Designing a high protection face mask using scent technology
The world is facing an acute mental health crisis, climate emergency and a global recession. People have increased anxiety around work, finances and climate change. Rates of depression, anxiety, addiction and suicide are at an all-time high globally, and loneliness has become an epidemic issue. The World Health Organsiation reports that up to 500 million people globally are suffering with anxiety and depression.
"Frontline workers have been greatly impacted by Covid-19 with extended periods of protective mask-wearing under stressful conditions." - Jenny Tillotson, Fellow
In addition, the Covid-19 viral pandemic continues with a new variant, Omicron, which has multiple alterations in the spike protein and is more transmissible.
Frontline workers have been greatly impacted by Covid-19 with extended periods of protective mask-wearing under stressful conditions. Repeated lockdowns and the pressure of treating Covid-19 patients while protecting colleagues and other non-Covid patients have had a negative psychological impact on NHS workers, with many experiencing symptoms of anxiety, burnout and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology reports that up to 129 billion disposable masks, mostly made from plastic microfibres, have been used every month during the pandemic. Furthermore, a BMA survey of 7,000 doctors during the pandemic found that 44% of doctors were suffering from depression, anxiety, stress or other mental health conditions made worse by their work. Moreover, a study at Addenbrookes has shown that FFP3 mask have been shown to reduce Covid transmission by up to 100%.
Facemasks are uncomfortable, moisture retentive, irritating to the skin, smell and create psychological barriers between people as communication is typically more challenging. Some people (including myself) experience mask-wearing anxiety which can trigger panic and breathing problems due to the covering of the mouth and nose affecting the air you breathe.
This collective anxiety, combined with growing environmental emergencies, provides opportunities to build a more nurturing and kinder society, one that addresses “eco-anxiety” and enhances the emotional and mental wellbeing of the population.
To address these two key issues, I am working on novel wearable technology solutions to prevent against future pandemics. As a designer working in the hybrid of biosciences, technology, fashion communication and scent, I am on a mission to make sure that we are ready for the next pandemic.
I have devised an additional approach to repeated vaccinations as a new measure to contain Covid-19, with novel wearable technologies designed to reduce the commonest method for disease transmission - airborne spread - and to help reduce stress. To mitigate these problems, I invented eScent, an intelligent way of dispensing fragrances that offers more personal protective assurance and is bio-synchronised to the physical and emotional state of the wearer.
In October 2020, I received an Innovate UK Sustainable Innovation Fund Award to develop revolutionary transformative technology that could potentially change the face of high protection reusable FFP3 masks as a new way to reduce psychological trauma and to protect frontline workers.
Along the way, I developed a number of relationships with senior NHS doctors and manufacturers in order to co-design the new mask.
The same technology will introduce a potential method for lining the upper respiratory tract with whatever protective substance is needed, by providing a wearable nebulizer that offers "personal protection assurance" via a patented liquid delivery system. Combining filtration of air from a hostile environment with nebulized medication designed to inhibit viral attachment in a wearable device might be an effective way to reduce viral spread.
The key product is a user-driven wearable applicator, in the form of a smart diffuser that releases pulses of liquid spray depending on the context. The resulting mist around the patient may include evidenced-based essential oils (such as lavender and neroli) for stress and anxiety relief, and a cosmetically-approved natural “antiviral property” found in nasal sprays or in the future, a specified drug that might combat against Covid-19 or other viruses.
There are multiple other components and functionalities that could be added to be triggered by sensors for stress detection, brain responsiveness, voice activation, location, etc, as well as the use of green materials to minimise damage caused by the otherwise ubiquitous one-time-use masks.
By combining the ancient art of perfumery with emerging technologies and green chemistry expertise, we can revolutionise how we can leverage our sense of smell - the one sense we cannot switch off.
Interfacing with companion devices, eScent can also deliver blended aromas as a preventative psychological safety net, tailored specifically to user needs, or as an intranasal delivery system to protect against future viruses.
For our first companion device, I have partnered with the Imagination Factory and Anchored-IN to develop a re-usable enhanced FFP3 facemask, one that offers personalised and renewable scent as a self-delivered biofeedback intervention for mental distress.
Interest has been expressed by senior Ear Nose Throat (ENT) professionals, including Dr Glenis Scadding, Hon Consultant Allergist & Rhinologist, Royal National ENT Hospital, London, who says: "Covid-19 is going to be around for some time. Masks reduce transmission, but current options fail to protect completely and add massively to planetary waste. A guaranteed re-usable and comfortable protector with potential to utilise the nose as a route for therapy is needed"
My enhanced re-usable eScent FFP3 mask product will, when finalised, be worn by both frontline healthcare workers, infected patients and consumers to reduce the risk or impact of infection.
eScent can be integrated into multiple different form factors besides masks, leading to many uses and benefits. I am on an exciting journey as I go about miniaturising the delivery system and look forward to building partnerships in a variety of markets including the wellbeing, fashiontech, protection entertainment and psychedelic medicine sectors.
The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.