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Your Face Mask Design Could Be Worth Half a Million Dollars. Here Are 5 Great Masks to Inspire You

The government has $500,000 to give, and it's going to anyone who can make a better mask.

tailors see strong demand for protective face masks
Sean GallupGetty Images

What's worse: a poorly fitting face mask or an anti-masker? The answer is surely the latter, but a wearing an ill-fitting face mask definitely sucks. In the past year, it seems no one's been able to make a perfect mask. From fogged-up glasses to constant slippage (or just straight up not offering solid protecting from COVID-19), poor-fitting masks can be annoying as hell.

So if you think you have a better idea for a mask, President Joe Biden's administration may have $500,000 to give you.

The Department of Health and Human Services' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority has just launched the Mask Innovation Challenge, in order to find an innovative mask design to make mask wearing more tolerable. Some things the mask design should address, according to the contest: minimizing contact dermatitis (a.k.a maskne); improving speech intelligibly; and reducing physical discomfort, among other pain points.

The Mask Innovation Challenge is broken up into two phases. The first is mask design, which itself has two tracks: improving upon existing mask designs and introducing new technologies and materials into masks. Phase one of the contest will have up to 10 winners, who will split a $100,000 prize pool.

The second phase will test proof-of-concept, and requires entrants to submit a prototype of a totally new mask design that will be tested for their effectiveness. Up to five winners from phase two will split a $400,000 prize.

All entries into the competition are due before 5 p.m. on April 21. And if you're having trouble coming up with any good ideas, these five masks might serve as good inspiration.


Under Armour UA Sportsmask


UA Sportsmask

Under Armour underarmour.com

Under Armour's face mask is made for athletes, so it's meant to endure long, sweaty workouts. Its polyurethane open-cell foam is breathable and protective, and features an adjustable wire nose bridge and soft fabric. One thing we wish it had, though: adjustable ear straps.

Outdoor Research Face Mask Kit


Face Mask Kit

Outdoor Research outdoorresearch.com

The polyester fabric of Outdoor Research's face mask is soft and non-irritating. It's fairly lightweight and offers a cupping shape that gives more breathing space. One thing a lot of people don't like is the process for slipping a filter into the mask, though the brand made a video to teach you how to do it.



Kiwy Face Mask

Kiwy amazon.com

The keep-it-with-you mask has a single, hook-and-looped neck band as opposed to overhead or over-ear straps. It's easy to slip on and off, and we found it's particularly beard-friendly.

Graf Lantz Face Mask


Graf Lantz Zenbu Organic Cotton Face Mask

Graf Lantz amazon.com

Graf Lantz's face mask addresses a lot of the things that makes mask-wearing suck. It has a dart structure, so instead of lying flat on your face, it cupit, so you can breathe easier. A wire nose bridge and adjustable ear straps make it easy to tailor to your face, plus it's fitted with a pocket to slip in a filter. (Graf Lantz also makes an over-the-head mask with all the same features.) The fabric is just a bit heavy and thick, so be careful wearing this in hot and humid conditions.

686 Polygiene ViralOff Archetype Face Mask


Polygiene ViralOff Archetype Face Mask

686 686.com

This three-layered mask has an ergonomic fit, and it's decked out with a plethora of features that made this (well, the old version) one of our favorite masks last year. It has a hypoallergenic merino wool blend inner surface, a second layer of polyamide nylon and an outer layer of polyester spandex, finished with antimicrobial Polygiene ViralOff.

Tyler Chin is Gear Patrol’s Associate Staff Writer.
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