face mask hacksA 35-year-old male working as a healthcare worker presents for evaluation of ear discomfort. The skin behind his ears has been red and irritated since having to wear a surgical face mask with the majority of his patient interactions [1]. He has tried to minimize wearing his mask in the appropriate circumstances,  using lotions and emollients, but still has a significant amount of discomfort [2].

Trick of the Trade: Face mask hack using a paperclip or coban

These are 3 options for keeping your surgical mask off your ears. They maintain the appropriate positioning of the mask and require only common equipment.


  • Option 1: The paperclip
    • Mask
    • Paperclip
  • Option 2: The coban
    • Mask
    • Coban
  • Option 3: Beekeeper chic
    • Baseball cap
    • Hair net
    • Binder clips
  • Option 4: Barrel of Monkeys toy (hat tip to Dr. Eric Reichman)
    • Mask
    • Plastic toy monkey (about 50 cents USD each)



All techniques allow the pressure of the mask to lie on the back of the head instead of the ears.

A note about option 3: This set-up has several dual purposes. The binder clip handles can be flipped up and down in order to easily free the face mask. The hair net serves both to hide the baseball cap apparatus, and to keep providers’ hair out of their faces (and their hands out of their hair).


Appropriate personal protective equipment is important for prevention of disease control, but wearing masks constantly can be irritating. Multiple solutions have been floating around:

What do you think of these techniques? What hacks have you used to make your mask and PPE more comfortable and functional?


  1. CDC Interim Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations for Patients with Suspected or Confirmed Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Healthcare Settings
  2. CDC Strategies to Optimize the Supply of PPE and Equipment

Updated Aug 26, 2020

Luz Maria Silverio, MD

Luz Maria Silverio, MD

Attending Emergency Physician, Kaiser Santa Clara
Clinical Assistant Professor (Affiliate), Stanford University School of Medicine
Luz Maria Silverio, MD

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Michelle Lin, MD
ALiEM Founder and CEO
Professor and Digital Innovation Lab Director
Department of Emergency Medicine
University of California, San Francisco
Michelle Lin, MD


Professor of Emerg Med at UCSF-Zuckerberg SF General. ALiEM Founder @aliemteam #PostitPearls at https://t.co/50EapJORCa Bio: https://t.co/7v7cgJqNEn
Michelle Lin, MD
Bella Shah Nagappan, MD

Bella Shah Nagappan, MD

PGY-4 Resident
Department of Emergency Medicine, Michigan Medicine
Bella Shah Nagappan, MD

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Tiffany Schegg, MD

Tiffany Schegg, MD

Emergency Physician
Medical Director of Simulation
NorthBay Healthcare
Tiffany Schegg, MD

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