Do Face Shields Work Like Face Masks?

Learn about the pros and cons of face masks and face shields.
July 15, 2020

Health Update:
There have been a few cases throughout the world where coronavirus outbreaks have been linked to individuals wearing only face shields. In light of these findings, the Canadian Institute of Food Safety does not recommend the use of wearing only face shields to prevent the spread of COVID-19. If a face shield must be worn, it is recommended that it is used in combination with a face mask. Please be sure to follow the recommendations and restrictions put in place by your local health authority in regards to face coverings. 

Face masks are quickly becoming a mandatory requirement for indoor public places in many Canadian provinces and territories. While the requirements for face coverings differ between provinces, territories and cities throughout Canada, food businesses must protect their staff by ensuring that proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is provided. Questions are arising about whether face shields are just as effective as face masks when it comes to preventing the spread of COVID-19. Currently face shields are not an officially recommended alternative to face masks, and they are not admissible in some cities like Toronto. Here is a breakdown of how face masks and face shields compare to each other on key issues:

Preventing COVID-19

Both face masks and face shields work to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but there are pros and cons to each. Face masks fit snugly to the face in order to stop respiratory droplets from the wearer’s mouth. Face shields also help to stop the spread of respiratory droplets, but face shields do not sit snugly against the wearer’s face. There are large gaps around the sides of the face shield which allows for more airflow and the possibility of droplets being spread more easily. However, face shields protect the eyes which is another entry point for droplets which face masks do not.

To date, there is insufficient data about the effectiveness of face shields in preventing the spread of respiratory droplets when not used in conjunction with a mask. As such, face shields are recommended to be worn with a face mask. Until more data is released, face masks are being recommended as the type of face covering that should be used in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Communication

Face shields work to address a growing problem: communication difficulties. Because face shields provide protection with a clear, plastic screen, the wearer’s entire face is visible. This allows for better communication and connectivity between people. Face masks on the other hand, make the wearer anonymous and harder to understand. The wearer’s mouth and nose are completely covered with only their eyes visible and this creates a disconnect. The human brain is wired to read a person’s facial expressions in order to understand their intentions and emotions while communicating. With the mouth being covered under a face mask, facial expressions are difficult — if not impossible — to read.

Reuse and cost

Face shields are reusable which means that only one will be needed per staff member. While face shields can be more costly to purchase for each staff member, they do not have to be replaced very often. This is in contrast to disposable face masks, where large quantities need to be purchased and multiples are worn by staff throughout the day. The plus side to disposable face masks is that they cost less when purchased in bulk. Cloth face masks are another alternative, which are reusable like face shields and require less of them per staff member compared to disposable masks. However, cloth masks can be more expensive than disposable masks. Also, more than one is required per staff member as they need sufficient time to be washed and dried properly when they must be changed.

Touching the face

Individuals wearing face masks are more likely to touch their masks in order to adjust them. There are also incidents where people wearing face masks lower the masks when speaking to others in order to be heard or understood properly. These actions undo the benefit of wearing the face mask and can potentially lead to COVID-19 exposure. In contrast, face shields allow for the wearer’s mouth to be visible which makes it easier for others to understand them. Also, face shields do not sit directly on the face so individuals may find them more comfortable and this leads to less touching of the shield.

Cleaning and sanitizing

For face coverings that are reusable, such as face shields and cloth face masks, effective cleaning is essential. In this case face shields have the upper hand as they are easily cleaned, sanitized and take very little time to dry. This means that they can be reused within a short period of time after being cleaned. In contrast, reusable face masks must be cleaned after every use in a washing machine at 60°C/140°F or above and dried in a dryer or other hygienic way. This means cleaning them must be done daily and takes time to do properly. In any case, time must be allocated by the food business to conduct the cleaning of face shields and reusable face masks.

Which to choose?

Both face masks and face shields have their pros and cons that must be considered before being purchased and used. It is important for food businesses to understand what regulations apply to them in their province/territory and city since different areas will permit different types of face coverings.

Looking for more information about the differences between face masks versus face shields? Download the CIFS Fact Sheet Face Masks Vs. Face Shields in our Resource Library.