keeps your droplets in. When you wear a face shield, you are protecting yourself from other people’s droplets. The face shield keeps other people’s droplets out.

In a research study published in the NIH’s National Library of Medicine, the study’s authors found that wearing a face shield reduced the inhalation of virus-laden droplets by as much as 96%, offering significant protection to the wearer. However, these results are for larger droplets (8.5 micrometer diameter) sprayed by a sneeze, cough, or breath.

Smaller droplets can aerosolize and linger in the air for much longer. And indeed, the same study found that the protective effects of a face shield are reduced for small (3.4 micrometer diameter) aerosolized droplets, in part because they are open on three sides: After a cough the face shield blocked 68% of aerosol droplets, and as much as 30 minutes later it blocked only 23% of aerosols. Of course, some masks also let aerosols in. Common surgical masks and cloth masks let in various degrees of aerosols, while others, like the medical-grade N95 mask, block virtually all aerosol droplets from entering.

The Benefits of Face Shields

While there are pros to wearing both face shields and masks, let’s take a look at some of the benefits you’ll get from wearing a face shield.

Face shields protect the eyes
There is growing evidence that COVID-19 may be transferred through the mucous membranes in the eyes, as discussed in this article in JAMA Opthalmology from the Journal of the American Medical Association. Face shields prevent droplets from entering the eyes, offering significant protection against the risk of ocular contagion.

Better communication
One downside of the face mask is that it makes verbal communications more muffled and harder to understand. Clear face shields aid discussion by allowing the listener to see the speaker’s mouth. This is helpful in loud environments like a factory floor, and is particularly essential for communicating with the hearing impaired.

Impossible to wear incorrectly
Unlike face masks, which are frequently worn incorrectly below the nose or (yikes!) below the chin, face shields are almost impossible to wear incorrectly. Put it over your head, and done!

Reusable and cleanable
Face shields are universally reusable and cleanable for extensive repeat use, making them a great value for the money. Our AmeriShield face shields can be safely cleaned with bleach (or Clorox wipes), ammonia (or Lysol wipes), peroxide, or soapy water, without streaking or discoloring. While some cloth masks can be washed, and N95 masks can be sterilized, many masks used, including the common surgical mask, need to be discarded right after use.

Face shields don’t touch the face
One of the transmission risks with masks is when wearers constantly touch them to adjust them or to take them off. This risks virus particles transferring from the mask to the hands, and then to any surface those hands touch. Face shields don’t touch the face, and don’t require constant adjustment. And even when you need to touch a face shield, you’re usually touching the strap and the foam part around the forehead, not any area that has been directly breathed upon, reducing the risk of transmission to hands and surfaces.

Breathe freely
A common complaint about face masks is that they interfere with breathing. While study after study has shown that wearing a face mask does not impact oxygen levels in the blood, it is true that in certain environments–especially exercise–a face mask makes breathing a more strenuous act (not to mention hot). Face shields, which don’t touch the face and are open on three sides, don’t impact breathing at all and keep you cool, making them a great option for protection during exercise.

You forget you’re wearing one
When you wear a mask, you know you’re wearing one–you feel it with every breath. One final advantage of a face shield is that if you’re wearing the right face shield, they are so comfortable that you forget you’re wearing them. Our AmeriShield face shields are super lightweight and made of optical grade OPE polycarbonate, which doesn’t distort the vision at all. They wrap comfortably around the forehead, and their lightweight design lets you forget you’re even wearing one. And our clear OPE shield material allows you to comfortably work at a computer all day without additional eye strain.

So which is better: Face shields or masks?
Here’s the punch line: Science has not proven that face shields are safer than face masks. Face shields offer proven protection, as do masks…they just do it differently. Our recommendation for maximum protection? Wear both a face shield and a face mask. We believe that our own experience at our factory shows the efficacy of wearing proper PPE.

Ever since the start of the pandemic, everyone at AmeriShield (and our sister companies BookBaby, Disc Makers, and Merchly) has been required to wear a face mask and a face shield in our building–both in the factory and those office staffers who could not work remotely. We are located in New Jersey, an early epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis in the US, and while we had a couple of early Coronavirus cases among the 200 or so daily employees in our facility, we saw zero spread of the virus inside our facility, thanks to frequent sanitizing, social distancing, and our mask + shield PPE policy.

Masks protect. Face shields protect. For the best protection in high-risk environments–air travel, medical facilities, and enclosed environments–wear both. And in those environments where masks pose a challenge (e.g. working with the hearing impaired), face shields provide significant protection.

Click here to see our AmeriShield face shield product options.