Nowadays, a mask is a staple when you leave the house. With new strains of the COVID-19 virus being discovered, it’s more important than ever that you wear a high-quality mask. Some experts even recommend double masking.
However, not all masks offer the same amount of protection. The N95, KN95, and KF94 masks are some of the most popular and protective masks, but what are the differences among the three?
We break it down for you here:
N95 masks undergo rigorous inspection and certifications to be approved as medical-grade masks. They filter 95% of particles as small as 0.3 microns. The tightly fitted elastic and adjustable metal nose seal typically keeps the mask close to the skin.
Nonetheless, according to the World Health Organization, “wearing a loose-fitting respirator will not offer the same protection to the wearer and may allow small particles to get inside the mask through the sides.”
Also, people should be wary of fake N95 masks that have flooded the market. Some signs to tell if it’s a fake: it has no NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety an Health) stamp of approval on the mask, and it has ear loops. It’s also likely fake if the online listing calls the product “genuine” or “real” since legit companies don’t need to advertise as such. Another way to tell it may not be real is if it claims to be approved for children as the NIOSH doesn’t approve this for kids.
To be clear: Unless you’re a healthcare worker, you don’t need to wear N95 masks. Many officials request that you don’t hoard these and leave the stocks available for our medical frontliners.
The KN95 masks are the Chinese equivalent of the N95 masks. Its appeal is the tent-like shape that makes it easier to breathe. Because these don’t go through the same regulatory body that the N95 masks do, they aren’t considered quite as effective but can be very good alternatives. KN95 masks are sometimes used in medical settings when their manufacturers request approval from the FDA in emergencies.
However, you must be vigilant of counterfeit KN95 masks as well. Up to 70% of the KN95 masks that were imported didn’t meet the same filtration efficacies as N95 masks.
The general public need not worry about this though. Even if the KN95 masks don’t necessarily meet medical standards, they’re better than basic surgical masks and other masks made of non-medical material. Just try to avoid KN95 with valves as this leaves other people vulnerable if you have the virus.
The KF94 masks (“KF” stands for Korean Filter) are reported by the South Korean government to filter up to 94% of particles up to 0.3 microns in size. They usually feature adjustable ear loops and side flaps to help create a tight fit.
While a very small study showed that KF94 masks can be just as effective as N95 masks, they have not been granted emergency use authorizations from the FDA for use in healthcare settings.
But again, these masks may be fine as long as you’re not roaming high-risk areas. They’re still a huge step up from other masks these days. Just be careful of counterfeits, too.
So should you double mask? The most important thing about wearing your mask is that it fits well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), double masking may help improve filtration, which “will stop more respiratory droplets containing the virus from getting inside your mask if others are sick or escaping from your mask if you are sick.”
Yet, the CDC also states that double masking with a KN95 may not be necessary since the filtration is very high, and the fit is usually good. Double masking with KN95 may also restrict airflow, which we want to avoid. But in case you don’t have a good fit with a KN95, you may try double masking with a surgical and cloth mask.
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