Pros: Shows your smile and won't ruin your makeup. Cons: Looks like your mouth is in a fishbowl, anddddd may not adequately protect against coronavirus.

By Lauren Mazzo
September 03, 2020
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claritymask-review
Credit: Claritymask

Face mask culture is here. When the first round of face mask guidelines popped up in March, it was unclear whether we'd be donning these protective accessories for a couple of days, weeks, or the rest of our lives (sigh) — but now, months into the coronavirus pandemic (with no apparent end in sight), masks haven't just become a must for going out in public, but have become a way to express your personal style. You can match them to your outfit (or your dog), buy masks from your favorite brands, and even wear special masks for working out. But one thing all these masks do (because, you know, it's their job) is block your nose and mouth from view.

That's why claritymask was created; it's a polycarbonate face shield/mask hybrid that's completely clear, so you can actually see the person's face underneath. "We live in a world where so much of life is visually communicated," the brand writes on its website. "Our fascial [sic] expressions are the windows into our souls, expressing our innermost feelings. The current use of masks obscures that ability to see the majority of our faces, and significantly affects us all, as well as those hearing-impaired, and their families. The claritymask liberates us, and once again enables us to have the ability to express joy, happiness, laughter, and all other subtle, and not so subtle nuances of expression!"

While I would like to point out that it's very possible to laugh inside a face mask — and for anyone who took Tyra Banks' smizing lessons, those have finally paid off — the company does have a point: Clear face masks are a game-changer for the deaf and hard of hearing since normal masks impair their ability to read lips or facial expressions. But since people in this population can benefit most from others wearing clear masks vs. wearing clear masks themselves, it would be hugely helpful for clear masks to become a more widely-used option.

Rather than being tied around the back of your head or stretched around your ears, the claritymask curves over your ears with plastic hooks and doesn't interference with your hair or makeup since it "floats" away from the face vs. rests right on it. This also means less irritation (and, as a result, hopefully, a smaller chance of developing maskne), since the only points of contact are on your nose (similar to a pair of glasses) and on your ears. Plus, the plastic hooks fold — glasses-style — so you can easily fit it into your bag. And each mask (which, BTW, is made in the U.S.A.) is treated with an "anti-fog barrier" to minimize fogging from your breath.

Celebrities — including Jessica AlbaLindsey VonnAshely Greene — have already given the claritymask their A-list stamp of approval on social media. Many Amazon reviewers are leaving happy reports as well, including make-up artists, those in service industries, and people in sales, who all say that being able to show facial expressions makes a huge difference in their day-to-day.

Customers do report some issues with the arms (that hook over your ears) breaking off, but otherwise, the mask has earned a solid 4-star rating, with many praising its comfortability, easy cleaning, and ability to use with iPhone Face ID. One reviewer who teaches group fitness classes also recommends it for being comfortable on your ears (even if you're wearing it with glasses), for not fogging up, and for being about to breathe easily. "Group fitness peeps — this is for YOU!" she wrote. "I teach group fitness and have been struggling to find a mask that I can teach cycle class in and still breathe."

All in all, sounds like a win-win-win, right? Well, hold on. All this just begs one question: Are these masks actually effective at protecting against the coronavirus, which is the whole purpose of masks anyway?

The fact that the claritymask has only three points of contact — including a bottom edge that's totally open — means that it obviously doesn't form a super tight seal around your face. (You can see it easily in Greene's video above, and an Amazon customer noted that the mask leaves large gaps near your cheeks and chin if you have a small face. 

For that reason, "this is not really a mask," says Purvi Parikh, M.D., an infectious disease, allergy, and immunology specialist at NYU Langone, and an allergist with the Allergy & Asthma Network. "It appears to be more of a tighter fitting plastic face shield, which does provide some protection but should be used in conjunction with a cloth or surgical mask. Just by looking at it, I would worry the fit and materials are not conducive to blocking or filtering smaller viral particles in the same way a well-fitted cloth or surgical mask would."

FTR, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doesn't currently recommend using face shields as a substitute for masks, calling out that face shields are "primarily used for eye protection for the person wearing it" — and, of course, the claritymask does not cover your eyes.

Sure, the claritymask is probably better than wearing nothing, but at least the other masks we've all been wearing have some demonstrated effectiveness at containing and filtering virus particles. "We know that cloth masks with certain materials and surgical masks have been reasonably effective in infection reduction based on studies conducted so far — either the analysis of droplets or epidemiological examinations of disease prevalence among masked and unmasked populations," says Asal Mohamadi Johnson, Ph.D., associate professor of public health at Stetson University. But otherwise, the effectiveness of a specific mask "will not be known unless studies show it can reduce disease spread," says Johnson.

The brand does have a public disclaimer (as do most mask brands) that says: "claritymask is both washable, and reusable, but is not a replacement for an N95 medical-grade respirator mask, nor does it replace other CDC recommended measures, such as practicing social distancing, frequent hand washing, and other guidelines to stop community spread of COVID-19." (We reached out to claritymask for comment, but they didn't respond at the time of publishing.)

One caveat: The CDC does concede that "wearing a mask may not be feasible in every situation for some people, for example, people who are deaf or hard of hearing or those who care for or interact with a person who is hearing impaired." So if you're working with people who need the ability to read lips or facial expressions, the claritymask might be a decent option as long as no one is high-risk and you're taking extra precautionary measures, such as social-distancing and washing your hands.

There's also the fact that — yes, people can see your facial expressions (yay!) — but it still kinda gives your mouth and nose the fishbowl effect... and it might not even protect that well against COVID-19. So is it really worth it to show off your contour? Not likely.

Buy It: claritymask, $25, amazon.com

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. As updates about coronavirus COVID-19 continue to evolve, it’s possible that some information and recommendations in this story have changed since initial publication. We encourage you to check in regularly with resources such as the CDC, the WHO, and your local public health department for the most up-to-date data and recommendations.

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