We test the Airism product for three days in a range of conditions. 

On 20 June, Uniqlo released their long-awaited Airism face masks around the country, and people raced to stores to get their hands on them. Our own Japanese-language reporter P.K. Sanjun was one of hundreds to line up to buy the masks, which sold out in hours, but according to his review, the product just didn’t live up to the hype.

P.K. can be a harsh critic though, so another reporter from our Japanese team, Mariko Ohanabatake, put her hand up to give the masks a more thorough testing. She wanted to give them more of a chance to prove themselves under a variety of conditions over a three-day period, in the hopes that the masks weren’t really as disappointing in the heat as everyone said they were.

▼ Mariko lined up for an hour on release day to purchase a pack of three medium sized masks for 990 yen (US$9.29).

Airism is a smooth, breathable fabric used in Uniqlo’s cool summer underwear and base layer garments as it “wicks moisture, releases heat, and absorbs sweat” for maximum comfort in summer. So when the new Airism masks arrived in time for this year’s summer season, customers had high hopes that the cool, sweat-wicking fabric would make mask-wearing more comfortable in the warm, humid months.

However, the general consensus amongst customers who’ve bought these new masks is that, surprisingly, they aren’t made for the heat. The reason for this is because the masks have a unique three-layer structure to enhance protective performance, making them noticeably thicker than disposable face masks.

▼ The smooth Airism material does feel good on the skin, though.

When Mariko popped the mask on, the smooth fabric felt cool to the touch immediately. However, that coolness disappeared after about 30 seconds, and Mariko took a look in the mirror to find that the mask looked a little bulky around her face.

On the plus side, it was roomier and covered up a lot more of her face than her go-to non-woven mask, with the cloth going right up to her ears as well.

On Day One, Mariko used the mask inside the air-conditioned office, where the fabric ended up sticking to her mouth every time she breathed. She figured this was due to the thick material, and after her workday, she felt the mask had been stuffy and uncomfortable, particularly when compared to her usual non-woven mask.

On Day Two, Mariko attempted to wear the mask on a sunny day outside. The temperature on this particular day was about 26 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit) with high humidity, and the mask felt much hotter than when she was using it in the office.

▼ While walking outside, her face was covered in more beads of sweat than usual.

After walking around for about two hours, the mask became more and more stuffy. She had to adjust the mask about once every three minutes to breathe in some gulps of fresh air for relief.

When she got home she breathed a sigh of relief as she slipped off the mask, and after seeing it stained with patches of makeup that she’d sweated off inside, she decided to take a look at the back of the pack for washing instructions.

▼ What she found on the back of the pack was this: “Please refrain from wearing the mask during heavy exercise or hot weather.

What…???? She couldn’t quite believe it. The reason why people lined up for hours to get these masks when they were released was because Airism is a material that’s become synonymous with summertime in Japan. It’s meant to make hot weather more bearable, so to find that the mask shouldn’t be used when it’s warm was more than just surprising, it was baffling.

Still, she paid good money for these masks, and wasn’t about to let them go to waste, so she took the washable face mask to the bathroom…

▼ And popped it into a small tub of water and neutral detergent.

According to Uniqlo, the Airism Mask can be washed and reused about 20 times. Mariko was impressed with how easily the stains disappeared with hardly any scrubbing, however the fabric is pretty thick so it does take a while to dry. After drying it on the line outside at night, it was still moist in the morning and only felt dry around noon, so these need to be used and washed in rotation to avoid being left maskless on a workday morning.

On Day Three, Mariko popped on one of her washed-and-dried masks and headed off to work in the office. There was no bad odour nor noticeable shrinkage, which makes these especially good for repeated use. However, the online reviews from customers were right — the mask is definitely too thick and stuffy to use in summer, and even pose a risk of heatstroke if used in hot and humid conditions.

Still, these’ll be great masks to use during autumn and winter, so it wasn’t entirely a wasted purchase. It’s just a shame that these were hyped up to be summertime mask saviours when they clearly aren’t. Because even after three days of use, Mariko would happily cut up a bra and use that as a face covering before wearing an Airism mask again in summer.

Images: ©SoraNews24
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