If you wear a face mask when you leave your home, you’re probably not doing it because you want to. Masks are awkward and uncomfortable, and they can be difficult to use correctly: If they aren’t applied and removed with clean hands, they can actually transmit infection rather than prevent it.
A growing number of researchers think there’s a better way. Face shields—which shield a person’s face with a clear curved plastic panel—are more comfortable, easier to put on and take off, reusable, and simple to clean. But most importantly, “we feel face shields are far more effective,” Eli Perencevich, M.D., a professor of internal medicine and epidemiology at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, who in April published a commentary in JAMA in favor of face shields with two of his colleagues, tells SELF.
Research on face shields is limited but promising. In a 2014 Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene study, researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health placed a face shield on a breathing robot and had another robot 18 inches away “cough out” flu virus. The shield prevented the breathing robot from inhaling 96 percent of the virus within five minutes. In additional tests, the shield’s effectiveness varied based on the size of droplets expelled, but the overall indication was that shields can protect their wearers from other people’s germs.
No studies have yet addressed whether face shields protect other people from your germs, however, and this makes some scientists wary. “We don’t have the research to say that they will offer protection for those around you, should you be sick,” Saskia Popescu, Ph.D., an infection prevention epidemiologist at George Mason University, tells SELF.