AirPop face masks

Cool factor 2/5
Usability 5/5
Value for money 4/5

Here is a review we would have thought nearly unimaginable a year ago: hi-tech masks. Outside of specific jobs (and Asian mega-cities known for air pollution), face masks have been off the radar for South Africans until recently.

Now, more than a year into the pandemic, we aren’t just accustomed to our masks — feeling quite naked without them — we’re practically comparing them like flagship phone handsets. Everyone has a preference: cotton, medical, behind-the-ear elastics, tie behind the head, buffs, and so on.

No surprise then that we find a wide array of mask options on the shelves, with some tending more towards the futuristic, with add-ons and celebrity endorsements bundled in. A few even made a splash at CES 2021, the annual international showcase for tech.

One of the exhibitors at CES (virtually this year) was AirPop, a firm with pre-pandemic origins. Its headliner is the AirPop Active+, which has a built-in sensor to provide you with data on your breathing and air quality. It is still unclear if we’re going to see this on the local market, but we can get AirPop’s Original, Active and Light SE versions.

The Original and Active masks include four filters which fit into the outer mask, each good for 40 hours of wear, while the Light SE is washable. All three versions have a plastic strip built in to create a better seal on the bridge of your nose — for more protection and less glass fogging. This plastic seal extends on the Original and Active for a full round-the-mouth seal.

I spent most of the review period wearing the Original. It’s a little bulkier than I’m used to, but I like the 3D "air dome" design that means it sits away from your mouth, so you feel less smothered. The soft-touch materials feel high-end and sturdy.

The masks are accredited by labs to filter about 99% of particles and droplets in both directions (those you breathe out and those you want to avoid breathing in). The range, including a kids’ mask, is available from Takealot.

The Original (with four filters) starts at R999, and the washable AirPop Light SE mask (pack of four) is R545.

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