Due to dodgy air quality, a good face mask is a must-have accessory for residents in China. While air-pollution masks are more and more common outdoors in China, another sort of mask is turning heads indoors: computer radiation face masks.
Called "fang fushe mian ju" (防辐射面具), the radiation prevention masks, unlike air-pollution masks, are are only used indoors — and typically in front of computers. Unlike normal face masks that cover the lower portion of the face (the nose and mouth), their computer radiation counterparts cover the whole face leaving openings for the eyes, nostrils, and mouth.
These masks aren't exactly new, they've been around for a while. First surfacing in 2009, they found fans among female office workers afraid of receiving unhealthy doses of radiation from looking at a computer screen for long hours at a time.
The masks even made the evening news that same year; however, the trend seemed to die down after reports appeared online saying the masks didn't do much to stop radiation. In an Xiamen News Online article, for example, there were doctors that said the masks do little because the amount of radiation from LCD computer screens were negligible.
However, these masks never really went away. Even as I sit writing this now in Beijing, a young group of women in the China Daily building where I work are sitting at their desks, wearing radiation masks. In an office of 20 women, six have these masks, two of which are currently wearing them. Anecdotal evidence, sure, and it's hard to say how widespread these are, but they still exist.
For some young women, the masks offer an extra layer of protection. According to one of my female colleagues who is surnamed Yu, she wears these masks because they help protect her skin from radiation. Yu, who edits and produces multimedia content, says she stares at a computer screen all day. Wearing the mask, she says can help her keep protect her complexion.
"I like wearing the masks, it hides my whole face from view," said Yu . "The masks hides my whole face so one can see my expression."
She said she purchased hers a month ago.
A search on China's micro-blogging Sina Weibo platform shows that there are close to 40,000 hits on the subject of computer radiation face masks. Some Weibo sers are have taken to showing off selfies of themselves wearing their face masks. Here are some from the past month or so:
@YuXuan-meilin: Check out what my roommate just bought. It kind of feels like wearing a diaper.
@浮生若梦Elinor: First day wearing the new computer radiation mask. Scared my dorm mates, and some even said I look like a bird... I'm starting to wonder if these things are for real.
@梁台台: Check out my new mask. Doesn't it look like a high class luxury item?
Contrary to news reports, sellers on China's mega e-commerce site, Taobao.com, still advertise the masks as effective in combating radiation. A typical mask sells for about 10 dollars and are made out of cloth like materials. On Taobao, these masks are marketed as a beauty product. They're meant to keep skin from drying out from the radiation that computer screens emit.
A look on Taobao shows a variety of different masks available for purchase. Some of these masks even offer something called "silver fibre lining".
There seems to be a disconnect with these masks. The same people who wear these face masks don't wear anti-pollution face masks when they go outside where the air quality is terrible. Then again, people do crazy things out of fear for radiation. When the Fukushima incident happened in Japan, many Chinese, myself included, went out and purchased iodised salt, which was reportedly able to help with radiation poison.
Seeing how I sit in front of an electronic screen most of my day, I think I might invest in one of these masks...if they really work, that is. Maybe I can find one that looks like a Lucha Libre mask?