You should generally wear a protective face mask with the coloured side pointing outwards

27 February 2020
What was claimed

Each side of protective surgical masks has different functions, indicated by colour, and you should choose the way you wear by whether you are ill or not.

Our verdict

This is incorrect. Generally, if they have a coloured side, you should wear your mask with this pointing outward—but always read the manufacturer’s instructions to be sure.

A Facebook post claiming that there are different functions for the two sides of a surgical face mask and that you should wear it, either way, depending on your health, has been shared hundreds of times on Facebook and across social media. It claims the blue or coloured side facing out means the wearer is sick and doesn’t want to spread their illness, whereas the white side facing out means they’re healthy and don’t want to catch anything.

The conversation has been sparked by the recent outbreak of a new coronavirus (now known as Covid-19) and the increased demand for protective masks. However, the post is incorrect. Generally, if a mask has a coloured side, it is advised that this is pointed outwards. The co-director of the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Control, Dr Seto Wing Hong, can be seen demonstrating how to wear a mask. As he says, the two sides have particular functions, which would be impeded if worn the wrong way.

Nevertheless, you should always read the manufacturer’s instructions on your chosen mask. 

Face coverings, which can include masks, are currently mandatory in England in a range of indoor settings, such as public transport and shops for people over the age of 11 who are not exempt for either professional or health reasons. Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales have their own guidance

Update 3 September 2020

This piece has been updated with the latest UK guidance on wearing face coverings.

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