Skip to main content

Scientists to create perfect fitting face mask

28 January 2021

Stock image of person wearing a face mask

Scientists from Cardiff University and the University of Southampton have joined forces to create the perfect fitting face mask, helping to protect frontline workers at the heart of the coronavirus pandemic.

The team are using state-of-the-art computer software and MRI facial scans to precisely determine how respiratory protective equipment (RPE) interacts with a range of face shapes and sizes.

At present face masks are typically designed for a white male workforce and can therefore lead to overtightening to compensate for a poor fit, resulting in soft tissue injuries and an increased risk of infection.

Working with UK manufacturers, the team hope to develop design templates for new masks as well as standard test methods to evaluate the risk of facial injury.

They are also developing intelligent fitting software in the form of a free smartphone app that will enable a user to select the best fitting mask for them.

“Correctly fitting RPE is critical, with any mask leakage presenting a risk of aerosol transmission of COVID-19,” said Professor Sam Evans from Cardiff University’s School of Engineering.

There is a critical need to create and design templates for RPE devices for those in healthcare settings and wider industrial sectors, and to improve testing and fitting procedures to reduce the risk of injury. This will be particularly important as the use of RPE devices increases in widespread areas of society, from frontline workers to office settings.

Professor Sam Evans Professor

A 2017 report from the trade union TUC noted that "most PPE is based on the sizes and characteristics of male populations from certain countries in Europe and the United States".

"As a result, most women, and also many men, experience problems finding suitable and comfortable PPE because they do not conform to this standard male worker model," it said.

A recent large-scale survey in China revealed that around 42% of hospital workers reported soft tissue injuries, which included device-related pressure injuries, moisture associated skin dermatitis and skin tears.

As part of the study, computational modelling and MRI scanning will be used to explore how the soft tissues of the face deform when in contact with a mask.

Volunteers will have a three-dimensional MRI scan taken of their face, with and without a mask on, using state-of-the-art scanners at the Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC).

The team will also be exploring the affects of RPE on skin health as well as using large databases of face shapes to investigate the fit of masks on a more representative range of users.

“Bringing all of this research together, we hope to create a series of designs which new and existing RPE can be tested against, with the hope of supporting the design of new face masks which accommodate a range of face shapes,” continued Professor Evans.

An intelligent smartphone app that captures a 3D image of a user’s face and then identifies the best-fitting face masks from a range of options will also be created by the team.

Dr Peter Worsley, Associate Professor in Health Sciences at the University of Southampton, who is leading the team said: “Personal protective equipment, or PPE, is vital for frontline workers, supporting the safety of individuals who are treating those with COVID-19. These devices may not fit properly and can cause some skin reactions when worn for prolonged periods. This project will provide new design templates for safe PPE devices, ensuring they fit for all individuals and interface safely with their skin.”

The project will run for 18 months and has been awarded over £350,000 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Share this story

The School has world leading research, strong links with industry, and a friendly and supportive teaching environment make us one of the leading engineering schools in the UK.