The 3M Aura N95 Mask Is the Most Comfortable Respirator I've Tried

 Lightweight and breathable, I can wear this NIOSH-approved N95 mask all day.

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N95-Mask-Review
Photo: Courtesy of Merchant

As someone waiting out this "Age of Omicron" in a dense urban area, I've been through a few brands of N95 respirators. While I'm thankful that they're mostly available to shop online and for the security they provide, I've often found them difficult to breathe in, especially in already-cramped situations like the subway and gym. However, in my research for a story on NIOSH-Approved N95 masks, I stumbled upon a respirator that was continuously described by shoppers as "breathable." With my interest piqued, I decided to purchase the 3M Aura Particulate Respirator N95 in a pack of 20 on Amazon.

Included in the CDC's list of NIOSH-approved respirators, the 3M Aura N95 mask has a curved, dome-like design that directs exhaled air away from the nose panel (a perk for glasses wearers) and securely fits to the face without leaving any gaps thanks to seal-like edges. It's also constructed with three layers of protection that are soft against skin and accommodate movement, preventing friction and irritation. Like most N95 masks, it also features overhead loops (rather than ear loops), an adjustable nose clip, and a chin tab that stays in place even while talking. But one of the most important features of this N95 is that it filters out at least 95% of airborne particles and offers more protection than surgical and cloth masks.

To buy: 3M Aura Particulate Respirator N95, $45 for 20; amazon.com

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that well-fitting N95 respirators approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) offer the highest level of protection against COVID-19 and its newest variant, Omicron. These masks are made from "multiple layers of material that block 95% of 0.3 micron particles," Julie Chen, MD, an integrative medicine physician who is board-certified in internal medicine, previously told Health. "Coronavirus is even smaller, at 0.1 microns, but are typically bound to something larger (like droplets), so it's purported to be 95% protective," she added.

What's more, these respirators go through rigorous testing, examining factors like porosity and filter thickness, and have to meet certifications established by NIOSH, according to the CDC. And while you're getting a high level of peace of mind while wearing N95 masks, there's just one problem I've found: They're not very comfortable. But, stay with me, because this is where the 3M Aura N95 mask really sets itself apart from the pack.

During my first time wearing it, I noticed that the mask felt lighter than others. While other masks felt tight against my mouth and pinched my nose, this N95 extended away from my face in a way that made me feel like I was wearing nothing at all. Even after a full day of wear—from the subway to the office to the grocery store—my mask stayed securely on my face without slipping. Best of all, I could actually breathe. The air coming through the mask felt fresh and crisp, and, unlike other N95s I tried, I didn't experience the claustrophobic sensation of hot air trapped against my face. I ended my day with a treadmill jog at my local gym, and was shocked to find I could even breathe with this mask on during cardio without huffing and puffing.

This may all sound too good to be true, but multiple Amazon shoppers share my opinion, with more than 4,000 people giving it a five-star rating. "The room to breathe without anything touching your mouth is great," wrote one reviewer. "At first, when I put it on, it feels clunky like a big bandage on my face, and then I quickly practically forget it. Now that this level of protection is more universally recommended, I feel really safe wearing it."

Other customers shared that they, too, find it breathable to wear all day. "The unexpected fabulous feature is that this material is so easy to breathe through, both [to] inhale and exhale," another added. "But, that I can be active all day, in potentially very germy environments, and breathe comfortably, I cannot rave about these enough. I believe these are the best you can get."When it comes to finding a protective face mask, safety comes first. However, thanks to my favorite 3M Aura N95 mask, that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice comfort. If you're in need of a NIOSH-approved N95 mask that's truly breathable, check this one out on Amazon.

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