Which are the best face masks to protect against coronavirus?

Published on May 12, 2020

Face masks are a common sight in the fight against COVID-19, and their use has increased as we look to prevent further spread of the virus.  In France and Germany, people are required to wear a face mask in situations such as when visiting shops, and whilst using public transport.

In the UK, many people are choosing to wear face masks for protection when leaving the home, and this week the UK Government advised the wearing of face masks when using public transport.  

It is important to understand which masks work better for certain tasks, and to be aware of the potential pitfalls in sourcing masks from an unfamiliar or unreputable supplier.

Our guide to face masks answers some common questions and advice on choosing the best face mask for coronavirus protection and containment.

When to wear a face mask

Image: Adobe Stock/ mikeosphoto

As well as NHS and key frontline workers, the current UK Government guidance recommends that those who are ill and displaying symptoms of COVID-19, or those caring for someone who may have coronavirus needs to wear a face mask.  As of May 2020 they amended this recommendation for members of the public to wear face masks when using public transport.

It is not currently compulsory to wear a mask in the UK but Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that her devolved government are recommending that members of the public wear a mask or face covering in “limited circumstances” while in public.  These circumstances include when in shops and whilst using public transport.

If you do need to wear a face mask it is important to follow the correct guidelines for fitting and disposing of your mask, more information from WHO (World Health Organisation) on when and how to use face masks can be found here.

Do face masks work? 

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has suggested that the use of face masks by the general public may help to reduce spread of coronavirus by people who are contagious but not showing symptoms.

‘Coronavirus is spread by droplets that can spray into the air when those infected talk, cough and sneeze. These can enter the body through the eyes, nose and mouth, either directly or after touching a contaminated object.’ (bbc.co.uk) – therefore, if a face mask is worn correctly it could help to prevent further spread of COVID-19 while offering some protection to the wearer.

Which face mask to wear

There are different types of face masks for different situations.  Medical face masks are split into two categories – medical face masks and respirators.  Face masks are distinguished by their rating and in the UK, masks are rated or standardised by European regulations.  These ratings are outlined below.

Medical face masks (Type I, Type II, Type IIR)

The difference between Type I, Type II and Type IIR masks lies in the level of filtration provided.  Type I face masks have a Bacterial Filtration Efficiency (BFE) of 95%, whilst Type II and IIR masks have a BFE of 98%.

All Type I and Type II medical face masks have been tested for filtration of air from inside the mask to the outside world.  This means that they can stop the wearer from spreading coronavirus or infecting the surrounding environment, however they cannot completely prevent the wearer from being infected by inhaling airborne diseases like COVID-19.

Type II and Type IIR face masks can prevent large particles from entering the mouth and nose of the wearer, but they are not effective if blood or bodily fluids are present.

Type II face masks provide a protective 3 ply filter with the following characteristics:

  • Waterproof layer which absorbs dust, odour, and particles
  • Barrier meltblown cloth which blocks bacteria and germs
  • Soft inner layer which is friendlier and more comfortable against the skin

Type IIR face masks offer a 4 ply filter, the fourth layer is a splash-resistant layer to protect against blood and bodily fluids – the ‘R’ stands for splash-resistant (see diagram).

Three layer filter for a Type IIR Medical Face Mask

Type II and Type IIR face masks also have the following characteristics:

  • Disposable, single-use mask
  • Pleated front with two elasticated ear loops to fasten in place

Type IIR face masks are available on the Kinetik Wellbeing website

Surgical grade masks (N95 or FFP1-3)

NHS workers and those treating COVID-19 patients wear respiratory face masks.  These masks are rated as N95, FFP1 FFP2 or FFP3.  These masks are generally only used in hospitals for the workers who are in closest contact with COVID-19 patients.  They are less breathable and reduce the wearer’s exposure to airborne contaminants of contagious diseases such as particles, gases, or vapours.  These masks are tight-fitting and moulded to the shape of the face.  They should be reserved for frontline workers who are regularly exposed to those suffering with the virus.

What about a homemade mask?

If the wearing of face masks is recommended in the UK, there is the option of wearing a homemade face mask.  These face masks are usually made using common fabrics like cotton by recycling unwanted clothing. 

It is important to note that homemade face masks are not regulated and have not been tested to the same standards as medical face masks which are available to buy.

Concerns around counterfeit face masks

Due to the rise in demand for face masks there is a growing trade for counterfeit masks which should be carefully avoided.  When purchasing protective face masks in the UK, the important factor to recognise in all face masks we have described above is that they have been rated by strict European testing standards. 

When shopping for face masks it is advisable to avoid unfamiliar websites or retailers and look out for reputable retailers only.  This will reduce your likelihood of purchasing a counterfeit mask, and any face masks with fake EU type examinations, or misleading certificates.

Medical masks sold in Europe must comply with the European standard EN 14683, which have 3 levels of bacterial filtration efficiency (BFE1, BFE2, Type R) – find more information here.

Medical face masks are clinically validated as class IIa Medical Devices, in order to achieve this classification they are required to carry ISO certification (International Organisation for Standardisation).  ISO classification is followed by a unique reference number which relates to the date when the standards were last validated.

At Kinetik Wellbeing we display the ISO classifications next to every clinically validated device on our website and on all packaging to ensure our customers have complete clarity when shopping with us.

You can find classification of our face masks here.

Where can I buy a protective face mask?

The most reliable way of purchasing a good face mask which offers protection against coronavirus, at a fair and reasonable price is to to shop via reliable retailers who have carried out their due diligence on your behalf. 

At Kinetik Wellbeing we work with trusted suppliers and manufacturers and our customers can be fully assured that any Kinetik Wellbeing or ‘Kinetik Approved’ product is of the best quality, standards, and value possible.

Order your Kinetik Wellbeing and Kinetik Approved face masks, and other devices to support your health at home during the coronavirus outbreak here.

*We are proud to supply the NHS, who have been offered first refusal on all our coronavirus products.*

Headline image: Adobe Stock/sushytska

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