Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

SUMMARYThis narrative review and meta-analysis summarizes a broad evidence base on the benefits-and also the practicalities, disbenefits, harms and personal, sociocultural and environmental impacts-of masks and masking. Our synthesis of evidence from over 100 published reviews and selected primary studies, including re-analyzing contested meta-analyses of key clinical trials, produced seven key findings. First, there is strong and consistent evidence for airborne transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and other respiratory pathogens. Second, masks are, if correctly and consistently worn, effective in reducing transmission of respiratory diseases and show a dose-response effect. Third, respirators are significantly more effective than medical or cloth masks. Fourth, mask mandates are, overall, effective in reducing community transmission of respiratory pathogens. Fifth, masks are important sociocultural symbols; non-adherence to masking is sometimes linked to political and ideological beliefs and to widely circulated mis- or disinformation. Sixth, while there is much evidence that masks are not generally harmful to the general population, masking may be relatively contraindicated in individuals with certain medical conditions, who may require exemption. Furthermore, certain groups (notably D/deaf people) are disadvantaged when others are masked. Finally, there are risks to the environment from single-use masks and respirators. We propose an agenda for future research, including improved characterization of the situations in which masking should be recommended or mandated; attention to comfort and acceptability; generalized and disability-focused communication support in settings where masks are worn; and development and testing of novel materials and designs for improved filtration, breathability, and environmental impact.

Original publication




Journal article


Clin Microbiol Rev

Publication Date



SARS-CoV-2, infection prevention and control, masks, meta-analysis, methodology, narrative review, non-pharmaceutical interventions, respirators, respiratory infections