Etsy sellers have been a major source of fancy face masks since the beginning of the pandemic, but it turns out that some of them are barely face masks.
Vendors sell masks made of fishnet, lace, and other materials with visible holes. Masks are often marketed for fashion (some have butterflies or rhinestones) and are advertised as “breathable”. Critics sometimes cite them as a more comfortable way to comply with the mask mandate.
They are also unlikely to be very effective in protecting against the spread of COVID-19. If the holes in a tissue are large enough to be seen, “then obviously viral particles can get through, so it offers very little protection,” said Amy Price, principal investigator at Anesthesia Informatics and Media. Stanford Lab, which has studied masks and contributed to the World Health Organization’s advice on using masks to protect against COVID-19.
The Verge has seen at least a dozen vendors offering mesh or lace masks with holes on the cover of Etsy listings for “mesh mask.” Many of these sellers have multiple listings.
Etsy is “not responsible” for determining the effectiveness of the skins listed on its platform, and sellers cannot make medical or health claims, an Etsy spokesperson told The Verge. At least one list of mesh masks that made medical and legal claims, highlighted in a viral tweet, has been removed.
While it’s not clear that skin mesh sales are particularly prevalent on Etsy, skin sales on Etsy have been huge. In April alone, more than 12 million face masks were sold on Etsy, for a total of around $133 million in sales. Etsy continued to promote sales of face masks in the months that followed. When you first open the site, a mask category is one of the first things we recommend. At least one thinner “breathable” mask appears on the first page of the listings.
A buyer wrote a review saying a mesh mask was “PERFECT” for someone who hates wearing a mask.
The seller of these masks, Stinnys, offers at least seven visibly transparent mask designs. Stinnys told The Verge that his masks are intended for festivals like Coachella and Burning Man and have been donated since before the pandemic. The listings state that the skins are “NOT designed for Covid use”.
“Most customers use them on disposables or N 95,” the company wrote in a message to The Verge.
Many mesh and lace masks are marketed for their style, and some listings specifically state that they are not designed to medical standards. One list says vaguely: “These are PURE masks! They are not intended for additional protection.”
Etsy also displays a disclaimer in search results and on product pages for face masks: “Items sold on Etsy, such as masks and hand sanitizers, are not medical grade. Etsy sellers may not make any medical or health claims. However, some sellers have been able to avoid this warning message by labeling their product as a “face cover” instead of a “face mask”.
A mesh mask “would be better than no mask,” but it would be better if the masks had two or three layers, said Manhar Dhanak, director of the Department of Mechanical and Ocean Engineering at Florida Atlantic University. Diapers, such as filters or even paper towels, can help absorb droplets expelled from the mouth that could carry the virus, Dhanak said.
Countries that made masks and social distancing compulsory at the start of the pandemic have seen lower rates of the spread of COVID-19, Price said, but there is still much research to be done on the effectiveness of “community masks”. “The need for a mask probably won’t go away,” Price said.
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