Share on Facebook

10 Worst Mistakes People Make When Wearing a Face Mask

Wearing a mask will help protect you from contracting Covid-19 but only if you wear it right. We checked Instagram for some of the biggest mistakes people make when wearing a face mask.

Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.

paper art of people wearing face masksFrancesco Carta fotografo/Getty Images

Wear a face mask to prevent the spread of Covid-19

Covid-19 is still very much here in the United States, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting more than 40,000 new cases and over 600 deaths daily, as of September 25th. In order to keep yourself (and others) safe, it’s important that you wear a face mask when you’re in public, namely in situations where you can’t socially distance.

“When worn correctly, meaning your nose and mouth are completely covered, a face mask is highly effective in protecting you from Covid-19,” says Abe Malkin, MD, founder and medical director of Concierge MD LA and a contracted internist at Avalon Malibu, in Malibu, California. “According to a June publication of The University of Washington’s Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, if 95 percent of Americans wore a mask in public, it could prevent 33,000 deaths by October 1.” (You can even make your own homemade face mask if you’re nervous about going out to purchase one.)

young woman ordering coffee at coffee truck shopRyanJLane/Getty Images

Wear a face mask in indoor and outdoor public spaces

It’s especially important to wear a mask when in indoor public spaces. “The problem is viral load, or the amount of viral particles in a space,” explains Erika Schwartz, MD, conventional and integrative medicine doctor in New York City and author of The New Hormone Solution. “So if you are inside, the concentration of viral particles will be higher than outdoors.”

But you shouldn’t write off wearing a mask when you’re outdoors either. “The risk for catching the virus does lower when outdoors due to the dilution of condensed air, however, we have seen people take a more lax approach when in public settings,” says Dr. Malkin. “You should still make sure your nose and mouth are covered and try to limit social activities to only the people you live with.” (You might also consider wearing one of these recommended goggles and face shields to protect yourself from Covid-19.)

hands washing a reusable cloth face maskJoan Manel Moreno/Getty Images

How to disinfect your face mask

Are there downsides to wearing a face mask so frequently? Besides having to get used to this new norm, which can feel annoying at times, Dr. Malkin says that the only downside to wearing a reusable mask occurs if you are not properly cleaning masks between uses. “When you get home and remove the mask, are you disinfecting it, immediately?” asks Dr. Malkin. “People are seeing ‘maskne‘ occur on areas of their jawlines and noses. This should be a clear sign of dirt buildup.” The best way to avoid the chance of pesky acne around the mouth and jawline? Wash your face, hands, and mask as soon as you remove it. “We have to remember that our frontline workers are wearing masks a minimum of 12 hours a day to prevent the spread of Covid-19 while treating patients and protecting themselves,” says Dr. Malkin. “A mask can get uncomfortable as the day goes along, but I believe the alternative when not wearing one is a lot worse.”

If you’re wearing a face mask, and following the other rules recommended by the CDC, you’re doing your part—as long as you’re wearing your face mask effectively, as Dr. Malkin mentions above. We checked out Instagram for some of the biggest mistakes individuals make when wearing face masks. (Also check out the best face mask messages on Instagram.)

Wearing your face mask with your nose exposed

It is imperative that you cover your nostrils with your mask, as well as your mouth. “The nose is where many viruses are inhaled, so leaving the nose exposed, you are increasing the likelihood of inhaling high viral loads,” says Dr. Schwartz. “Conversely if you are trying to protect someone else you will sneeze on them and expose them to the virus.”

Wearing a mask that is dirty

It’s important that you wash your face mask regularly. Wearing a dirty mask can make it easier to transfer germs. “Wash your hands, face, and mask, as soon as you remove it,” suggests Dr. Malkin.

Wearing your face mask under your chin

It’s called a face mask and not a chin guard for a reason. “This isn’t wearing the mask as an effective device, since we need to cover the nose and mouth to achieve protection, rather than the chin,” says Dr. Schwartz. Plus, you could have virus particles on your neck that your mask is picking up and will transfer directly to your mouth and nose when you pull the mask back on. (Check out these face masks with filters for extra protection.)

Wearing a disposable mask inside out, or the wrong way

If the white side of your disposable mask is exposed, and the blue side is hidden against your face, you’re wearing it wrong. “The blue side of the mask is waterproof,” explains Dr. Malkin. “The white side is absorbent.” These were deemed the worst face masks for Covid-19 protection.

Wearing a face mask that is too small

A proper fitting face mask should cover your nose, mouth, and fit over your chin. If it’s too small, it won’t protect you as well, or you’ll end up touching it a bunch to adjust it. “If you are continually shifting and touching the mask with your hands without washing them, contaminants are being transferred,” says Dr. Malkin. (Here’s what you need to know about whether coronavirus is airborne.)

Wearing a mask that is too thin or too thick

It’s important to wear a mask that is thick enough to protect you, but also one that isn’t too thick that you’re not able to breathe. “A mask too thin won’t block the virus, and one that is too thick will suffocate you,” says Dr. Schwartz. “Designer masks and all the fancy fabric masks most likely serve no real purpose except to make the wearer feel better about wearing a mask.” (Going to your office? Here are stylish face masks to wear for work.)

Wearing a mask outside for the day with no SPF on your face

Not only will you end up with strange tan lines, but you could cause long term damage, too. “A face mask does not prevent the UV rays from the sun getting on your skin,” says Dr. Malkin. “As a matter of fact, wearing a mask provides an SPF of less than 10. That number goes down if you begin to sweat, and the mask becomes loose or stretchy. “Always wear your sunscreen!”

Wearing a face mask with holes that are too large

If you can see holes in your mask, there is a 100 percent chance that particles are getting through. “If you want to make a fashion statement, at least put a one-time use paper mask under the mesh one for proper safety,” says Dr. Malkin.

Similarly, wearing masks with one-way valves is also a no-no. They protect the wearer, but the particles all are expelled to the surroundings. These masks are meant for protecting from hazard particles, not infection.

Wearing a face mask over your eyes and nose—but not the mouth

Not only is it hard to see, but you’re also not helping yourself stay protected at all. “The mask is not fully covering his mouth leaving an open pathway for the virus to enter, and it is way above where it is supposed to be worn,” says Dr. Malkin. “His vision is obstructed, so unless he is filming a sequel to Birdbox, the mask is useless.” (Here’s how to keep your foggy eyeglasses when wearing a mask.)

Discarding face masks on the ground after use

Littering is never the right answer—especially during a pandemic. “Litter and pollution hurt the ecosystem, and are a breeding ground for germs and infections if an animal or person comes in contact with it,” says Dr. Malkin. “I could go on and on about what is wrong with that picture.”

Medically reviewed by Michael Spertus, MD, on September 25, 2020

Amy Schlinger
Amy Schlinger is a skilled reporter, writer, and editor who regularly interviews world-renowned doctors and medical professionals, elite trainers, nutrition experts, professional athletes, and celebrities. She has 11 years of experience covering health, fitness, wellness, nutrition, and lifestyle topics. She has held staff positions at Shape Magazine, DailyBurn, Self Magazine, and PopSugar. Her work has appeared in Men’s Health, The New York Post, Women’s Health, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Health Magazine, Outside Magazine, Livestrong, Map My Fitness, MSN, Runner’s World, Bicycling Magazine, and more. She has been featured in DailyBurn’s Live to Fail workout video series (five total), is a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer (NASM-CPT), and is certified in Kettlebell Training. Amy is extremely passionate about healthy living, and can often be found researching and testing out new wellness trends and fitness programs or strength training at the gym. She has run six half marathons, completed one triathlon, biked two century rides, finished two Tough Mudder races, and four Spartan races, including a beast at the Spartan World Championships at Squaw Mountain in North Lake Tahoe.