The Evolution of Masks

December 10,2021

In the early winter of 2020, masks have gained people’s attention once again and this small and simple commodity has become a necessity for people to compete for in disasters. So, what is the history of masks? How does it affect the evolution of human respiratory protection? Let’s dive in!

First, the record and exploration of masks before modern times

The history of human protection of respiratory system can be traced back to ancient Rome. In the first century AD, philosopher and naturalist Pliny (AD 23-79) used loose animal bladder skin to cover his nose to filter dust, so as not to be inhaled into this toxic mercury sulfide when crushing cinnabar.

Philosopher and naturalist Pliny

In the Middle Ages, Western medical circles believed that infectious diseases such as cholera and Black Death were caused by miasma in the air. Therefore, in order to resist miasma, some doctors at that time would wear a bird's beak mask when diagnosing respiratory diseases. Some spices and herbs would be placed in these masks; Although I don't understand the principle, I do block the spread of diseases to a certain extent;

Medieval duckbill mask

In Florence in the 16 th century, Leonardo da Vinci, a famous painter and naturalist, proposed to use weaving to soak his face in water to prevent toxic chemicals such as smoke from harming the respiratory system. This advanced method has been written in the fire escape guide so far;
In the Yuan Dynasty of China, when the court emperor ate, in order to avoid the breath of those who served the emperor's diet touching the food, the waiter's mouth and nose were all covered with silk scarves woven of silk and gold thread;
"Kyle Polo's Travels" records: "In the Yuan Dynasty palace, people who offer food cover their nose and mouth with silk cloth to give them breath and not touch food." And this silk cloth covering the nose and mouth is the most primitive mask.
To sum up briefly, before modern times, people's understanding of respiratory protection was still in a simple stage, and what changed all this later was scientific progress-

Second, the modern re-understanding of respiratory protection

In 1827, Scottish scientist Robert Brown discovered a kind of "Brownian motion", which believed that the collision of fast-moving gas molecules would lead to the random bouncing movement of very small particles, and theoretically studied the protective effect of masks on dust;
In 1849, American Lewis Haslett invented the "lung protector", which is essentially a tedious breathing mask. It is equipped with two clapper valves and uses wool filters to prevent dust. He applied for an American patent in 1849, patent number 6529, which can still be found in American archives today;

Microbiologist Pasteur

In 1861, French microbiologist Pasteur passed the famous gooseneck bottle experiment, It is an important turning point to prove that there are microorganisms in the air that can spoil substances, because people realize for the first time that there are biological bacteria in the air besides chemical poisons, which also lays a theoretical foundation for the invention and application of bacterial protective masks;
In 1876, the medical profession founded aseptic surgery, that is, all surgical machinery, surgical clothes, surgical caps and rubber gloves must be strictly disinfected, but at this time, the medical profession did not protect the surgeon's mouth.
In the same year, German scientist Robert Koch successfully isolated anthrax and put forward Koch's law, which is famous in the field of microbiology. This law clearly describes how to determine the relationship between specific microorganisms and diseases. The specific content is divided into four specific contents-
  • The same microorganism appears in every case and does not exist in healthy people;
  • To isolate such microorganisms from the host, they can be purified and cultured in the culture medium;
  • Inoculate the purified culture of this microorganism into a healthy and sensitive host, and the same diseases will occur repeatedly;
  • This microorganism can be isolated and cultured again from the host of experimental disease.
In 1897, German microbiologist Fruger proved through experiments that the behavior of medical staff talking to wounds during surgery may cause wound infection and inflammation. Fruger's specific statement is that "Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus can be cultivated from surgeons' pharynx and dental caries, and bacteria in saliva will contaminate wounds when speaking."

German microbiologist Frug

On this basis, German surgeon Mikulicz proposed in the same year that medical staff should wear sterilized gauze masks that can cover their nose and mouth when performing surgery. Such masks are called "Mikulicz's mask", which is the first recorded medical mask in the modern sense. Since then, "wearing masks" has become the standard image of medical staff.
Of course, the initial mask is still very simple, just using one or several layers of gauze to simply wrap the face compactly, and the convenience and comfort are far from the real modern mask;
In 1899, a British surgeon improved the design-he cut the gauze into a rectangle, and set up a frame-shaped thin wire bracket between the gauze, leaving a certain gap between the gauze and the nose and mouth, thus solving the weakness of poor breathing of the mask.

The evolution of masks

Then Paul Bertie, a French surgeon, made a six-layer gauze mask, sewn on the collar of the surgical gown, and only turned the collar upside down. Then he improved the design by connecting the gauze with an annular strap and hanging it on the ear or the back of the head.
Thus, the shape of modern masks was born! What a long period evolving time of masks. Thanks to the predecessors’ effort, we have this effective mask to protect ourselves and our families. By the way, Xiamen Safety Health & Environment Industry & Trade Co., Ltd. is a professional manufacturer and supplier of PPES offering dust mask, cone mask, particulate filter, reusable mask, ,filter cartridges, earplugs, protective goggles and spectacles. If you have any needs please feel free to contact us.