Should I buy FFP2 / N95 masks or reusable masks?
One of the most common questions we’re asked at MasksForAll is are your face masks FFP2 or N95 standard?
The key to answering this question is understanding the important difference between the two uses of masks relevant to the covid-19 pandemic.
1 - Masks as personal protective equipment (PPE).
2 - Masks as a public health measure.
Let’s take each in turn.
Masks as Personal Protective equipment (PPE)
Respirator masks are designed to protect the wearer from the surrounding environment. They are made from nonwoven polypropylene fabric which filters out small particles as the wearer breathes. They are subject to different testing standards and regulations depending on the country – FFP2 / FFP3 for Europe, N95 for the US, and KN95 for China.
This kind of respirator mask is designed for specific medical and industrial contexts where trained people wear the masks as part of their personal protective equipment. They have to be used properly in order to be effective. In particular, they need to be worn correctly so that the mask seals tightly to the face with no gaps.
Masks as a public health measure
For most people in Europe, masks as a public health measure is a new concept. The idea is that the mask prevents the spread of the virus from the wearer into the surrounding environment, limiting the amount of virus particles that land on people and surfaces from respiratory droplets expelled when people breathe, talk or cough. If a large proportion of people wear masks in public places, especially in crowded, enclosed environments like supermarkets and shops, studies have shown that there can be significant impact on the rate of transmission.
Why governments make masks obligatory.
A quirk of covid-19 is that infected people may not show any symptoms or even know they are infected for several days before they begin to feel ill. This is why the Spanish government has made wearing a mask obligatory for everyone in public places when distances of two metres cannot be maintained. It’s not a matter each individual choosing to protect themselves, it’s about reducing transmission from people who don’t know they’re infected to everyone else.
To achieve this goal, it’s not necessary for everyone to wear medical respirators of N95 / FFP2 grade – hygienic reusable fabric face masks work well for this purpose. The Spanish government has produced this guide explaining the different masks available. For people without symptoms, and for children, hygienic fabric masks are recommended.
Why choose a fabric mask over a N95 / FFP2 respirator?
- N95 / FFP2 respirators are very important personal protective equipment for doctors and other medical staff who are in close contact with Covid-19 patients. There have been shortages it’s very important to make sure there are plenty available for hospitals during the pandemic.
- Professionals who use N95 /FFP2 respirators are trained how to use them properly, but ordinary members of the public often use them incorrectly, for example positioning them wrongly so that they don’t seal tightly to the face.
- Some N95 / FFP2 respirators have a valve at the front which allows air out when the wearer exhales. People wearing these on the street actually risk spreading the virus if they are infected.
- N95 / FFP2 masks are single use, which is not only quite expensive but cause a lot of plastic waste in the environment.
- And of course, N95 / FFP2 respirators do not come in children’s sizes.
But will a fabric mask be enough to protect me?
There is no perfect guarantee of protection from Covid-19, even for doctors in full protective suits in hospitals. Masks are only one measure that can help to reduce transmission of the virus, along with maintaining distances and hand-washing. But wearing a mask is an act of solidarity because it means you’re doing your part to help others.
As well as protecting others, hygienic fabric masks do offer some protection to the wearer. MasksForAll masks have an anti-bacterial lining that has been tested and shown to provide 94% filtration of particles. A mask also prevents the wearer from touching their face, one of the most common ways for the virus to be transferred from surfaces into the body. This is especially relevant for kids, who as we all know touch everything!
If you’re wondering if you need to buy N95 / FFP2 masks to protect yourself and your family, then the answer is no, you don’t. Reusable hygienic fabric facemasks are the type that the government recommends for people without symptoms and for children.
MasksForAll has reusable hygienic fabric face masks which comply with the UNE0065 specification and come in a range of cool designs and sizes for the whole family. You can read more about our masks here.