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Business trends

Japan finds ways to make masks cool as virus runs into summer

Consumers clamor for products from sprays to cooling packs to beat the heat wave

Big Bio, Descente and other companies have come up with inventive products to help consumers survive this year's hot temperatures as they guard themselves against the coronavirus. (Source photos by Big Bio and Descente) 

TOKYO -- Japan fears two things will be on a simultaneous rise this summer: temperatures and the number of coronavirus cases. Fortunately, the country's inventive manufacturers have answers to both.

From mint sprays to cool face masks, businesses are cashing in as Japan's notorious summer heat makes itself felt amid the pandemic. Customers already well primed to try to reduce the risk of heatstroke are snapping up anything that can help make a face mask -- normally worn to contain winter colds -- more bearable as the Mercury surges.

Big Bio, a developer and maker of household items, entered the fray last month when it started selling cooling sprays for face masks.

The liquid, which comes in 50ml bottles, contains menthol and can cool a wearer's mask by 8 C, the company says, but users have to spray the product every 15 minutes to get the maximum effect.

Big Bio plans to produce 40,000 bottles this summer but has already sold over 30,000.

Another spray, this one made by Hokkaido-based Kitami Hakka Tsusho, is also selling well. The mint oil-based spay is being snapped up online by consumers eager to cool their face masks.

"Sales for our mint oil products have doubled to tripled compared to last year," a company representative said. Kitami is increasing production to 10,000 products per day, more than triple the usual daily amount.

In recent weeks, many parts of Japan have declared the end to the country's rainy season, which usually starts around June and lasts until mid-July. Temperatures around the country have risen: On Wednesday, 60% of the nation recorded temperatures over 30 C.

Despite the humidity and scorching heat, many people are determined to continue wearing protective coverings over their faces amid concerns of a second wave of coronavirus infections.

Some sportswear makers have come up with masks made from cool materials or that have other cooling functions.

Masks by sports equipment maker Yonex contain plant-derived xylitol in the fabric, which absorbs heat in response to moisture such as sweat and gives users a cooler feeling, according to the company.

Yonex has already sold more than 90,000 of the masks. A company representative said it has "experienced overwhelming demand and is planning to increase production."

Another sportswear manufacturer, Descente, has teamed up with electronics maker Sharp on a face guard with two inner pockets that hold cool packs. It is designed to cool blood vessels in the cheeks to 12 C. Descente says this is "considered an appropriate temperature to suppress an increase in body temperature." The cooling effect lasts about 20 minutes.

According to a survey conducted by health care equipment maker Tanita, 75% of respondents said they would continue wearing face masks in the summer, 61% said they would wear masks even on extremely hot days and 42% said they would wear them even while jogging or exercising.

Experts say there is no evidence that shows use of these products might prevent heatstroke.

"The basic approach to prevent a heatstroke is to keep hydrated by drinking water and taking salt, as well as maintaining thermoregulation," said Kazunari Onishi, an associate professor at Tokyo's Saint Luke's International University.

"One should bear in mind that there are no all-around masks which can work for both infection and heat stroke prevention," he said, adding that "one should wear a mask appropriately, depending on the environment."

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