There are few things more frustrating for a diver or snorkeler. There you are trying to appreciate the jaw-dropping underwater vistas around you when your eye starts twitching… that light trickle over the sensitive skin just below your bottom eyelid is one of the most annoying feelings! Or maybe you notice a cold puddle building up in your nose pocket, the salt stinging the sensitive tissue inside your nostrils… Ugh! How can you stop this unpleasantness once and for all? Is there such thing as a truly no-leak dive mask?
Sadly, no dive mask can be guaranteed 100% leak-proof, but they can be pretty darn close! With some troubleshooting and perseverance, you too can enjoy (relatively) leak-free underwater adventures!
Why does my dive mask leak?
The purpose of the dive mask is to seal a layer of air between your eyes/nose and the outside water. To be effective at stopping leaks, the mask’s skirt must make a water-tight seal against your skin all the way around your face. Modern dive masks have what’s called a “double-feathered” skirt lining: two edges of silicone that act like a suction cup outlining your face.
Your dive mask leaks because it’s not making a perfect seal with your face
There are many different factors that affect the mask skirt’s seal, including:
- The shape of your face (wideness/narrowness, cheekbones, brow, etc.)
- Position of the mask on your face
- The suppleness of the skirt material
- Use of sunscreen and/or moisturizers on your face
- Something caught under the skirt (air, whiskers, sand, hood, skirt folded on itself)
- Sand/debris caught in the purge valve (if your mask has one)
- Incorrectly positioned and/or too-tight strap
- The way your snorkel is attached to the mask
- The way your snorkel or regulator fits in your mouth
- Changing pressure with depth
- Accidentally exhaling with your nose
- Nose pinch for equalization
- Smiling or otherwise flexing your lips and cheeks
- Mask getting old (silicone hardening or warping)
- Mask hasn’t been cleaned or stored well
Because there are so many things that can affect the skirt seal, it can often be a matter of luck if a diver manages to find a “no-leak” dive mask.
However, there are a few things you can do to mitigate most of the issues in the above list:
- Check if your mask fits your face before using it in the water
- Buy a high-quality dive mask (made with a high-quality silicone skirt)
- Keep your skin shaved (if you have facial hair) and free of sunscreen or moisturizers
- Take time to adjust your mask once in the water
- Don’t exhale with your nose (unless equalizing the mask)
- Keep your mouth and facial muscles relaxed, and your head movements small and slow
- Clean and store your mask properly
Let’s start with the most important thing: A no-leak dive mask is one that properly fits your face!
The correct fit for a no-leak dive mask
The biggest factor that affects leakiness is whether or not your mask is an ideal fit for your face shape. Thankfully, there is a huge variety of mask styles to choose from, so there’s a perfect mask out there for everyone! The difficult part is finding that perfect mask.
Your best bet is to visit a dive shop where you can try on many different masks before buying one. However, if you don’t live within an accessible distance of a dive shop (or its stock is limited) then you’ll have to shop online. Most online dive shops have return policies that allow you to exchange a mask that doesn’t fit properly. For example, the return policy for unused purchases at Leisure Pro (the online dive shop I get my gear from) is 60 days for a full refund and another 60 days for an exchange minus original shipping costs. Just make sure you don’t wear the mask in water before returning it, as this counts as “used”.
How to test the fit of your mask before buying
Searching for a no-leak dive mask kind of feels like questing for a unicorn, and you may have to try many different masks before finding your soulmate!
If you’re trying on a mask at a dive shop or a mask you’ve just received from online, here’s what to do:
- Make sure your hair is swept or tied back from your face.
- Position the mask over your face without using the strap.
- Gently press the mask into your face and close your soft palate (don’t breathe with your nose). You should feel the mask make a small vacuum. Ideally, it will stick to your face without you holding it there, and without you exaggerating the vacuum by inhaling with your nose.
- Examine the seal in a mirror. Are both the inner and outer “feathers” of the seal flush against your skin all the way around? Pay special attention to the temple area next to your eyes, and the area under your nose. Make sure the skirt isn’t folding on itself anywhere and that there isn’t any hair caught under it.
- With the mask stuck to your face, slowly move your head from side-to-side, and up-and-down. Ideally, these gentle movements won’t break the seal.
- Does the seal break if you pinch the nose pocket? If so, try giving the mask another push onto your face to re-establish the vacuum or positioning your fingers on the pocket in different ways.
- Repeat steps 2-6 with your snorkel and/or SCUBA regulator in your mouth. Is the seal maintained?
For the mask to “pass” all the steps you may have to experiment a bit with the mask’s position (e.g. try moving it slightly lower or higher).
Be sure to also keep your facial expression neutral and relaxed. An inadvertent grin is a surefire way to cause a leak!
Tip: If you’re in a dive shop, don’t look at the price tag before fitting the mask. This can help you keep your judgment unbiased!
High-quality masks are distinguished by having very soft and supple silicone skirts (ooh la la!). Not only are these masks very comfortable, but the softness ensures the skirt seal will follow all the contours of your face (just like a sensuous lover…)
Was that too much? Ok, maybe it was too much…
How to wear your dive mask for no leaks
Similar to testing the fit of your dive mask, wearing it to minimize leaks also takes some fiddling. Before using your mask in open water, take some time to get a feel for it in a swimming pool. Here are a few tips:
Before getting in the water
- Make sure your face is free of moisturizers or sunscreen. For folks with facial hair, shave the areas where the mask will be (including a strip below your nose if you have a mustache).
- Apply some anti-fog (this is the one I use) and rinse your mask well when you enter the water. If your mask is new, be sure to remove the factory coating from the lenses first!
Testing in a pool
- Get your head wet and slick back your hair.
- Press the mask to your face and pull the strap over the top of your head (not the other way around). On most people, the best position for the strap is at an angle between your crown and ears. If the strap is too high or too low, this can weaken the seal on the bottom or top of the mask respectively.
- Run your finger under the skirt all the way around to make sure there aren’t any folds or hairs caught in the seal.
- Give the mask a gentle press onto your face to create a small vacuum.
- Submerse your head and look around in all directions. Keep your face relaxed and neutral. Try pinching your nose and equalizing as well.
- If there are leaks, note where they’re coming from. Then try readjusting the position of the mask on your face, the position of the strap, and the tightness of the strap to resolve the problem.
- Repeat steps 2-6 with a snorkel and/or regulator in your mouth. If there are leaks, experiment with the position of the snorkel attachment and how you hold the mouthpiece of the snorkel or regulator in your jaw.
Even if your mask passed a thorough face-fit test in the shop, you might still need to experiment with it in the water to prevent leaks. Faces are so variable, not just in shape, but in all the little ways people move and express them.
How tight should your dive mask be?
If after both dry and wet testing there are still leaks, it’s time to start troubleshooting. Start by loosening your strap. A too-tight strap is a very common issue behind leaky masks. That the seal is better when the strap is loose may seem counter-intuitive. However, the purpose of the strap is not to create the seal. The pressure of the water creates the seal while the strap just keeps the mask from falling off.
The strap should be just tight enough to keep the mask on your face. The silicone and the water pressure will do the rest if your mask is a good fit.
How to stop your mask from leaking
So you’ve got a mask that passed the face-fit test with flying colors. It also didn’t leak after thorough pool testing. But now the darn thing leaks when you’re in open water while snorkeling or diving.
The pressure problem: Keep your mask slightly under pressure!
As the water pressure increases with depth this can have the same effect as over-tightening the mask strap. The silicone seal may warp and let in water, especially during a nose pinch. The solution is to equalize the airspace inside the mask by exhaling from your nose slightly. If some water has built up in the mask, exhaling with your nose will also help to clear it.
But because divers must equalize the mask as they descend, it’s also easy to accidentally over-pressurize the mask, which can encourage leaks. Over-pressurization is also a common outcome after clearing the mask, so you can get stuck in this feedback cycle of constantly leaking and clearing.
Periodically ensuring there is slight negative pressure in the mask, either by gentle pressing or inhalation, will help to reinforce the skirt seal throughout your dive.
Dive mask leaks under nose
The usual culprit with a bottom-leaky mask that otherwise fits well is either facial expressions or facial hair. If you don’t want to shave your mustache or beard, a non-petroleum based mask sealant (such as this one) can help to reinforce the seal over your whiskers. Simply rub it into the skirt lining before putting the mask on. Incidentally, a mask sealant can help folks without facial hair who are having leak issues too!
The other major culprit for leaks in the nose area is the nose pinch. I mentioned that you should give your mask a gentle press after you put it on (to create a slight vacuum). Some divers find that doing this gentle pressing every time before a nose pinch also helps to stop leaks.
Dive mask leaks from the top or sides
In this case, there’s probably something caught under your mask skirt. Make sure there aren’t any stray hairs in there and double-check the rim of your hood (if you’re wearing one). Sometimes, hair caught under the skirt won’t cause leaks at the surface, but will at depth. Similarly, make sure you thoroughly rinse your mask before putting it on. This will remove any sand or debris from the skirt lining.
Alternatively, greasy residues on your skin (such as from sunscreen or moisturizers) can also impact the skirt seal. Before your open water session, wash both your face and your mask with a light cleanser. For example, gently scrubbing the skirt lining of your mask with some baby shampoo will remove oils and debris that have built up on it over time.
A no-leak dive mask is one that is well cared for!
To keep the silicone of your mask in top condition, always clean your mask after using it. Also, don’t dry it in the sun (UV exposure can harden the silicone over time). Keep it stored so the skirt is not squished or deformed.
Tip: While traveling, stuff your mask with socks or underwear so the skirt can keep its shape in transit!
If nothing works, it might be time for a new mask!
If you’re at your wits end after trying all the potential solutions I’ve gone over, then you might be better off finding a new mask. Sometimes, if you’re unlucky, even a mask you’ve just bought that fits well in-store might be a bad fit in the water. If you have a relatively new mask that you’ve only used a few times, consider donating it to your local dive shop. Instructors can always use extra masks for their students to try!
A quality mask can last decades, even with heavy use, but the silicone skirt will harden and warp over time (especially if you haven’t always cleaned or stored it well). Your mask might just be getting old!
Tip: If you find a mask that is perfect for you, definitely consider getting a second of the same model! That way, if your perfect mask gets damaged, lost, or too old, you’ll have a back-up. This can be especially useful if the model becomes discontinued.
How have you dealt with leaky mask issues? Did you have to try a lot of different models before you found your “no-leak” dive mask soulmate? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments!
Disclaimer: Some of the links used in this article are affiliate links. That means I may get a small commission if you buy a product after following the link (you can read more about how I use affiliate links here). If you found this article helpful, consider it like giving me a little thank you!
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