Style for Smog: Fashionable Anti-Pollution Masks Make Their U.K. Debut

Keys? Check. Mobile phone? Check. High-fashion, anti-pollution facewear? Strapped on and ready for the morning commute. 

On the grubby streets of east London the air is thick with pollution but my designer mask — billed as the world’s first luxury anti-pollution facewear — means I can breathe easy. It is filtering out dirt, dust and harmful particles and, according to its designer, giving me an on-trend fashion edge.

Commuters in smog-filled Asian cities such as Beijing have worn surgical-style face masks for years. With air pollution an increasing concern in Britain’s big cities, it is a sad possibility that urbanites will one day don protective masks as readily as a hat or scarf.

RELATED: Four Out of 10 Americans Are Breathing Dirty Air

Described as a “bold blend of science and style”, the £160 ($244) Freka mask is ergonomically designed to fit the wearer’s face and uses an infusion of Japanese Hiroki wood to calm the senses while a filter blocks out harmful pollutants.

Freka spokeswoman Bhoomika Partap says there is no reason safety gear cannot look good. “Brits generally prefer not to wear something on their face because it’s not very comfortable or fashionable,” she says. “We wanted to create something of the highest ergonomic quality that made a statement.”


Described as a “bold blend of science and style," the Freka mask is ergonomically designed to fit the wearer’s face in an attempt to blend looks and practicality in an object that is a staple of many wardrobes in visibly polluted Asian cities. (image: Teri Pengilley)

It certainly achieves the latter. On the street, passers-by stare or swerve to avoid me. Maybe they think I’m ill or hiding something unsightly. Or about to hold up a bank.

On the tube, a woman laughs and takes my photo. But I’m the one who should be laughing; I’m protected from the PM 2.5 particles that fill London’s air — less than a hair’s width but linked to around 29,000 deaths a year in the U.K. 

RELATED: Air Pollution Kills More People Than HIV/AIDS

“In Asia air pollution is a lot more visible, so in the U.K. it’s a little more difficult to get people to notice there’s anything wrong with our air quality,” says Frank Borsboom, a Dutch engineer who helped design the mask.

Dr. Benjamin Barratt from the Environmental Research Group at King’s College London said there is “some evidence that a mask can reduce the levels of stress to the heart and lungs caused by breathing elevated levels of air pollution."

He added: “To be effective, a mask must be very well fitting otherwise the gases and tiny particles that make up air pollution will just flow around the mask when you breathe in.” Above all, Dr. Barratt said, efforts to improve air quality should take precedence over “sticking plaster solutions” such as masks.

To be honest, wearing a piece of silicon on my face is not enjoyable. My breathing is shallow and my peripheral vision is impaired; walking up steps is a nightmare. But is it fashionable? Well, the designers may have been aiming for a catwalk look but a colleague suggested I resembled a giant pigeon.


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Environmental Movement Is Achieving Cleaner Air in Key States


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