We always had our suspicions. But now the dangers of face masks have been confirmed
By Diane Small
When I binge-watched The Handmaid’s Tale on Netflix, I did so thinking I was watching a dystopian future that was entirely fictional. Fast forward a few years, and I now walk down the street in a world that is eerily similar. I smile at people in shops and can’t tell whether or not they’re smiling back at me. I pass by spring flowers, but can’t smell them. And it’s a heartbreaking reality that my toddler now asks me, ‘Got your mask?’ before we leave the house.
When the world first went into lockdown, the global demand for masks was epic. Many didn’t think twice about what their masks were made of so long as they had them. But the types of face masks that we’re wearing to protect us from COVID could be far worse for our health than the virus.
Scientists have recently found loads of evidence for the dangers of face masks. For example, they report that some face masks shed fibres that are laced with toxic chemicals, which we breathe in deeply when we wear them.
This news didn’t come as any surprise to former British GP Dr. Vernon Coleman, who published the free PDF book “Proof That Facemasks Do More Harm Than Good” last year. We here at Eluxe weren’t very surprised, either. After all, way back in 2017, we published how the clothes you wear can cause harm to your body thanks to the toxic dyes and finishes they carry. But now, those harmful fabrics are right on your face!
The Dangers of Face Masks
Tests by top German scientist Professor Michael Braungart have proven that wearing certain types of face masks for extended periods of time can result in us inhaling a cocktail of potentially hazardous chemicals deep into our lungs.
Professor Braungart stated to textile specialist publication Ecotextile that mask wearers run the risk of breathing in carcinogens, allergens and tiny synthetic microfibers. And that’s the case whether you’re wearing a cloth textile mask, or a nonwoven surgical mask, for a long periods of time.
“What we are breathing through our mouth and nose is actually hazardous waste,” warned Professor Braungart. He ran preliminary tests on used surgical masks, and found traces of chemicals such as the known carcinogens aniline and formaldehyde, as well as toxic optical brighteners.
His research was backed up by another leading industry textile chemist, Dr. Dieter Sedlak, who found elevated concentrations of hazardous fluorocarbon and other potentially carcinogenic substances on surgical face masks. These include formaldehyde, 2-butanone oxime, acetaldehyde and perfluorocarbons (PFCs).
Scary, right? I mean, we all know the dangers of microplastics that shed from our clothes. These tiny particles get into our waterways, and we end up drinking them and eating them if we consume seafood and fish. That means there are tiny bits of plastic fibres getting stuck in our guts. But wearing masks made out of polyesters and nylons all day means they could be getting stuck in our lungs, too. Along with a host of highly toxic chemicals. Yipes.
Your Cloth Mask Is Bad, Too
But don’t think wearing a reusable cotton mask is any better. There’s actually a disease you can get from inhaling cotton particles, and it’s called byssinosis. In fact, though rare, you can get this disease from inhaling hemp, linen and other natural micro fibres.
Even if you avoid byssinosis, the chemicals on your fabric mask could be just as damaging as those on the surgical masks.
According to textile chemical expert, Phil Patterson of Colour Connections: “In my opinion, textile masks do not begin to pass this most basic hazard test for kids, for whom the risks of COVID have been categorically demonstrated to be miniscule.” Patterson warns business and governments: “I’d be very wary of mandating masks, as some chemicals and fibres may have long-term effects – and that possibly opens the floodgates of personal injury claims at some stage in the future.”
Slowly Killing Kids?
And if you needed any more proof about the dangers of face masks, then get this. One type of mask that distributed to 15,000 Quebec schools and daycares – yep, to our children – has been recalled due to its danger to our health.
Health Canada conducted a preliminary risk assessment of the masks, and their findings were shocking. They revealed a potential for early lung damage associated with the inhalation of microscopic graphene particles. Graphene is a strong yet thin material that can be harmful to the lungs when inhaled, causing long-term health problems.
This comes as no surprise to daycare educators, who are said to have been suspicious of these grey and blue masks for a while. Apparently, children complained they felt like they were ‘swallowing cat hair’ while wearing them.
Apart from doing serious damage to children’s mental health (don’t get me started!), face masks are now also considered dangerous for their lungs. The Canadian government has asked the public to cease buying and selling those grey and blue masks. But for us, that’s ‘too little action, too late’: between May and November, the government distributed 31.1 million masks to protect people from COVID-19. And now, they’ve put the lung health of those people is at serious risk.
Worse Than Plastic Bottles
Finally, the dangers of face masks are as grave to the planet as they are to our health.
Just as companies started ditching single use plastics for more eco-friendly alternatives, another nemesis appears: COVID masks. Forget plastic bottles: discarded face masks are now becoming a real problem after mass masking worldwide. It’s estimated that 129 billion face masks are used worldwide each and every month, which shockingly works out to about 3 million masks per minute.
These masks could potentially leach microsized plastic particles into the environment more readily, and faster, than other plastic pollutants, such as plastic bags. The health impact of tiny bits of plastic in the body is as yet unknown. But scientists say there is an urgent need to assess the issue, particularly for developing foetuses and babies, as these microplastics can carry chemicals that could cause long-term damage.
Face masks are not recyclable, and the materials that they’re made of persist and accumulate in the environment. Most masks contain at least three layers, consisting of a polyester outer layer, a polypropylene or polystyrene middle layer and an inner layer made of absorbent material such as cotton. Polypropylene is already one of the most problematic plastics, due to the simple fact it’s mass-produced and the cause of huge amounts of plastic pollution, but it has also been known to trigger asthma.
Let’s Be Rational
The act of wearing a mask has, for some reason, become highly politicised. But this is not a partisan issue, and we seriously need to look at the facts, objectively, for the sake of our health.
Based on studies done by Professor John PA Ioannidis of Stanford University, Covid 19 has an infection fatality rate (IFR) of 0.05 in persons 70 years old and under. This is quite comparable to the IFR of most run-of-the-mill flu viruses.
So, are the dangers of face masks worth risking for a virus with such a low infection fatality rate?
Well, plenty of scientific evidence suggests that masks (both surgical and cloth masks) are ineffective in reducing Covid 19 transmission. In fact, a recent publication stated that face masks become completely ineffective after just 20 minutes of wear. And another study stated that wearing a mask that has already been used, which is very common, is riskier to catching a virus than not wearing a mask at all.
This fact is backed up by research that shows how European countries where masks were mandated have far more Covid 19 cases than those nations without any such mandates (as demonstrated in the graph, below). This information is important to those of us who care about protecting the health of others. Why? Because it seems that wearing a mask actually increases your chance of getting – and spreading – the illness to others.
And as for the argument that even healthy people who are not at risk should wear a mask because they could be asymptomatic and pass on Covid 19 without even knowing it, well, no. A recent study published in the British Medical Journal that was done in Wuhan, China, has proven that this is highly unlikely, to say the least. A mass screening programme of more than 10 million residents of Wuhan, identified and tracked only 300 asymptomatic cases of Covid-19 within this massive sample. Not a single one was infectious.
So, What Should You Do?
There’s no doubt we need to take care of ourselves to prevent illnesses, especially during the colder months. Now that the dangers of masks are clear, what should you do, then?
The usual advice is wise: wash your hands with a non-toxic soap. Stay home if you feel even a bit unwell. Socially distance from those who are at the highest risk of getting sick. But most importantly, take care of your health and build up immunity. Eat loads of fruits and veggies. Take vitamin C, D and zinc supplements. Get plenty of sleep. Engage in yoga or meditation to reduce stress. Go out in the sunshine and soak it up for at least 15 minutes a day if you can. Exercise 3-4 times a week for 30 minutes as a minimum. If you feel run down, don’t push yourself. Listen to your body.
But even if you take those precautions and stay healthy, sadly, many governments and businesses are ignoring the dangers of wearing a mask and are foolishly forcing us to wear one. If you must put a mask on, make it as light and non-toxic as possible. Wear it for the shortest period possible.
And know this: in most cases, there are no actual laws making you do so. Instead, it’s ‘general guidance’, which is not legally enforceable. In that case, be brave. Refuse to wear one, for the sake of your own health, and that of the planet.