Guide To Face Masks
What Works and What Doesn’t
From styles to use guides, we break down what to look for and what to avoid when buying masks.
We’re here to share the science-based research and straight facts about face coverings.
You’ll learn which masks work, when, and for whom.
After reading this guide, you’ll be able to take your health into your own hands and make the best decision for yourself, your family, and your business on which masks to use.
“Face mask” is a broad term to describe anything that covers the face. It’s an entirely unregulated term that anyone can use for anything that goes over the face.
Respirator masks are the most protective masks. They have a particle filtration efficiency of above 95%.
This means the mask can filter out 95% of small particles, which can be important for preventing the spread of certain diseases.
Wearing a respirator mask protects the wearer from spreading and inhaling respiratory droplets that can contain viruses.
The most commonly known respirator in the US is the “N95 respirator,” but there are many respirators that protect the wearer and people around the wearer. These include KN95s, FFP2s, and FFP3s. (Don’t worry, we’ll explain what each of those means in just a minute.)
Because they have the highest protection level, those in healthcare settings wear respirator masks as personal protective equipment (PPE) against infectious disease.
Respirator masks are designed to be used by workers in hot environments like in construction or mining.
When wearing a mask with a valve, moisture from the breath escapes through the valve. This means that respirator masks with valves do not protect those around you from your breath.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says DO NOT wear masks with valves or vents that allow particles to escape.
Surgical masks, also known as “medical masks,” were designed for surgeons to protect patients in surgery from being exposed to the surgeons’ respiratory droplets while in close contact.
These are the blue 3-ply masks, regulated by the FDA, meant for one-time use.
The term “medical mask” can be incredibly confusing. When people are looking to buy masks, they assume if it’s “medical,” it protects the wearer. Unfortunately, that’s not true.
Unlike the respirator face mask, which has two-way protection, 3-ply masks protect those around the wearer instead of the wearer themselves.
3-ply masks do protect wearers against large droplets, splashes, or sprays of harmful fluids and substances.
Cloth face masks provide the most basic and minimal protection for the wearer and those they contact.
A cloth mask aims to trap released droplets when the wearer is speaking or if the wearer sneezes. Unlike the masks mentioned above, which are regulated by the CDC, FDA, or any other governing body, there are no regulations, standards, or tests in place for cloth face masks.
Cloth masks are useful when made of more than one layer, according to early evidence.
(A nylon neck warmer, for example, is only a single layer of cloth fabric and does not prevent the spread or contraction of diseases. Surprisingly, it can increase the spread.)
1. Particle Filtration Efficiency (PFE)
This test rates masks based on how well they can block tiny particles (smaller than one micron in size), such as the tiny droplets in someone’s breath.
PFE is tested by securing the respirator down, blowing particles through it, then measuring how many particles transmit through the respirator.
You should choose masks that have a PFE of greater than 95%. This usually appears as ‘PFE >95%’ on packaging and in product descriptions. All of our masks have a PFE of greater than 95%.
2. Bacterial Filtration Efficiency
This test measures how well a mask can filter out particles that are 3 microns or larger (the size of bacteria). Bacteria are larger than viruses, so masks with a BFE rating are not the most protective.
Some 3-ply surgical masks are tested based on Bacterial Filtration Efficiency, so while surgical masks do provide some protection by stopping respiratory droplets from spreading, they do not provide a seal around the face and do not protect the person wearing them.
To protect yourself better, make sure the mask is tested for Particle Filtration Efficiency.
Different countries have different regulatory bodies that certify face masks. ‘N95’ masks are certified by the USA and ‘KN95’ masks are certified by China, but they both do the same thing.
In terms of performance and protection, there’s no difference between an N95 mask and a KN95 mask. Both have the same Particulate Filtering Efficiency (PFE) of above 95%. That’s why ’95’ is in the name.
Our Good KN95 masks have been tested by the CDC and a third party testing facility in the USA to confirm that they meet or exceed the same effectiveness as a NIOSH approved N95 mask.
Because our Good KN95 masks don’t have the same red tape requirements of the U.S. government, they’re available at a lower price than N95s and are the best way to protect the largest number of people, which is what our goal is.