Why Should You Be Ditching the Cotton Face Mask Trend

As you step out of your house, donning a cotton face mask, a child somewhere in East Asia is forced to work on the farms in horrific conditions.


To make sure you have a stylish cotton face mask to keep you safe from the deadly virus, labor, including children, are forced to work in unimaginably bad conditions.

You are not the only one to blame. It has been happening for a long.

Really, really long.

But, every face mask made of cotton adds to that exploitation.

And it is not just forced or child labor, cotton comes with many other problems too.

You might never actually witness the havoc that cotton production creates. But cotton farmers and Mother Nature suffer in silence.

Cotton is a natural fiber. And yet, it is harmful to the environment, the farmers, and YOU.

Yes, it is harmful to you too.

Here’s how…

Cotton and Its Insatiable Thirst

Cotton drinks a lot of water.  It is exceptionally absorbent, which is desirable for a lot of use cases.

When you are using nail polish remover or when you are clearing up spills, for example.

But not always.

According to EDRO Corporation, each pound of cotton can absorb up to 0.3 gallons of water. And wet cotton kills…

…mostly backpackers and hikers. When they are wearing wet cotton clothes in cold temperatures, it increases the chances of contracting hypothermia. Plus, there is the discomfort of clothes that won’t dry quickly and causes chafing.

But, you are not hiking with your masks on, right? It is easy to disregard the facts when they don’t directly concern you.

If you think your cotton face mask is doing you no harm, you need to be on the lookout for what it is doing to the environment.

As mentioned earlier, cotton is a thirsty plant. And it’s thirst begins even before it becomes a cloth.

Cotton and Environmental Concerns

An average cotton shirt weighs around 130 gms to 150 gms. And 2,700 liters of water are used to produce it.

Translating it in terms of your face mask weighing around 40 gms, it comes to about 772 liters.

Picture that. 772 liters of water for one face mask. Just one. That’s the amount of water an average adult uses for 5 days.

The world is facing an acute water shortage. Is it really justified to use so much water for producing a fabric?

Factor in the fertilizers, pesticides, and fossil fuels that are needed for the production, and you’ll truly be able to picturize how much your mask actually costs.

What if you stopped using cotton face masks? What if you found a more eco-friendly, natural, and sustainable fabric?

Wouldn’t your push a lot of people dependent on cotton out of jobs?

Well, that brings us to another dark aspect of cotton.

Cotton – The Economic Oppressor

Statistics suggest smallholder cotton farmers can be credited for over 60% of the world’s cotton production. And these smallholders, around 100 million farmers, live in developing countries and grow cotton on an average of 2 hectares of land.

And these farmers live below the poverty line, are struggling for even basic survival, and have crushing debts.


Cotton sells. So, what’s stopping these people from making money?


When there are vast fields cropped with the same crop, that’s called monocropping or monoculture.

 Monocropping facilitates planting and harvesting cotton. And it also facilitates insects, pests, and fungi to move in and devastate the whole field in one go.

That’s risky for farmers.

To reduce that risk, farmers use a lot of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Farmers use about 35kgs of fertilizers per acre per year.

Another measure that farmers take to prevent crop destruction is pulling out the plant after being harvested. Pulling out a perennial crop like cotton from the soil exposes the soil.

And then again, there is a need for more fertilizers to compensate for the lost nutrients from the soil.

And then this circle continues perpetually, just like farmers, their debt traps, and poverty cycles.

And yes, the most used fertilizer is potash, which is mined miles away from the cotton field.

Just imagine how giant the carbon footprint will be.

And all that, for nothing in return.


Cotton Face Masks Fail to Serve their Purpose

A UNSW study states that the use of cotton face masks puts healthcare workers at a higher risk of respiratory diseases and viral infections.

Again, if you aren’t a healthcare worker, how exactly does it affect you?

Even if you are not as exposed to the pandemic as healthcare workers here is something that might shock you.

The particle penetration of cloth masks was found to be 97% against 44% with medical masks.

Also, experts suggest that moisture retention (remember how thirsty cotton is), the reuse of cloth masks, and poor filtration create an increased risk of infection.

Doesn’t that completely defy the purpose of wearing a face mask?

What good is a face mask that doesn’t offer the required level of safety and exposes the wearer to other risks? And not to mention how it screws up with nature!

Umm, some precaution is better than none, right? And anyway, what difference does your one mask make?

Well, that’s the kind of denial that has forced people for centuries to shut up and continue with the popular culture, no matter how toxic it is.

And that is still not the complete story.

There are probably more miseries sewn into cotton than stitches in your mask.

If your cotton mask would have given you significant protection, our stance against cotton might have been milder.

The human race is self-centered, greedy, and hardly ever concerned about others.

We would have joined the crowd, or at least not have raised our voices against it if cotton face masks would have been doing you any good.

But, here is the thing about cotton.

It is like a popular bully. No one really questions what it does to anyone.

Here are two more things that this big bad bully does, and yet goes unquestioned.

  1. Most cotton masks on the market contain carcinogenic fluorescent agents. Suppose you don’t really know what those agents do. Here is the definition of carcinogenic to make the picture a little clearer for you. “Carcinogenic is an adjective that means having the potential to cause cancer. And your cotton face mask that is perched on your nose, covering your mouth that such agents. Don’t ask us why. We aren’t the one you should be questioning. And as regarding how it affects you, we are sure you understood it.”
  2. Beautifully designed, custom printed, and “fashionable” masks use printing and dyeing materials that are loaded with heavy metals. And long term exposure isn’t something medical experts would recommend.

So, then should you risk your lives and go out without masks? Or worse, use single-use plastic masks?

Not at all.

Wearing a mask is of the utmost importance.

But a cotton face mask isn’t the ideal pick.

It is literally doing you no good. It is detrimental to the well-being of the farmers who produce it and harmful to the environment in more ways than one.

Saying no to this product of excessive economic lobbying is the need of the hour.

But the burning question here is, if not cotton, then what?