What’s the verdict from the clear mask trial?

By Lucy Adam
Campaigns Lead at Barnwood Trust

If you are a supporter of the Let’s Be Clear campaign, you will know that we have been trialling a number of reusable clear face masks – some homemade, some from different shops on Etsy and others that we stumbled across online or were recommended to us.

At the beginning of the campaign we were acutely aware that there wasn’t much information about clear masks; which ones work best, how to look after them or even where to get them.  Other UK campaigning organisations were saying the same.  So, we decided to investigate.  A few of our campaign partners tried a selection of masks and produced blogs with their feedback, these are summarised below – to help inform your decision about which clear face mask to try for yourself, based on the information we know right now.

Feedback from our mask trial – a snapshot

At Barnwood Trust, of the five clear masks we trialled, two came out on top.  The mask by Molly Watt Trust was good for comfort and the size of the window, although it did feel a bit roomy around the chin. The other was by Craft Masks Design which was comfortable, snug fitting around the face and people seemed to respond well to it. But, all of the testers agreed that wearing a clear face mask made a difference and it was a great opportunity to raise awareness of hidden disabilities and communication difficulties. Read Barnwood’s full review here.

Gloucestershire Deaf Association took nine masks to trial. One of the team trialled a couple of different types and said that the mask by StitchedByEmmaLouise was really comfortable to wear and she would definitely recommend it to family and friends.  Overall, however, for GDA (Gloucestershire Deaf Association) the search is still on for the perfect mask for effective lip reading and usability.  GDA also wanted to reiterate the messages of the Let’s Be Clear campaign, that a clear face mask is a great start in making communication easier, but there are also lots of other ways we can helpRead GDA’s full review here.

Inclusion Gloucestershire had three masks that they favoured from the trial. They liked the washable clear facemask from School Smart, saying it was quite comfortable and made their smile visible! They also liked the clear mask from Craft Masks Design and the Friendly Facemask.  They also commented that the majority of their Quality Checking team at Inclusion Gloucestershire have lived experience of disability and so face to face communications are greatly enhanced with clear masks.  Read Inclusion Gloucestershire’s full review here.

The University of Gloucestershire thought that the clear masks made a noticeable difference to students who rely on lip reading for communication.  They didn’t feel that the designs they tried were hugely practical for teaching and speaking for long periods of time, but they did make communicating easier once they had overcome the fogging issue.  Overall, their preferred mask was from the Friendly Facemask, but the hunt continues for a really snug-fitting and effective clear face mask for staff and students.  Read the University of Gloucestershire’s full review here.

Age UK Gloucestershire trialled nine mask designs but definitely had one that they preferred by Craft Masks Design. On testing day, they wore it for a few hours during which they conducted home visits, went shopping and went to the theatre, as well as an eye appointment.  Overall, they reported a very positive experience of wearing the clear face mask and felt that it made communicating with the older people they interact with a lot easier.  Read Age UK Gloucestershire’s full review here.

Not every organisation tried every mask, so this is just a snapshot.  But what is clear from the feedback overall is that different people prefer different masks in different settings.

What else do we know right now?

The Let’s Be Clear partners have also contributed to the Which? article about clear face masks which was published last week and you can access free here. The Which? top tips for buying or making a clear mask include checking the clear panel is sewn in securely and that the fit around your face is good for breathability, as well as suggesting dishwashing liquid, shaving foam or specific anti-fogging spray to reduce steaming up (we know that toothpaste is a good solution too!).  They also note that thorough washing is possible if care is taken not to fold or bend the panel in the process.

We have found a few other points to consider when choosing a mask.  In this article, which is quite useful in terms of mask safety generally, they advise that a clear panel mask has a snug seal at the fabric part around the face (because aerosols are pushed to the outer edges).  We have also heard that busy patterns on the fabric can be distracting, and 2 or 3 fabric-layers of cloth are preferable in a standard fabric mask so it may be worth looking for this in a non-clear mask too.

We are mindful that organisations looking to change to clear panel masks will have specific requirements and safety measures they need to adhere to.  One suggestion in the Which? article is to have a clear panel mask to hand, so you can swap for a period of time to aid communication. The consensus certainly seems to be that clear panel masks are preferable to clear visors for this.  It is also widely recognised that medical grade masks form an effective barrier, so these adapted medical grade masks may be a good option for some settings.

What next?

V-Day has arrived, but mask-wearing is likely to be necessary a little while longer.  We feel that more rigorous testing on the effectiveness of reusable and disposable clear panel masks are urgently needed.  Which? says, “More needs to be done to improve awareness around mask-induced communication difficulties, and to set quality parameters for clear face masks,”  backing up organisations like the RNID and the National Deaf Children’s Society who are calling on the government to develop guidelines so that mass produced coverings with clear panels can be more widely used.

We don’t have the answers, but we hope this round-up is useful to get you started in seeking out the best clear mask options for your needs.

If you have any feedback or insights you would like to share with us about wearing clear panel face masks to improve communication, we would love to hear from you.  Get in touch via lucy.adam@barnwoodtrust.org