It is now mandatory in England to wear a mask or cloth face covering when on public transport and it's advised when social distancing is difficult. A cloth face mask won't totally block the coronavirus, but it’s an added layer of protection against airborne viral droplets for you and the people around you when you use it along with regular handwashing and social distancing measures.
What's an N95?
You may have seen some masks described as N95. These are respirator masks that are designed to create a facial seal and fit tightly to the face. Non-valved respirators provide good two way protection by filtering both inflow and outflow of air. They protect the wearer by filtering out at least 95% (hence the N95) of the smallest (0.3 micron) particles in the air but to do that they must fit just right. They can be worn for up to 8 hours. Available as disposable (pictured), half face or full face.
N95 is an American standard managed by NIOSH – part of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), whereas Europe uses a “filtering face piece” score (FFP). You will see European face masks described as FFP1, FFP2 or FFP3. Rather confusingly, they may also be identified as P1/P2/P3 which is a second standard.
This is how the different standards compare:
Respirator Standard Filter Capacity (% of particles removed that are 0.3 microns or larger)
FFP1 & P1 - At least 80%
FFP2 & P2 - At least 94%
N95 - At least 95%
So the closest European equivalent to the American N95 (rated 95%) are FFP2 and P2 respirators (rated 94%).
What about respirator masks from China?
The Chinese KN95 standard has an equivalent specification to N95/FFP2. Look for GB 2626-2006 written on KN95 respirators from China, (replaced on July 1st by GB 2626-2019, an updated specification.)
There’s no guarantee that in practice all KN95 respirators meet this standard though to be fair, with the current respirator shortage, the same unfortunately goes for N95/FFP respirators too.
We have managed to find some good quality KN95 Respirator Masks that meet the required standard at a good price. They're on the Allergy Best Buys website here.
KN95 respirators are usually held in place by over-ear elastic loops, rather than behind the head elastics. This can result in a weaker seal. There are videos on YouTube showing methods for tightening them. Products called “ear savers” can also aid with tightening, and can be found on our website here.
Surgical Masks are single-use masks that fit loosely over the nose and mouth. They should be worn for a maximum of 4 hours per use. They are often blue or white with a contrasting border. These masks provide barrier protection against the large droplets that come from someone's cough or sneeze, but they won't protect against all germs as they are too loose. Surgical Masks won’t block the tiniest particles that carry coronavirus.
We have identified some reputable suppliers of N95 and Surgical Face Masks that meet the necessary standards. You can order with confidence here.
Masks for non-health care workers
Cloth masks or face coverings are best for people who don't work in healthcare. There are plenty available to buy, home-crafted by volunteers or created by fashionable designers. You can make your own from an old T-shirt, making a pocket to hold a piece of kitchen paper or HEPA vacuum filter for extra protection. Or you can tie a scarf like a bandanna round your nose and mouth.
Our earlier blog post - Homemade face masks for COVID-19. What you need to know - gives lots of useful tips on making your own face coverings and the best material to make them from. There’s also an excellent video link in the blog showing how to make a mask just by folding, without sewing. Highly recommended viewing.
Regular customers of Allergy Best Buys will be familiar with the range of masks which we sell year round for people with hayfever, chemical sensitivity or who have problems with airborne pollutants that trigger their symptoms.
These masks have a number of benefits in terms of fit and comfort. As they are washable and re-usable they're more cost-effective than single-use masks to protect against viral droplets.
QMask MicroAir Screen
My particular favourite is the Q Mask MicroAirScreen (pictured left) which I wear when cutting back ivy. It has pleats that pop away from your mouth and is really comfortable to wear. It also comes in a size that fits children.
You can buy the MicroAirScreen Mask VAT free if you have asthma or allergies.
Respro Allergy Mask
My son wears a Respro Allergy Mask to combat traffic fumes and pollen when cycling. He now also wears it when he's in the supermarket. It has N95 filtration, so is perfect for protection against COVID-19. You can buy the Respro Mask VAT free if you have asthma or allergies.
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Janet Rhodes, Founder, Allergy Best Buys