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Love wearing that mask on your arm or under your chin? You’re spreading germs

In this new series, CNA Lifestyle asks the experts for their thoughts on common bad habits. This week, we look at how we wear masks while exercising or eating – and why a resealable bag is a safer bet.

When it comes to bad habits, we can all agree that there are some that are pretty disgusting – like picking one’s nose and flicking that rolled-up bit of booger in public or otherwise.

But it’s not just a matter of looking gross. There are certain habits that could be an issue health-wise and in this new series, we’ve asked experts to explain why exactly you should think twice about doing certain things.

Take mask wearing, for instance. It is something we’ve all started getting used to. However, there are certain habits that also come with it – such as pulling your mask down under your chin before you eat or drink, or temporarily transferring your mask to your arm before you run or brisk walk.

(Photo: Unsplash/Kobby Mendez)

“Wearing your mask on the elbow or chin are both bad mask-wearing habits, and defeat the purpose of wearing a mask to protect or reduce your chances of infection,” said Dr Grace Huang, a general practitioner with DTAP Clinic.


The surfaces of your mask contain microbes, said Dr Catherine Ong, a consultant with the division of infectious diseases at National University Hospital. “For an infected person, the viral particles will accumulate on the surface that comes into contact with the face,” she said.

Furthermore, a worn mask is often moistened with respiratory and saliva droplets, which makes its inner surface more conducive for the virus to survive on than a dry surface, she said.

(Photo: Freepik)

A mask’s outer surface is no better as it is covered in bacteria, viruses and dirt from the external environment, said Dr Huang. “Pulling your mask down to your chin means the external surface of the mask may come into contact with your face and possibly your lower lip, spreading these pathogens directly to your mouth and face.”


It may be convenient but it’s not a good idea to wear your mask on your arm or elbow while exercising, said Dr Huang. While perspiration is not known to spread COVID-19, she said that when you perspire, you may inadvertently touch your face, which increases your risk of spreading pathogens from your hands or arms to your eyes, nose and mouth.

Conversely, you could be introducing your mouth to more pathogens when you put your mask back on. “You are effectively spreading pathogens from your arms, which may have touched a lot of common surfaces, to your nose and mouth,” said Dr Huang.

(Photo: Freepik)

So what's the best way to keep your mask while you're jogging? "The best option is to have a clean carrier to protect the mask from the external environment," she said. "If we can carry our phone and bank cards with us, adding a small Ziploc bag that can be tucked into your phone case or pocket is just a matter of getting used to."


You'll be wrong to think that placing your mask on your wallet or phone, instead of directly on the table, is a more hygienic move. "Our wallet and phone are probably some of the dirtiest objects we own," said Dr Huang. "We touch external surfaces and then handle our phone and wallet, essentially rendering them fomites. The safest option is still a clean carrier or mask holder that is not exposed to external dirt and pathogens." Fomites are objects that are likely to carry infection. 

And forget about folding your mask (no matter how carefully) before stashing it in your pocket. "This is not ideal as the mask may get crumpled or displaced with movement", said Dr Huang.  


Reusable fabric masks are not fluid resistant and may easily absorb sweat or any fluids that it comes into contact with, said Dr Huang. So such masks act like sponges, absorbing fluid on your arm or chin, and transferring it to your mouth and nose when you put your mask back on.

“Disposable surgical masks are fluid resistant and filter better than reusable cotton masks,” said Dr Huang. “However, disposable paper masks will not have the same effectiveness.”

Source: CNA/bk