The evolution of face masks

Source:Global Times Published: 2020/2/12 20:48:40

A woman on Monday walks past a sand sculpture depicting people wearing protective face masks with a message reading "Fight against coronavirus, We stand with China" made by Indian artist Sudarsan Pattnaik at Puri beach in Puri. The number of fatalities. Photo: AFP

Last year, no one probably ever imagined that face masks would be one of the best-selling items in the world in early 2020. However, due to China's novel coronavirus crisis, this simple item has become a daily necessity for many people.  

Ancient origin

The earliest recorded face mask-like objects in history date to the 6th century BC. Some images of people wearing cloth over their mouths were found on the doors of Persian tombs.

In China, a kind of scarf woven with silk and gold threads from the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) is believed to be the earliest item in China that is similar to today's face mask.

According to the record of The Travels of Marco Polo, the 13th-century travelogue of the famous Italian who once traveled in China in Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), servants who served the emperor during meals needed to wear silk scarves to cover their mouths and noses. It was believed that the silk scarves would keep the servants' breath from impacting the smell and taste of the food.

In the 14th century, the Black Death spread to Europe. This also greatly promoted the emergence of functional face mask-like objects. In the 16th century, French doctor Charles de Lorme invented the beak mask. He installed glass in the eye sockets to ensure visibility, and perfume, scented spices or medicines including mint leaves, camphor could be placed in the beak section to filter out disease.

In addition to the mask, a top hat, shawl, robe, trousers, gloves, shoes and walking sticks made up a complete "beak suit." It eventually evolved into a terrifying symbol of death due to the rampant extent of the plague.

That same century, famous painter Leonardo da Vinci proposed soaking cloth in water and placing it on his face in order to filter out toxic chemicals coming from people's respiratory systems. This effective method is still widely used in fire escape guides today.

Modern exploration

The design of the mask took a big step forward in the 19th century. In 1827, Scottish scientist Robert Brown discovered "Brownian motion," which theoretically proved the protective effect of masks on dust.

In 1848, the mask made by American Lewis Hassley for miners obtained the first patent for a protective mask, which was a milestone in the history of face masks. Masks at this stage were closer to gas masks. Hassley applied for the patent in 1849 with the patent number 6529, which is still available in the archives in the US.

In 1861, French biologist, microbiologist and chemist Louis Pasteur proved the presence of bacteria in the air, which made more people pay attention to the design of modern masks.

For example, a French doctor created a mask made of six layers of gauze and sewed it on the collar of a surgical gown in 1899. The doctor only needed to flip the collar up when using it. It gradually evolved into a form that could be freely tied and hung on the ears with a looped strap, thus giving birth to the modern mask.

During the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Chinese medical scientist Wu Liande invented a mask made of two layers of gauze called "Wu's mask" in response to a plague in Northeast China. This mask was highly complimented by experts in different countries as it is simple to manufacture, has a low production cost and the materials are easy to obtain.

New design

With several outbreaks of infectious diseases and flu, and the rise of smog from modern industry, the materials in masks have continued to evolve to better filter viruses and pollution.

In addition to the SARS epidemic in 2003, the last large-scale use of masks in China was due to smog in 2012. That year, the term "PM2.5" began to enter public awareness, and mask models such as N95 and KN90, which can filter out this fine particulate matter, became highly popular.

The 3M mask is short for Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co, the company which has produced these masks since 1967. Interestingly, the idea of 3M came from women's disposable bras. An employee proposed the inspiration that a disposable mask could protect workers' noses and lungs in harsh operating environments such as mining and smelting.

Adult-sized masks may not be suitable for children's small faces. Looking at this problem, technology company Airmotion cooperated with Danish design studio Kilo Design to come up with a mask specifically for children, which they named Woobi Play.

According to the introduction of Airmotion, the principle of Woobi Play is mainly two specially designed ports with a big size on the left and a small size on the right. The large one is used for breath in, the small one is used for breath out, and the middle part is a spiral folded filter element, which can filter 95% of pollutants in three dimensions. A suitcase-shaped box made of natural pulp is used to place the mask with a cartoon versioned manual.


blog comments powered by Disqus