3 Reasons Your Mask Leaks

by Cris Merz:

sdi diver

photo by: Santiago Estrada

Mask leaks can certainly make a dive uncomfortable as well as frustrating. Did you know that having a leaky mask is also a contributor to poor air consumption? Aside from the harder breathing that is required due to increased stress, air is constantly blown into the mask in order to blow out the water to clear the mask. Three topics will be covered that may assist a diver with mask leakage issues: hair, mask size, and mask quality. Being aware of how these three factors can contribute to mask leakage may decrease the issues underwater caused by a mask leaking, making for a much more pleasant experience.

#1 Your hair can cause your mask to leak

Hair is a culprit that affects mask leakage that often goes ignored. For both men and women, it is important to ensure that hair is pulled back away from the forehead so it does not interfere with the seal created by the skirt of the mask and the skin. Additionally, men must also be aware that facial hair may prevent the seal from being tight between the upper lip and the bottom of the nose. If shaving is not an option, one may try applying a dab of petroleum jelly or similar lubricant to act as a sealant, though it is not a guarantee either.

#2 Your mask may be too big or small

The size of the mask is usually one of the biggest factors to cause a leaky mask. Some divers believe that a tight strap around the back of the head is the best “fix” for this situation. It is not. A mask that doesn’t fit is a mask that doesn’t fit. Pulling it tighter may just cause further discomfort as well as stress. A mask that does not properly fit may leak with the most minimal movement or even facial expression regardless of how tight the mask strap may be. It is important that when fitting for a mask, the diver finds a mask that is not only their size, but fits the shape of their face. The best way to test this before getting in the water is by putting the mask on the face and inhaling gently without pulling the strap on to the back of the head. The suction should hold the mask in place to the face indicating that the seal is intact.

#3 Don’t skimp on mask quality

Quality of a mask, as well as other gear and equipment, is what can potentially make a huge difference in the quality of our dives. A cheap mask is likely to have a cheap skirt around the frame. High quality silicone will be a lot more flexible and adjust to the curves of the face better than say, rubber. It will also be a lot softer preventing discomfort that may cause unwanted facial movements underwater. Divers unfortunately sometimes go for something cheaper failing to realize the importance of a good mask and what it brings to the table as far as diving comfort.

Removing hair from under the skirt, a proper fitting mask and a good quality product will go a long way to improve air consumption and assist in leaky masks issues. Although following all these tips will enhance the dives it is important to note that the job to ensure little mask leakage is not complete. Once the mask has been selected and hair removed, it is important to make the final adjustments once the diver enters the water. First, ensure the mask is centered on the face. It may also help to pull the mask a bit allowing some air to enter before pushing the mask against the face to push that excess air back out creating a tighter seal. Finally, check the back strap’s position to ensure it is not too high or not too low. Once we start our descent, equalize to your comfort level and you are good to go.

9 replies
  1. Deb Weston
    Deb Weston says:

    I always teach that the most important piece of equipment that you purchase is your mask. An ill fitting mask can ruin your dive. Be sure to purchase the correct mask for you!!

  2. Ed D
    Ed D says:

    Putting the mask on without the strap and sucking in through your nose is NOT the best way to check for fit. That’s an outdated way to do it and just about any mask will fit if you do that.

    The best way to check for fit out of the water is to be seated and look up. Rest the mask on your face without the strap and without sucking in through your nose. Have another person look how the mask seals around your face. A well fitting mask should have contact with your skin all around the seal. If there are any gaps, that mask is probably not a good fit for you.

  3. Jake
    Jake says:

    As Ed noted, the suction method is not foolproof, though it does still have relevance. If used, one should has a regulator at at least. Snorkel in their mouth since that impacts the seal. One can also use the suction method and move their mouth, squint, furrow their brow, etc to see if their facial movements easily break the mask seal. You may find a mask has good suction until you make the slightest facial movement.

    Additionally, the frame (or if frameless) other rigid parts press against your brow or other bony parts of your face will prevent a good seal, as well as discomfort. And it doesn’t matter if the mask is the latest whiz-bang high dollar mask out there, it won’t fit comfortably and will leak. One need not spend a lot on a mask to fit well and not leak, and price is no guarantee. Go with an established brand and try a lot of different masks for both comfort and seal.

    • Bryan
      Bryan says:

      Agree that having a reg in, or a snorkel, or just a mouthpiece (preferably the same model one you’ll be using on your regs) is important. Mouthpiece can distort facial contours just as much as a big smile does.

  4. Jay Wright
    Jay Wright says:

    I have purchased several masks, all high quality and have had three different dive masters check the masks both above and under the water. Every mask has leaked. No one has suggested that my face is of unusual shape or size and all the DM’s have given me the advice that is in your article. Would you suggest a full-face mask? Any other suggestions?

    • Richard D'Angelo
      Richard D'Angelo says:

      Jay, almost every mask leaks. The key is to find one that leaks the least. What helps create a seal on a mask is the inner skirt or “Feathering”. Make sure the feathering isn’t cutting across your eyebrows. Also, is the outer skirt hitting your hairline? Either of these could cause it to leak.

      Place the mask LIGHTLY against your face. Feel all the way around to make sure the skirt is touching in all areas . If you have gaps, it’s not going to be a good fitting mask. Once you know it’s touching all the way around, inhale LIGHTLY to create a vacuum, but also listen and feel to see if air is coming into the mask. If air is coming in, even slightly, just pretend it’s water. Again, not a good fit.

  5. Richard D'Angelo
    Richard D'Angelo says:

    One note from the article…. it said to use petroleum jelly. That’s a huge no-no. Petroleum based products “eat” away at silicone. Instead, use a silicone based product or bees wax.

      • Jesse
        Jesse says:

        Not all toys are silicone. Don’t believe me? Go ask any professional in the adult toy shop industry. Also ask a pool store what lubricant they seal silicone pump seals with.


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