The History of Surgical Face Mask

The surgical face mask is having a moment. Because of its recent rise in popularity, many people wonder about the different types of masks available and how they came to be.

A surgical (or procedure) mask, is a small and seemingly flimsy facial guard to protect an individual from catching bacteria. It’s an invaluable object that has been around since the 1800s.

Why Was the Surgical Face Mask Invented?

In the 1800s, the first doctor to be recorded wearing the medical mask was a French surgeon by the name of Paul Berger. The theory of the mask was that it would help protect doctors from tuberculosis by minimizing contaminated droplets in the air. Since then, the medical mask has evolved from gauze and string to a highly effective type of protection against airborne infection.

Disposable surgical face masks are essential because they can eliminate unnecessary contamination. By throwing these masks away after use, a new and clean mask can help fight infection each time it is necessary to do so. Since inhaling is not done exclusively through the mouth, a disposable medical mask covers both the mouth and the nose. It is made of a light paper so that, although both nose and mouth are covered, it’s still easy to breathe.

Surgical face masks are used to protect against the spread of contamination, such as blood and other body fluids. These masks can have multiple uses in and out of the hospital.

What Can A Surgical Mask Be Used For?

Dust, viruses, bacteria, and gases can all be toxic if inhaled. Once inhaled, the pathogens can enter the nose, trachea, and lungs. A surgical face mask acts as a barrier to external elements. It keeps you from contracting potential diseases that can impact your health. 

The Spanish flu of 1918 used medical masks as a way for policemen to still operate. This was the most severe pandemic recorded in recent history. Although 500 million people died, the use of surgical masks helped protect people from spreading the virus further. Even without modern pharmaceutical interventions, the surgical mask helped prevent further spread of contamination.

Surgical face maskSource: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

Surgical masks are used primarily in hospitals to benefit not only the doctor but the patient as well. When working with medical wounds, infections can be transmitted if proper precautions are not taken. By using a disposable surgical mask, a doctor can prevent passing germs from one patient to the next. 

In recent years, the surgical mask has been used less for pandemics, such as the one experienced in the early 1900s and more for medical or sanitary careers. Those who work with recycled trash or garbage frequently wear disposable masks as to not catch any sort of infection.

Depending on the location, it is not always mandatory for sanitary workers to wear masks. Still, they do help to keep both the workers and those around them safe from breathing in potentially dangerous air.

The Design of The Mask Has Changed

The original design of the surgical mask is quite different than the ones seen today. The first face masks were made primarily from gauze and thread. Although flimsy, they were much better than not wearing any mouth and nose protection at all.

Currently, there are a few different face masks to choose from. A typical face mask now contains three layers of light material that is non-woven. While the gauze masks of the early 1900s may have been a unique and trusted invention of the time, using unwoven fabric allows for less air to seep through. This melt-blown material filters microbes from both entering and exiting the face mask.

colored surgical face maskSource: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

Depending on the type of current face mask purchased, masks usually have either pleats or folds that line the material. This exists so that the mask can expand from the chin to just above the nose. Using a stretching piece of string, an individual can loop the thread over their ear so that the mask will not fall off.

Since the recent outbreak of the coronavirus, the face mask has returned for widespread public use. In places where they are regularly worn, different colors and designs are available, encouraging more people to wear one. 

The surgical face mask is an essential development for people all over the globe. Thanks to the hypothesis that infection can spread through droplets from the mouth, major illnesses have been successfully slowed. Since the surgical mask is primarily used to stop the spread of germs, bacteria, and viruses, disposable masks can never truly go out of style.


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