Functional masking: How people are adapting designs for lip-reading, eyebrow threading

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WATCH: From style statements to function fashion, masks are a growing part of our daily lives. But the basic design doesn't fit everyone's needs. Daniella Ponticelli has more on the creative ways people are making it work. – Jul 9, 2020

From style statements to functional fashion, face masks are now part of daily life during the coronavirus pandemic.

While various policies on wearing them are in place across Canada and the United States, basic mask design isn’t necessarily a fit for all.

Chantelle Emery, a hearing instrument practitioner in Saskatchewan who owns hearing centres in Swift Current and Battleford, said without the ability to read lips — or view facial expressions — masks pose a unique challenge for people with varying degrees of hearing loss.

Read more: Face masks can be problematic, dangerous to health of some Canadians, advocates say

“There’s so much non-verbal communication in the sign language community — they use the eyebrows, the lip movements and the facial expressions,” she said.

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“So what’s really important is letting people see your face because that is your means of communication for most of your body language.”

With clinics temporarily closed due to COVID-19, Emery said she leaned on her sewing skills from high school to make masks with a built-in vinyl window.

While the design isn’t original, Emery has since perfected the 12-gauge clear vinyl windows, creating adult and child sizes.

Emery is also on TikTok as ‘The Ear Girl,’ creating short signing and educational videos. Her ear wax removal videos have more than five million views. Chantelle Emery / Submitted

Emery said she’s priced the masks at $24, in order to sustain making them. The products come with an ear protector and a bottle of solution to ensure the mouth window doesn’t fog.

In just over a month after launching her Etsy shop, Emery said she has received around 160 orders — some for 100 masks each — mostly from the U.S. and some from Canada.

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Read more: Bill Nye the Science Guy returns for ‘wear a mask!’ PSA on coronavirus

“We find a lot of teachers are ordering these for the schools just so that they can see a more friendly face and it’s not so aggressive and harsh with the covering,” she said.

“Kids are very into facial cues and we love to communicate non-verbally so it’s super important that lip reading is still available.”

Esthetician creates mask solution for eyebrow threading

For esthetician Jasvir Veghal, director of Passion Salon and Spa in Regina, mandatory masking posed a challenge for eyebrow threading.

The age-old grooming technique uses thread to carefully pull hair from the roots and shape eyebrows.

“We put one end of the thread in our mouth, and roll it around, and use our neck and hands together to do the threading,” Veghal said.

Read more: Why some people still refuse to wear masks

Additionally, estheticians using the technique have close contact with clients, working above the face.

“That was a main concern, how to keep the community and ourselves safe,” she said.

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Veghal said she spent weeks during the COVID-19 lockdown researching a practical masking solution for once salons reopen.

She noted some estheticians loop the thread around the back of their necks, which she said is “uncomfortable and not easy.”

Read more: Coronavirus — Non-medical masks now recommended for Canadians, officials say

Veghal said she came up with the simple idea of sewing a button to the middle front of a cloth mask, which she wears over a disposable mask.

“We roll the thread around the button, so it stays tight, so then I can use the same technique (as if) we were putting the thread in the mouth,” Veghal said.

The esthetician has shared the idea on YouTube, in hopes others who make a living with the technique can safely resume work.

“It’s so easy to make, and I think everyone can make their own,” she said.

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