Ever since the start of the pandemic I’ve been experimenting with so many different kinds of masks. And with good reason—I couldn’t find the perfect one. Enter: Uniqlo‘s new Airism 3D masks. I had the opportunity to try them out for myself, and while they aren’t exactly perfect, they’re honestly pretty close.
3D? What do you mean by 3D?
Before I start talking about my time with them, I’d have to tell you about what they are. You might be familiar with Uniqlo’s first Airism mask that they’ve introduced in 2020—which was the company’s first attempt at making its own masks. With the recent release of the Airism 3D masks, they are meant to one-up the first-generation ones.
The first Airism masks were extremely appealing as they’re made from Uniqlo’s patented Airism technology, which gives its material a “highly breathable and quick-drying, with a smooth, light feel”. They also have a triple-layer structure—which is considered safer than other conventional cloth masks. The center of the masks employs a filter that delivers a bacterial filtration efficiency of 99%. One of the three layers also includes a UV Cut layer, which cuts 90% of ultraviolet rays.
However, it’s not the most comfortable thing to wear for a long day. Sure, the Airism material theoretically would make wearers breathe easier. But its loose shape doesn’t help. It’s also got an obvious thickness thanks to the three laters, and the material can get sucked in when you breathe. Alex, who uses the first-gen Airism masks, says that he tends to double-mask the Uniqlo one with a regular surgical mask—not just because it’s safer, but because the surgical mask can help retain the shape a lot better.
As for these new second-gen Airism 3D masks, they actually sound about the same on paper. They also offer the same triple-layer structure with the same benefits—and yes, that includes the UV Cut layer and a filter for bacterial filtration. So, if they have got the same safety “features”, as well as the same Airism material, how are they different from the older masks?
The first thing you’d notice is that the masks feature a “clean three-dimensional feel and sharp face line” to their design. The masks are also designed by artist and designer, Tokujin Yoshioka, who reportedly trialed “more than 100 patterns before going for the completed look”. Addtionally, they also have “newly developed ear adjusters”—which “reduces irritation around the ears, maintaining comfort even when worn for long periods”.
The Uniqlo Airism 3D masks are priced at RM39.90 for a pack of two, while a pack of three first-gen Uniqlo Airism masks cost the same. Generic cloth masks can cost as cheap as about RM1 or RM2 each online, too. So, they can technically be classified as “luxury items”—but the question is, are they even worth the higher price point?
Before I even had a go at trying them out, Ray and Rory already shared their experiences trying the new Airism 3D masks out. They pointed out the big differences between the new ones and the older ones—the first thing they noticed is the difference in packaging. The first-gen ones come in a kind of environmentally friendly paper bag, whereas the second-gen ones come in a less environmentally friendly plastic bag.
In terms of sizes, they noted that they’ve seen and felt how the different sizes (S, M, L and XL) were. S was a bit too small for most adult faces, but they would seem to fit kids’ faces a lot better. M is about the same size as generic masks, while L and XL are… well, bigger. If you’re not sure what size is best for you, you can look through the measurements on Uniqlo’s page. But if you’re already familiar with the sizes for the older masks, you should be fine with the same size.
Opening them up, you’d already notice how thin the 3D masks are—almost surgical mask-like—compared to the older ones. I’m even slightly in disbelief because they’re meant to have the same three-layer protection as the first-gen masks.
The most obvious difference between the two masks is also that the new ones have a line in the middle that helps make them “3D-shaped”. Once you hold a mask up, you can already see it hold its own shape.
Weh, it’s so comfortable
My usual masks are either the regular surgical masks, or cloth masks I’ve bought from small businesses on Instagram. The cloth masks have the same problem as the first-gen Uniqlo masks, in that they never really hold their own shape and I end up just breathing in the loose cloth. The surgical masks are okay and give you about the same protective layers (sometimes more), but they’d just add on to the landfill.
The 3D masks, on the other hand, are sort of like a happy medium and I was… pleasantly surprised. They’re cloth—and reusable for up to 20 washes—but they really do not feel as thick or as uncomfortable as the average layered cloth mask. The masks also do not touch your mouth when you wear them, and that means that it’s a lot easier for you to breathe.
A size M fits my face really comfortably. Its shape also feels like it hugs my face pretty well—its borders around the mask keep it nice and snug. Something like a surgical mask can leave the side of your face with a generous and vulnerable gap.
For the week where I exclusively used the masks, I was more than happy keeping them on for long periods in my office, and even outside in the blistering hot sun when I would walk out for lunch. I’ve noticed that instead of wanting so badly to take my mask off just to not breathe through my mouth, the Airism 3D masks made it relatively easy for me to breathe through the nose—a rare feat if you’re wearing most masks.
But it’s not perfect
I don’t have major complaints during my week with the Uniqlo Airism 3D masks. However, there are some minor things about them that could be improved—which became more and more apparent the longer I wore them.
The first thing I wanted to note was its adjustable ear loops. It’s not a huge deal, but I don’t really like them. For one thing, they look a bit silly on the side of your face. And theoretically, adjustable ear loops would mean that you can adjust them to make the masks feel more comfortable. But, they don’t really make a huge difference.
I could attribute it to how uncomfortable all masks are on your ears if you wear them all day. But I also hated how the little rubber band that helps adjust the side of the loops feels against my ears.
The mask—even though it’s the right size—also feels a bit short in the nose area. For those with cute little button noses, you might find a gap there—which can be problematic. Even though it’s comfortable, it doesn’t feel particularly safe, especially if you’re used to a mask that has a wire where the nose area is to keep it in place.
I don’t exactly have a cute little button nose—I have a bit of a taller nose bridge so it isn’t too big of a problem. I also wear huge glasses that sort of help keeps the mask in place most of the time. But if you have both 20/20 vision and a tiny nose… first of all, I’m jealous… and second of all, this mask might not be for you.
There’s also the concern of how it is after you’ve washed it a few times. Uniqlo stated that the masks are good for 20 washes before they lose efficacy. I’ve currently machine-washed the masks up to 2 times now. While they still hold their shape pretty well, they don’t feel as sturdy as they did the first time I used them.
Will I be using them more often?
I didn’t understand what the big deal was with the 3D aspect before. In fact, it sounded just like a silly little gimmick to get us to buy something they’ve released before. But damn—the designer, Tokujin Yoshioka, really knew what he was doing creating them. Additionally, Yoshioka even said that the design was “inspired by the production technique of underwear” to make the fabric feel seamless for a “softer feel on the skin”.
Its design made a world of a difference between these and the older Uniqlo masks. It almost makes me forget about how much I dislike the adjustable ear loops if it means making me feel comfortable and safe at the same time.
They will genuinely be masks that I will wear more often, but they won’t be my masks every day. Even though they’re extremely comfortable, they’re still RM39.90 for a pack of two—and will only last for 20 washes. It’s also a lot easier to wear cheaper “wear and throw” surgical masks when you don’t want to wash anything.
Like a lot of Uniqlo items, they’re basic but luxurious. Luxury often comes with a price, but the price isn’t too wild. If you’re new to the Uniqlo mask game and are interested to try them out, you can probably buy a pack and try them first. If you like them, it’s not that hard for you to get more. There are about 50 Uniqlo stores in Malaysia, and you can easily find the masks on display. You can also purchase them online.