For many of us, COVID-19 will be remembered through the entire public narrative around masks. However, masks have been used by humankind well before the COVID-19 epidemic began.
As we mark the first World Mask Week in history, let’s take a look at why we need masks in the first place and how they evolved throughout the history of humankind. Masks have traditionally been a necessity and at times critical item due to various reasons. Here’s how!
Environmental Issues and Disasters
- Pollution in the air and surrounding environment
- Disasters such as explosions, fires, earthquakes
- Countries around the world utilize masks during public health issues including flue season and now during the COVID-19 epidemic
- In countries such as Korea, Japan, and China, people regularly wear masks while traveling to prevent spreading of germs and if they might be sick
- If working in a dangerous environment where chemicals, toxins, and hazardous materials are present, it is often required to wear a mask for safety and protection
The Evolution of Masks throughout Time
Masks have existed throughout history and their uses have evolved over time.
- It is recommended to wear masks when using toxic cleaners
- At home we can also be exposed to air pollutants, including gases and fine particles
During ancient civilization, the mask was used to protect the face of the dead. For example, in the tombs of Egypt, a golden mask was put on the face of those who died to mold and keep the features intact.
Use of the Mask in the Performing Arts and Cultural Traditions
During the Renaissance period in Europe, decorative masks began to be used in theater and became popular and fashionable to wear them. Masks have also historically been used in cultural traditions across the world.
The first protective masks were used during the Roman Empire more than 2,000 years ago. Masks were used in battle and also in mines to protect workers from toxic vapors in the air.
Plagues and Epidemics
During the 14th and 18th centuries in Europe, several epidemics and plagues caused mass loss and devastation. At this time,doctors postulated that diseases spread through the nose and mouth.
In 1619 Charles de Lorme, a French physician, invented a mask from cardboard with a beak and two holes for breathing. The masks would contain dried flowers, herbs, and spices inside that had disinfectant properties.
During the 18th century and with the rise of factories being developed, face coverings began to be used for protection from dangerous materials in the workplace.
Towards the end of 19th century, the German doctor Carl Flügge determined that the spread of disease between doctors and patients can occur through saliva droplets in the air and recommended that all health providers wear a mask while providing care.
The Use of Gas Masks during World War One
During World War One, gas masks that had a filter were made to provide protection from the harmful health effects of poison gas attacks.
Masks for Public Health Protection
Today, masks are viewed as a protective measure that should be utilized in work environments, at home, and in the broader community to prevent illness and the spread of disease.
Protective masks are vital to use when there are potential hazards that pose health risks. It is recommended and often required that people wear masks in various settings such as construction sites, school labs, disaster areas, epidemics, hospitals, research laboratories, and even while at home when using toxic cleaners.
Today, with the ongoing threat that COVID-19 epidemic poses to public health, wearing protective masks have become a constant part of our everyday lives as we navigate this new reality. Due to this, many companies and individuals have become creative with designing masks that not only promote safety, but are comfortable to wear and accentuate one’s style. Below are pictures of how protective masks have evolved more creatively today.