They're made with lightweight and sweat-wicking materials that keep you cool while meeting CDC guidelines.

By Braelyn Wood
Updated July 22, 2020
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Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended everyone wear a face mask in public to slow the spread of coronavirus. The guidelines caused a surge in demand for face masks, which brands met by launching their own variations of the new daily essential—and it quickly became clear not every mask was the same.

Depending on the construction of the mask, it fell away from your face or hugged it tightly. Some designs caused pesky behind-the-ear irritation, while others left skin inflamed and acne-prone. But the worst offenders were masks created with thick fabrics that barely allowed any airflow, turning your breath into a blazing furnace. 

Luckily, there’s a revolution of breathable face masks that take into account high summer temperatures. These designs use lightweight or sweat-wicking fabrics that don’t restrict airflow to keep you cool and comfortable during hours of wear. They also come in less traditional constructions—like scarves—that expand the surface area of fabric filtering your breath to prevent heat from building up around your mouth and nose. 

There is one downside to these breathable picks: They typically offer less filtration, and according to Purvi Parikh, MD, an allergist with Allergy & Asthma Network and clinical assistant professor at the Department of Medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, this could increase your chances of contracting COVID-19 or an upper respiratory infection. However, she says, “a breathable mask is still better than no mask.”

It’s also worth noting most cloth face coverings won’t prevent you from contracting the novel coronavirus. (Only an N95 design, which should be reserved for medical professionals, provides that level of protection.) Rather, face masks prevent the wearer from infecting others when asymptomatic, making it just as important a precaution as social distancing and washing your hands. 

“Surgical masks and cloth coverings can reduce viral transmission by 70% if everyone wears them and wears them correctly over [their] nose and mouth,” Dr. Parikh adds, emphasizing the importance of not only wearing a mask, but wearing it properly.

As a result, if you’re wearing a mask with added layers of filtration but keep dropping it to your chin for a breath of fresh air, you’re better off opting for a more breathable choice. Not only are they more comfortable, so you fidget with them less, but many are also lightweight enough to wear during outdoor workouts. Shop our top breathable face masks below.

1. EnerPlex Premium Face Mask

Credit: Amazon

You won’t have to compromise protection for breathability with EnerPlex’s premium face mask. They’re designed with 3 layers of fabric—including 2 layers of cotton and a polyester exterior—that not only keeps virus droplets from escaping but prevents you from overheating. Already a favorite of hundreds of reviewers, the reusable face mask has stretchy ear loops and comes in 4 different sizes to ensure it properly fits your face.

Available at amazon.com, 3 for $19

2. Koral Netz Face Mask

Credit: Koral

J.Lo-approved activewear brand Koral launched its first face mask last month with a sleek design that maximizes comfort and breathability. It’s made with the brand’s unique Netz performance fabric, an antimicrobial blend of polyamide and spandex that’s fast-drying, stretchy, and breathable. The machine-washable pick is expected to ship August 15.

Available at koral.com, $20

3. VTER Cotton Breathing Mask

Credit: Amazon

Amazon reviewers couldn’t stop raving about how easy it is to breathe wearing these affordable masks. They’re made with a blend of 35% cotton and 65% polyester that blocks dust, dirt, and pollen while also absorbing excess moisture. Better yet, reviewers agree the fabric is extra soft—and it’s even used to craft the ear loops to prevent uncomfortable behind-the-ear irritation.

Available at amazon.com, 5 for $20

4. Onzie Mindful Mask

Credit: Onzie

Activewear brand Onzie also repurposed its performance fabric into a form-fitting face mask that allows airflow and wicks away moisture to keep the environment under your mask comfortable. Safe to wear solo or as an additional N95 mask cover, the popular pick is hand-wash only—but reviewers don’t mind. They say it’s the “best mask” they’ve purchased during the pandemic.

Available at onzie.com, 2 for $24

5. NxtStop

Credit: Amazon

Bamboo fabric is well-known for its sweat-wicking and cooling properties, which has made it into a summer bedroom staple. So it’s no surprise that now the breathable fabric is being used to create one of the Internet’s comfiest face masks: the Nxtstop Bamboo Face Mask. Launched in April, it’s double-layered, odor-resistant, and anti-wrinkle, with design elements like adjustable ear straps and a nose wire that ensure a proper fit (i.e. a key part of staying protected).

Available at amazon.com or thenxtstop.com, $10

6. StringKing 3-Layer Face Mask

Credit: String King

By focusing on disposable designs, brands can incorporate less durable fabrics into their creations that are often more lightweight. These single-use masks fit the bill with 3 layers of protection, including melt-blown and spun-bound polypropylene, that offer filtration with breathability. They also feature an adjustable wire nose piece and elastic ear bands. Shop them in a box of 50, a case of 1,000, a half-pallet of 24,000, or a pallet of 48,000. They’re available in white and blue.

Available at stringking.com, 50 for $38

7. The Purple Face Mask

Credit: Purple

Science-backed sleep company Purple repurposed pieces of its pillows to create an unbelievably soft face mask you’ll actually want to wear. It borrows moisture-wicking Breeze mesh, an unbelievably soft fabric with plenty of airflow, from the brand’s Harmony Pillow to create the face covering. It then takes temperature-neutral Hyper-Elastic Polymer from the ergonomic neck-support Purple Pillow to create shape-holding elastic ear loops that won’t chafe your ears. The result is a lightweight, machine-washable option that promises the same level of comfort as the rest of the brand’s lineup.

Available at purple.com, 2 for $20

8. Sanctuary Summer Lightweight PPE Masks

Credit: Sanctuary

Sanctuary Clothing released its first cloth face masks earlier this year and quickly attracted celebrity fans like Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas. Now the brand is evolving its PPE and mask line to include limited-edition summer masks. The new lightweight style emphasizes breathability, with a 2-layer design made from cotton and muslin fabric in fun tropical prints. Expected to ship the week of August 3, they’re made with an adjustable nose wire and elastic ear loops.

Available at sanctuaryclothing.com, 5 for $28

9. Reebok Face Covers

Credit: Reebok

Reebok is encouraging shoppers to share pictures on Instagram of themselves sporting its reusable mask—and the style has been spotted everywhere from the gym to the outdoor track. That’s because the lightweight pick is all about comfort and breathability. It’s tight-fitting for full coverage with fabric ear loops to prevent behind-the-ear chafing. Between its 93% recycled polyester fabric and washable design, it’s also eco-friendly. 

Available at reebok.com, 3 for $20

10. Perry Ellis Woven Face Mask

These affordable face masks from Perry Ellis hit all the necessary requirements: reusable, machine washable, and breathable. Sold in packs of 6, they have a built-in pocket for insertable filters, as well as adjustable ear loops to help you find the perfect fit. Like others on the list, they’re also made of 100 percent cotton and come in fun prints—like embroidered cacti and polka dots. That means they’ll appease your inner fashionista as much as your inner athlete.

Available at amazon.com, 6 for $30

11. Vida Protective Mask

Credit: Vida

This lightweight mask combines breathability and protection into one reusable design. It’s made with 2 layers of 100% cotton material sewn into a form-fitting mask with a pocket for optional filters. You can increase your protection by slipping in an optional PM2.5 filter—made with a meltblown polymer filter and carbon activated fabric—or skip it altogether for unrestricted airflow.  The standout design also has adjustable cotton ear straps, so you can avoid painful behind-the-ear-irritation.

Available at shopvida.com, $10

12. Everlane The 100% Human Face Mask

Credit: Everlane

Meghan Markle-approved brand Everlane first launched its face masks back in April, but gave them a colorful upgrade last week with a new tie-dye design. Luckily, the new release doesn’t just look like summer, but is actually ideal for hot weather, too. It’s made from 100% cotton that’s safe to wash and gentle to the touch. Better yet, a portion of all proceeds from each mask purchase goes to the ACLU.

Available at everlane.com, $10

13. Old Navy Triple-Layer Face Mask

Credit: Old Navy

The Old Navy masks have received mixed reviews from customers that claim they’re perhaps too lightweight—but that’s ideal for some shoppers that dislike the oppressive feel of other options. The budget-friendly find is made with 100% cotton that’s machine-washable, and the masks also come in child sizes

Available at oldnavy.com, 5 for $13

14. Etsy Face Masks

Credit: Etsy

Breathable face masks are such a hot commodity right now that Etsy launched an entire section devoted to the lightweight alternatives. There are more than 73,000 results from sellers around the world—and the top pick is from ToughCookingClothing. It’s made with a soft cotton-blend material that comes in 10 colors, from a light purple to a burgundy. Shoppers say it’s comfortable, durable, and affordable.

Available at etsy.com, $6

15. Athleta Made to Move Mask

Credit: Athleta

Similar to other activewear companies, Athleta developed its newest face mask specifically for getting your sweat on. Lightweight enough for high-intensity workouts, it’s made with 2 layers of breathable fabric, including a spandex and polyester blend outer and soft mesh inner. Not only will you breathe easier when wearing it, but you can expect the mask to stay firmly in place thanks to a contoured cut and flexible plastic boning along the center seam of the mask. It’s currently available for pre-order and expected to ship on August 3.

Available at athleta.com, 3 for $25

16. UA Sportmask

Credit: Under Armour

Under Armour spent months developing a face mask suitable for working out—and the final design hits all the right notes. Made with the brand’s signature performance materials, it provides the perfect mix of airflow, protection, and structure. The outer shell is made of a water-resistant ventilated fabric, the inner layer has an anti-microbial layer to prevent bacterial growth, and the lining and ear straps use UA Iso-Chill fabric to stay cool to the touch. Naturally, a mask this good is in high demand and already sold out—but you can pre-order now for an expected September 14 shipment.

Available at underarmour.com, $30

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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