26 Best Breathable Face Masks for Running and Walking Outside

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Photo: Athleta; L.L. Bean; Christie Dawn; Grayson.

Wearing face masks in public has now become routine. After months of acclimating to the new normal, procuring breathable face masks for summer’s hotter, more humid days feels pertinent now more than ever. Nobody wants to spend summer sweating under a mask, and it can get confusing to know which face coverings strike the right balance between breathability and safety. As it turns out, reaching for a too-thick mask in lieu of a more breathable option may be more harmful than helpful.

Dharushana Muthulingam, MD, MS, an infectious disease physician and public health researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, recommends cloth masks that find a happy medium between fabric density and comfortability for the summer months. “There is unfortunately an inverse relationship between protection and breathability,” Dr. Muthulingam tells Vogue. “Generally, you don’t want to see light between the fibers when you hold them up to the sun, but the mask should also be breathable, especially in warm months.” While studies have shown that tightly woven cotton fabrics, like quilter’s cotton, batik, and even tea towels are the best overall choices, they aren’t always the most comfortable fabrics when humidity and heat are added into the mix. “If the mask is uncomfortable, research has shown people just touch their face even more,” Dr. Muthulingam says. “Aim for compromise to get ‘good enough’ protection that also lets some amount of air in to make wearing the mask tolerable.” Lighter cottons, polyesters, or performance fabrics are acceptable and safe to use.

The shape of the mask is also an important consideration. Many runners prefer wearing balaclavas and bandanas that they can pull up or down when six feet away from other people. While cloth masks that mimic surgical masks with comfortable ear straps and a secure fit are preferred, Dr. Muthulingam says “the key is to eliminate gaps between your skin and the mask, however that is achieved. It has to cover your nose and go below your chin.”

With more and more options on the market, it is no surprise that people are investing in breathable masks for the summer. Here, 18 breathable masks in breathable fabrics like cotton, polyester blends, and other performance textiles that you can wear for all your outdoor activities and throw in with your laundry too.

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