Recommendations for masks needed (immunocompromised, microtia)
July 7, 2024 6:47 PM   Subscribe

I have an half-grown ear, so your typical mask strap isn't workable. I don't want the complication of wearing clips, etc — mask straps that wrap around my head instead of on my ears would be helpful. Other preferences inside.

Extended preferences:

-Purchaseable on Amazon (got Prime)
-Comfortable and breathable, while keeping me protected from others (N95? Never really understood the differences between N95/K95's)
-Not painfully tight, leaving marks on my face

The real important attribute would be a mask that, without extra work, would work "out of the box" to fit my face, regardless of my ear.

Bonus: if you can recommend great vitamins to help my immune system (weakened by cancer/treatments), that would be amazing!
posted by dubious_dude to Shopping (34 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I know that we have N95s that go around the neck and top of the head that we got from Amazon. I hate them, and use the KN95s with the ear straps, but obviously that wouldn't work for you. Don't know about super-masks for the immuno-compromised though.
posted by Windopaene at 7:02 PM on July 7

In my experience KN95’s hook to the ears, while N95’s go behind the head.

If you want to buy masks from Amazon, you should read the reviews and make sure to switch from “top reviews” to “most recent”. Companies will often rack up good reviews with a good product, and then substitute in a cheaper product and cost on the old reviews. Looking at the most recent reviews will help you detect this.

I recently tried to but 3M N95 masks on Amazon. There were thousands of reviews, 4/5 stars. But when I looked at the recent reviews they were filled with complaints about receiving substandard masks without packaging that were not made by 3M. Amazon does not appear to care about this practice.

I ended up ordering the 3M masks from Home Depot and got them delivered a couple of days later.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 7:04 PM on July 7 [2 favorites]

Here are the nice 3M N95 masks, but look at what happens when you view the recent reviews.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 7:09 PM on July 7

Authentic kn95s with a head strap, free shipping, from Bonafide masks

I find that in order to get a tight fit I have to flatten the metal nose piece before bending it to fit the curve of my nose.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:13 PM on July 7 [6 favorites]

I use 3M Aura N95 respirators that I buy from a private seller (I'm in Australia). The straps go behind my head.

If you can, I recommend fit-testing. I was fit-tested for this mask and it was really helpful - they provided several different types of mask so I was able try a bunch until I found something that fit my face. Then they conducted fit testing to see if the mask seal was maintained across a variety of postures (leaning forward with my face down, moving my head side to side, talking etc). Knowing that these masks fit me well has been extremely reassuring, and now I can easily buy the 3M Aura. But I haven't ever bought on Amazon for the reasons above.
posted by lulu68 at 7:14 PM on July 7

Came in to suggest the 3M Aura style, if you can get the real thing - should be available from a hardware store if Amazon is looking dodgy.

I use them for dust at work, and have found that the ones with the valve on the front are the most comfortable for day-long use. We get fit checked, and they need to be quite tight to seal well. The issue is that the vent means that there's no filtering when you breathe out, so you're only protecting yourself.
posted by kjs4 at 7:17 PM on July 7 [1 favorite]

I ordered a bunch of these these during the height of the pandemic. I have a public-facing job and I wore them faithfully at work before the pandemic eased up. They are goofy-looking, but I really like them a lot (YMMV, of course). I find them to be so comfortable that I forget I'm even wearing them. Personally, I've had some issues with Amazon, so I ordered them from W.B. Mason with great success.
posted by SageTrail at 7:23 PM on July 7 [3 favorites]

3m Aura
posted by supercres at 7:37 PM on July 7

Seconding the ones SageTrail recommends. That is the type I use and I think they would work fine for you.
posted by gudrun at 7:46 PM on July 7 [1 favorite]

I am in Canada and buy directly from the Canadian manufacturer Vitacore. They have a US site and headband style N95. I would not buy off Amazon or other 3rd party marketplaces due to the authenticity problem.
posted by shock muppet at 8:02 PM on July 7 [1 favorite]

Thirding the Kimtech ones that SageTrail and Gudrun are talking about. First ones I ever found that don't leak around the edges for me, or fog glasses, or prevent talking (I teach, so). I have a few KN95s for getting haircuts, but otherwise, it's these all the way.
posted by humbug at 8:10 PM on July 7 [2 favorites]

I get Honeywell N95s (head straps, vertical-fold style) from, which I hope means they're not counterfeit. These fit me well. All of the N95 options people list are good, you do have to find one that fits your personal face and head.

If you're interested in additional filtration, P100 respirators are a level up. That of course also depends on getting a good fit with it.
posted by away for regrooving at 8:47 PM on July 7

Search for hijab masks n95/k95. These go around your head and are more comfy to wear IMO than ear straps. There are also hijab-converters that you can clip ear loops to, basically little plastic hook things.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:12 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

My favorite N95s are the Respokare. They are expensive, so I reserve them primarily for wearing on airplanes or really high risk circumstances. They have a nicely cushioned nose piece and are treated with an antiviral/antimicrobial agent.

There are several other over-the-head masks on the same site which is a trusted medical supplier; you could order a few different styles to see what you like before ordering a larger supply. (My everyday choice is the ear loop style which won’t work for you.)
posted by misskaz at 4:14 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]

If you have a mask bloc in your area (just Google "mask bloc" and your location) they will be happy to help you find a mask. Mask blocs usually have fit guides and multiple styles that you can try out for free. They're a great way to find out what mask works best for you.
posted by twelve cent archie at 6:10 AM on July 8

I'm a fan of 3M Auras, but recently found a mask that I like a bit better: the Gerson 3230.

It seems to fit almost as well as the Aura, but I find it more comfortable to wear: Gerson 3230 on Amazon
posted by soylent00FF00 at 7:25 AM on July 8

Echoing what some others have said: there are counterfeit masks on Amazon. Unless the company has some kind of verification system (for example, Powecom has a scratch-off sticker with a code you can put into their website to verify authenticity), there isn’t a guarantee that what you receive will be authentic, and that means there’s no guarantee that it filters as well as the actual tested product does.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:57 AM on July 8

I have long hair and wear hearing aids and glasses, so when I wear a mask, my ears are overloaded. I use barrettes/ hair clips ro secure mask loops at the top of my head. They're cheaper and easy to buy at any CVS, Walgreens, etc. I have one remaining Enro mask that is comfortable and reasonably well rated.
posted by theora55 at 9:53 AM on July 8

I'm another happy 3M Aura N95 user - I generally order from Zoro. I avoid ordering masks on Amazon for the reasons mentioned above.

I also hear good things about the Readimask, which is strapless and attaches with adhesive. I have not tried it myself but could be useful for situations where one can't wear a mask with straps such as getting a haircut (or with metal e.g. in an MRI).
posted by beryllium at 11:40 AM on July 8

Readimasks, mentioned above, are pretty good, but I find them kinda finicky for everyday use—the big thing is that it’s hard to briefly take them off for a sip of water or what have you—you can really only rely on them to seal to your face the first time. I would recommend getting a bunch of different headstrap N95s and see what seals to your face best.

Immune system stuff—there is some evidence that rinsing with a CPC mouthwash like crest pro-health before and after an exposure risk can mitigate the odds of covid infection. There is also some evidence that using iota-carrageenan nasal sprays like Betadine “cold defense” or xylitol nasal sprays like Xlear before and after an exposure risk can mitigate the odds of covid infection. The evidence is not incredibly conclusive, but the risks of using either do not seem high to me, (do some googling and assess for yourself, for sure) and they are relatively inexpensive, so I layer them into my Covid mitigation strategies. I wouldn’t behave any differently relying them to offer me any extra protection based on the evidence available, but they might in practice help somewhat.
posted by Gymnopedist at 12:09 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]

We don’t get them off Amazon—we order directly from 3M—but these might fit the bill?

3M Aura™️ Particulate Respirator N95

Very comfy with no ear loops and no-kidding protection. They’re not cheap (and I think we might have to tick a box saying we’re a business?), but they’re the best we’ve found so far. Not sure if they might be available somewhere other than the 3M website. Good luck!
posted by Suedeltica at 12:32 PM on July 8

I buy my 3M Auras by the case in person at Home Depot. Far and away my favorite mask. My spouse finds they don't work as well for him (bigger head). He likes the cup N95 masks from Demetech. They're based in Florida and sell only what they manufacture themselves.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:58 PM on July 8

Response by poster: Would this be it - 3M Auras on Amazon?

Thanks so much for all the recommendations, btw!
posted by dubious_dude at 2:44 PM on July 8

Would this be it - 3M Auras on Amazon?

No. That Amazon listing claims to be selling 3M Auras, but if you read the customer reviews you will see that they have substituted low-quality masks. They say they are selling 3M Auras, but if you purchase them, you'll get masks with no labeling and no verified quality.

Click on "12,967 Ratings".
Click on the menu to switch from "Top Reviews" to "Most Recent".
Read the Reviews
1 Star "Can’t verify authenticity for 3M n95 mask"
1 Star "Don’t Buy!"
Do not purchase these masks.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 3:04 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I do not buy masks on Amazon, period; too many reports of counterfeits, and clearly Amazon doesn't care.

I quite liked the duckbill Kimtechs linked above -- and specifically they're very good if you get a little skeezed by the feeling of a mask touching your lips because the duckbill keeps most of the mask off your face -- but they didn't fit either of us very well out-of-the-box; tying a knot in the loops to shorten them slightly helped a lot. I believe the 3M Auras are good for that less-pressing-against-your-face comfort too, but see above wrt authenticity; the Auras seem to be very widely counterfeited.

Our go-tos throughout have been the Powecom headband style KN95s that needs more cowbell mentioned, from Bona Fide Masks; cheap, decent, fit well on both of us, and do now come in various colors as well as boring pandemic white.

(The Bona Fide Masks website does have a somewhat knocked-together-over-a-weekend feel to it, but service and delivery have always been reliable every time I've ordered. 30% off code on the front page at the moment.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 7:25 PM on July 8

Response by poster: Strange. The Amazon webpage says it's from the 3M page/seller, so shouldn't it be 3M that is doing the selling/distribution? Therefore it shouldn't be counterfeit? And Amazon is a large/well-known company, so they should know better than to allow that.

I forgot to add to my original question that I wear eyeglasses, so yes, not fogging my eyeglasses are important. Anyone can point me to a place where I can buy those Auras that are not counterfeit and have free shipping?
posted by dubious_dude at 10:00 PM on July 8

I ordered 3M masks on Amazon Canada early in the pandemic. When they arrived, the masks were very obviously counterfeit. They were tossed into a mailer bag (no box) with rubber bands (!) holding them in batches of 10. They did come individually wrapped in authentic 3M packages - but the elastic was thinner than the elastic on real 3M masks, the logo printed on the front of each mask was upside-down, and most telling, the 3M logo was printed in the wrong font. On the plus side, the masks were still thick and tight-fitting, better than surgical masks for sure. And good masks were scarce then, so I still ended up using them.

But I also messaged Amazon that they were fake. I had paid $175 for thirty masks, almost $6 each, can you imagine?? And Amazon refunded the full amount INSTANTLY without even asking for a photo for proof. Which is not how they usually handle returns. Which tells me Amazon ABSOLUTELY knew that sellers (and maybe even that specific seller) were peddling fake masks.

Amazon is scam central - LOTS of products on there are fake. For instance, there's a fancy hair goo called Olaplex that costs $40 for a 3-inch bottle, and it's a well known fact that you'll get a fake version if you order from the Amazon Olaplex storefront (yes the official Amazon Olaplex store sells counterfeit product!). So I'm not at all surprised the mask scams are still happening!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 10:30 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

Home Depot is offering free delivery of 3M Auras in my area. I can't speak to yours of course.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:00 AM on July 9 [3 favorites]

Part of the problem with Amazon is that Amazon commingles product from different sellers in the warehouses. So even if you are purchasing from what seems like an authentic seller, neither they nor you can guarantee you get the exact boxes of real product that seller sent to the warehouse.
posted by misskaz at 8:23 AM on July 9

Footnote on the Kimtech masks I use, I am a glasses wearer and they work pretty well with those once you adjust the nose wire. Also, the buying source SageTrail links to, W.B.Mason, is one of the recommended ones from the manufacturer. Since I live in a hot, humid climate (same general area you do I think), another big benefit of this duck bill style is that it does not sit close to your skin except on the periphery.

As for your side question, if you are not already, consider taking a multivitamin; rates DEVA Vegan Multivitamin & Mineral Supplement well. (They also give a good rating to Costco's Kirkland Signature Daily Multi Vitamins).
posted by gudrun at 8:24 AM on July 9

Home Depot definitely has the 3M Auras. My daughter is in art school near Boston and we live in NJ. We've bought them in both states, as this is her first choice in masks when she's painting and around wood/metal (not to mention around germy college students). She also wears glasses and says they never fog.
posted by dancinglamb at 12:38 AM on July 10

Project N95 was my go-to during the pandemic for authentic masks from vetted sources; they've stopped selling directly but still have their listings, current as of January 31st. Their source for the 3M Auras goes here and the company says it offers free ground shipping.

Never, ever buy masks from Amazon, but especially if you're immunocompromised.
posted by mediareport at 3:21 AM on July 10

Response by poster: I ordered the 20 pack 3M Auras from ISP (as per mediareport's recommendation). Will see how it goes. I wear glasses, but a comment upthread said that the mask didn't cause fogging, so let's see.

Appreciate your very helpful suggestions and links! :)
posted by dubious_dude at 1:08 AM on July 13 [2 favorites]

Better than any disposable option: Happy Masks Pro from Happy Gear with a lanyard/ear saver would be perfect for you! 98% filtration, so better than an N95 which has 95% filtration. Washable, reusable, comfortable, no fogging with glasses.
posted by acridrabbit at 3:39 PM on July 14

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