Medical face mask

The Origin And History Of Medical Face Masks

From women using them as veils to creatives using them for hiding or changing identities during acts in theater plays, face masks have been around for quite some time. Interestingly, they were also one of the first protective garments ever made. Originally, face masks served as protection against dust, allergens, and diseases. Since then, the traditional face mask has undergone several improvements but has never been replaced by a better alternative. Present-day medical face masks went through an extensive evolution.

The face mask we’re currently used to seeing looks quite different than what was popular in 17th century Europe. Down below is a simple timeline of how the classic face mask evolved in terms of its design and usage over the years.

It All Started With The Plague Masks In 17th Century Europe

Plague Mask
Photo by Kuma Kum on Unsplash

During the great plague of London and San Cristobal, the doctors and all medical professionals wore special protective costumes while they treated patients.
The costume design consisted of a leather headdress and a long, pointed beak. The beak consisted of perfume. This perfume masked the bad odor that was present in the air around patients that needed treatment.

Later on, this particular costume became popular in theatre, carnivals, and special celebrations because of its unique structure. One of these costumes is still present at the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin.

From 19th Century Fashion Veil To Medical Use 

Women old photograph
Photo by Boston Public Library on Unsplash

In the 19th century, women started to wear veils that would keep them safe from dust and pollution in the air. These veils were fashionable, covered with lace, and made out of special fabrics. However, later on, it was suggested that thicker materials should be used to create these face masks to give better protection against disease-causing germs and allergens. So, the mask turned from a fashion symbol to a medical clothing item pretty soon.

20th Century – Physician Wu Lien-The Makes Medical Face Masks 

Medical Face Mask
Photo by Leo2014 on Pixabay

Early during the 20th century, the idea of using a face mask during surgery became the center of attention in the medical world. The idea was to protect the patient from the doctor and vice versa. It was intended to restrict any spread of infections or fluids between the two. In 1910, when an epidemic of pneumonia hit Manchuria, it was suggested by Physician Wu Lien that the disease-spreading microorganism was airborne.

Thus, to prevent it from spreading, it was suggested that face masks should be worn by everyone. This list included the public as well as medical professionals. The idea became even more well-understood during the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic. In 1920, the masks finally became a compulsion in operation theatres and surgical rooms.

Post-WWII To Date 

Men huddled around a doctor
Photo by Austrian National Library on Unsplash

After the end of World War II, air pollution had hit an extraordinary level. People everywhere had to wear face coverings called “smog masks” to protect themselves against diseases as well as to allow proper breathing. The situation was especially bad in London. As years passed, and air pollution became a global problem, the masks spread around to countries like China and India. After 2010, the masks started making an entry into the fashion industry.

Now, the trend has become even more viral after the coronavirus epidemic started. In fact, several designers have taken on the task of designing face masks for medical professionals currently fighting on the front lines. As face masks become the new norm, people are starting to get creative with their designs and the results are astonishing and definitely worth checking out.