What is a surgical mask?

A surgical mask, also known as a medical face mask, is a personal protective equipment worn by health professionals during medical procedures.

A surgical mask is a disposable device that creates a physical barrier between the respiratory tract openings of the wearer,

and potentially pathogenic contaminants in the immediate environment.

Surgical masks were originally designed to protect medical personnel from:

  • Accidentally breathing
  • Swallowing in splashes
  • Sprays of bodily fluids,
  • The effectiveness of surgical masks against influenza-like infections has not been confirmed by high-quality randomized controlled trials.

The use of surgical masks

  • To reduce the chance of spreading airborne diseases to others.
  • To prevent the breathing in of airborne irritants such as pollens or dust particles created by air pollution.
  • A surgical mask serves as a mechanical barrier that interferes with direct airflow in and out of respiratory orifices.
  • Masks help reduce exposure of the wearer’s saliva and respiratory secretions to others that could otherwise travel up to 7.9 metres .
  • It also remind wearers not to touch their mouth or nose,
  • which could otherwise transfer viruses and bacteria after having touched a contaminated surface.


A mask is not to be confused with a respirator (which is specifically rated for sub-micron particles) and is not certified as such

Surgical masks are not designed to protect the wearer from inhaling airborne bacteria.

or virus particles and are less effective than respirators, which are designed for this purpose.

However, a study found that even for surgical masks with “good” filters.

Modern surgical masks are made from paper or other non-woven material and should be discarded after each use.

Physical form

The design of the surgical mask depends on the intended usages.

Usually, the masks are:

rectangular-shaped with pleats to allow the wearer to expand,and curve the mask so it can better cover all the area from the nose to around the chin.

The outward-facing side of the surgical mask are typically colored (usually blue, green or yellow) ,and made thicker, tougher and water-impermeable.

The inner layer of the surgical mask is made of three-ply (three layers),melt-blown polymer (most commonly polypropylene) placed between non-woven fabric.

The melt-blown material acts as the filter that stops microbes from penetrating and exiting the mask.

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