Monday 4 April 2022

A scientific, cultural, and epidemiological history of facemasks and face coverings


The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 (caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus) has put the wearing of facemasks and face coverings to the fore, taking masks outside the traditional arenas of surgical theatres and cleanrooms and into the public domain. Facemasks have an interesting history, and this article presents a potted overview of the development of facemasks, ending in current times.


Even with our current knowledge, facemasks have limitations, and the article concludes with an assessment of the capabilities of modern facemasks as well as demonstrating the limitations of other forms of face coverings. Surgical masks have two functions: the first to protect the patient from a potential source of infection—the wearer; the second, to protect the wearer from another potential source of infection—the patient. The former remains more effective than the latter. Respiratory masks decrease in efficiency over time as the collection of particles hampers breathability. However, advanced technologies like artificial intelligence are being harnessed to improve mask design and materials.


This article has shown that facemasks are more complex than perhaps their simple-appearing form suggests. The article also charts the gradual development of the mask and what now seems, with the benefit of hindsight, a slow adoption. The rate of adoption was seemingly slower with the surgical mask in the medical and healthcare setting than it was for the respiratory mask (which was primarily development for emergency services and the military).



As well as charting the development of the mask, this article has also reviewed the use of masks alongside their role in pandemics, drawing some parallels with the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, together with an overview of the effectiveness of face coverings.


Sandle, T. (2021) A scientific, cultural, and epidemiological history of facemasks and face coverings, IST The Journal, Winter 2021, pp16 - 24


To view the article go to Sandle mask


Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle, Pharmaceutical Microbiology Resources (

No comments:

Post a Comment

Pharmaceutical Microbiology Resources

Special offers