Anti-pollution cycling masks are a fairly common sight in London.
It’s perfectly understandable – air pollution is a well-documented issue here, causing respiratory problems and preventable deaths.
A sizeable 9,500 people die in the capital every year because of long-term exposure to polluted air, according to Kings College London.
But as with any bit of kit, it can be confusing if you’re buying a cycling mask for the first time.
Here are the basic need-to-knows about anti-pollution masks as well as a look at some of the biggest names on the market right now.
How do anti-pollution cycling masks work?
The mask fits over the lower part of your face to catch pollutant particles.
It takes in oxygen and filters out the nasties in the air like formaldehyde, making your city cycle that bit cleaner.
What to consider when buying an anti-pollution mask
The most important factor is the seal – the mask has to snugly fit your face so that nothing passes through any gaps, cancelling out the benefits you get from the filters.
Those with facial hair may struggle as even a little stubble can affect the seal and effectiveness of the cycling mask.
If you have a pre-existing lung or respiratory condition you need to take extra care as masks can inhibit breathing, especially at high exertion.
Now, onto the filters. Go for a mask that has at least two breathing vents with sub-micron filters which pick up the most particles. Hepa-type filters catch the smallest particles, like pollen and dust caught in the air.
The size of particles ranges from 0.5 (sub-micron) to 10+ microns. Just for a bit of context, a micron is the equivalent to 1/1000 of a millimetre. Filters will generally be able to catch size 0.3 microns.
And of course, there’s your budget – not just for the mask, but the cost of replacing filters. For your mask, you’re looking at around £20-£30, while a pack of replacement filters will cost anywhere between £13 and £25, depending on the quantity and quality of filters.
The most popular anti-pollution cycling masks
Respro® City™ Mask (£29.99)
This mask is made from Neoprene to fit comfortably on your face and keep out unpleasant fumes and smells.
It has two Techno insulation valves with sub-micron filters, which come in packs of two.
Colour-wise, you can choose from blue, red and black.
What the reviewers say: On the plus side, it is easy to maintain.
However, the mask moves around on your face, which causes rubbing. Some say that the strap puts too much pressure on the nose too.
Totobobo Super Cool mask (£25)
See-through Totobobo masks can be shaped to fit different face, nose and chin contours.
The Super Cool is a bike specific model, but you can also get them in standard and children’s models.
It has sub-micron filters which come in three different strengths: 92%, 94% and 96%. The higher the protection level, the higher the cost.
This mask weighs 20 grams, and promises not to fog up your glasses. The fact that it’s transparent makes for a more reliable seal check as you can actually see what you’re doing.
The lifespan of the mask depends on how you care for it, but it can last over 100 uses.
What the reviewers say: On the more positive side, it’s conveniently pocket-sized and easy to clean.
But disgruntled customers say that it’s clammy, ill-fitting and uncomfortable around the nose.
Despite its transparency, the Totobobo mask doesn’t make a good seal against the face unless it’s completely clean-shaven.
Skysper is more about the swanky style. Its masks are also made of neoprene for comfort, and it comes in fun designs.
It weighs in at a relatively hefty 50g – two and a half times the Totobobo offering.
The mask is available in black, white, blue, red and orange with adjustable nose drag for extra comfort.
What the reviewers say: Skysper’s masks are not as versatile – they don’t fit an Asian face with a short nose, for example. Others said that it didn’t have great coverage and one person reported the filter falling out. Even with the mask intact, exhaled air takes a long time to escape.
Apparently the mask has a smell when you first get it, but if you put it in 20-degree water for 15 mins it’ll be fine.
Some say there are fog issues with cycling glasses when you’re static too.
Cambridge Mask Pro (£19-£24)
Dubbed the ‘British pollution solution’, the Cambridge Mask is made from carbon cloth originally used by the Ministry of Defence.
It protects against gas based pollution, such as smells, benzene and formaldehyde, particle pollution such as PM2.5, pollen or smoke and pathogens such as viruses and bacteria.
The masks come in five sizes, for both adults and children. It has some fun patterns too – one includes pandas!
And those with an allergy will be glad to know that it’s latex-free.
What the reviewers say: Some reviews saying the mask is too small and the non-adjustable ear hooks make it difficult to seal.
Vogmask is a global brand famed for its funky designs.
They come in different sizes with a metal band in the nose. The tightness is not adjustable, and you can only use the earloops to fit it on face.
What the reviewers say: It’s comfortable and easy to clean, but it’s not easy to breathe in – one reviewer had to loosen it around the nose, defeating the purpose of the mask seal.
The filter mask is said to be too restrictive as well. If you have a hilly commute you may want to look elsewhere as the valves are reportedly too small for exercise.