Team USA's origami-inspired face masks are designed to be breathable, but they're not as protective as N95s
- Team USA is sporting some futuristic-looking face coverings for the Tokyo Games.
- The masks have been compared to characters from Batman, Star Wars, and The Silence of the Lambs.
- Nike emphasizes that they are not medical-grade masks. Experts say N95 respirators provide the best protection.
The US Olympic team arrived at the Tokyo Games in blinding white tracksuits, but it was their matching face masks that drew attention.
The masks stand out at least an inch from the athletes' faces, with distinctive ridges reminiscent of origami folds.
People on social media have compared Team USA's face coverings to masks worn by Batman villain Bane and fictional cannibal Hannibal Lecter.
-jack teja (@jackteja) July 27, 2021
-Chase Mitchell (@ChaseMit) July 29, 2021
-Billy Jack (@BillyJa82485665) July 26, 2021
While the masks have a specialized look, they do not provide added protection.
A mesh mask advertised as breathable, comfortable, and washable is not going to block aerosols that contain coronavirus as well as an N95 respirator, textiles expert You-Lo Hsieh told Insider.
The $60 masks are made by Nike, but they're not on the market yet
If you want to mask up like Team USA, you'll have to wait.
The ridged masks are made by Nike, and the specific style is called the Nike Venturer. It's currently advertised as "coming soon," at the price of $60 per mask.
"Strap on Nike's first performance mask of its kind made for optimal breathability," the online description reads. "Designed for sport, built in nose cushion and chin insert helps it stay in place when you're going hard."
How mesh and cloth masks compare to medical-grade face coverings
Like cloth masks made of woven or knitted fabrics, the Nike masks are designed to be "breathable," but they lose out on protection.
"[These masks] have much larger pores to be breathable, but may block only the largest droplets, not aerosols," said Hsieh, a distinguished professor of biological and agricultural engineering at the University of California, Davis.
Nike says the masks are not intended for use as personal protective equipment. This is a standard caveat for cloth masks that have not been tested against medical-grade standards, according to textiles engineer Emiel DenHartog.
Without testing data, it's hard to judge how well the masks work, DenHartog told Insider.
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