The Evolution of Face Masks

Image by Scott Rodgerson (@scottrodgerson) via Unsplash(



No one could have guessed face masks would become a requisite in people’s lives in early 2020, neither could we have predicted a global pandemic to be the reason for it.


The earliest known article resembling face masks in history, date to the 6th century BC, where images of people wearing cloth over their mouths were discovered on the doors of Persian tombs. From the Yuan Dynasty(1279-1368 CE), a scarf woven with gold threads and silk is thought to be the one of the first face masks in China. These scarves were believed to protect the smell and taste of food from the servant’s breath.


One of the most prominent masks through history has been the Plague Doctor mask used during the Black Death which spread like wildfire in Europe in the 14th century. 


The beak mask originated in the 16th century by French doctor Charles de Lorme. The mask had eye sockets with glass installed to warrant visibility and the beak section usually contained scented spices or medicines to help filter out the disease.
During this time, Leonardo da Vinci had initiated the idea of soaking cloth in water and placing it on the face to keep toxic chemicals from entering people’s respiratory systems. This method is still widely used today.



Image by Ashkan Forouzani (@ashkfor121) via Unsplash(


The earliest recorded use of the cloth face mask was by a French surgeon named Paul Berger during an operation in Paris in 1897. In the early 20th century, a mask was designed by Chinese Imperial court during the outbreak of the Manchurian pneumonic plague to protect against contagious diseases. This inspired the use of masks in the course of the 1918 flu pandemic for the healthcare workers.


In 1861, Louis Pasteur, a french microbiologist proved the presence of bacteria in the air. This resulted in individuals paying more attention to the design of modern masks. A mask made up of 6 layers of gauze came into creation in 1899 and sewed onto the collar of surgical gowns. This progressively evolved into a form of mask that could be tied and hung on the ears with looped straps, which resulted in our modern mask.


Reusable cloth masks have played a vital role in the Modern Era from the 1960s to today. The surgical masks have always been developed in liaise with health care workers and medical professionals and cloth masks were used by the general public through outbreaks of SARS(2002-04) and Ebola epidemic(2013-16). The proposed variety has always been Cloth Mask for the society to help slow the spread of flu. From the Bubonic plague of the middle ages to the pandemic our world is facing today, our face masks have come a long way, and along the way, fashion has had a role to play. 

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