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Face Mask vs. Face Shield: Which Is More Effective?

Seeing More Face Shields Lately? We Asked Experts Exactly Who Should Wear One

Supermarket and retail.

By now, you know what a face mask looks like and how it's worn, but what about face shields? Are these firm, plastic face covers just as helpful for curbing the spread of COVID-19? And if so, is it wise — or even necessary — for you to wear one?

"Face shields are often worn by healthcare professionals as a double layer of protection over a mask, usually when performing an aerosol-generating procedure, which is considered higher risk of getting COVID-19 particles in the air," Natasha Bhuyan, MD, physician and regional medical director at One Medical, told POPSUGAR. "Face shields are helpful as they provide eye protection, which a face mask alone cannot provide. Additionally, face shields not only contain particles in case the wearer has COVID-19 but also shield the wearer from particles if they are around people who are not wearing masks."

So, do you need to buy a face shield? Probably not, but if it makes you feel safer, go for it. "Currently, for the general public, the best guidance is for people to wear a standard face mask rather than a face shield," Dr. Bhuyan said. David Erstein, MD, a New York board-certified allergist and immunologist working with Advanced Dermatology PC, agreed. "Using a face shield if you are not a health professional examining airways on the regular is probably overkill," he said. "As long as we listen to the guidelines, socially distance, and wear our masks, we lower our risk substantially."

Andres Romero, MD, an infectious-disease specialist at Providence Saint John's Health Centre in Santa Monica, CA, also urged prioritising a mask over a shield. "It is key to cover mouth and nose to decrease spread of the virus, which should suffice for regular people on the street and going to indoor facilities like grocery stores and places alike," Dr. Romero said.

However, if you're an essential worker, your employer might require you to wear a face shield — especially if you work in healthcare. "In the case of healthcare providers, it is encouraged to wear face masks to decrease the risk when exposed to patients who are not able to wear a face mask, due to a clinical condition," Dr. Romero explained. Even if you're not a healthcare worker, you might find yourself in situations with people who aren't wearing masks. "If you anticipate getting within six feet of a person not wearing a mask, it would probably be a good idea to use a shield as well," he said. But he noted that everyone wearing a mask is usually the best option.

Additionally, if you are part of a vulnerable population (because you're immunocompromised or elderly, for example), Dr. Bhuyan suggests talking to your doctor. "There may be rare instances where your primary care provider advises that you wear a face shield, perhaps even on top of a face mask," she said.

Image Source: Getty / Tempura
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