As coronavirus continues to spread throughout Asia and the rest of the world, many people are reaching for a face mask, which has been recommended by the WHO as a protection measure. But which one should you buy? We’ve got the lowdown for you on what the difference between each mask is.
Respirator masks (which means they are made of a fabric designed to filter the air or impurities) are based on a grading system do indicate how much protection they offer.
First up is FFP1, which protects against materials in concentrations up to 4x OEL or 4x APF (assigned protection factor). Because it is the first rung on the ladder (so to speak), they are the most affordable option.
Next is FFP2 and these offer more protection than FFP1, at concentrations up to 12x OEL or 10x APF. They are the European equivalent of the N95 respirator masks used in the US and this kind meet the guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The masks that offer the highest level of protection are FFP3, which protect against materials in concentrations up to 50x OEL or 20x APF. This is substantially higher than FFP1 and they can block both liquid and solid aerosols.
Current NHS guidelines stipulate FFP3 face masks for virus and bacterial infection control when the contagion is spread through coughing and sneezing (such as with the coronavirus). They are also often used by healthcare professionals when handling hazardous pharmaceutical chemicals.
Besides the level of protection that each kind of mask offers, there are also some design elements that you may want to consider.
Unvalved masks mean that the filtration system is built into the fabric, and they can therefore be lightweight and fairly discreet. This can make the mask comfortable to wear as they are non-bulky and don’t feel heavy on the face.
The other alternative to an unvalved mask is a valved one. Although this can make the mask slightly bulkier and heavier (as face masks go), it allows air to be let out of the mask. Valved masks are typically less sweaty and stuffy, which can make them more breathable and comfortable to wear.
Another design element that you can choose between is whether you’d prefer a folded or a moulded mask. Folded masks are very discreet and easy to carry around with you and the fabric design is quite breathable.
They offer a close fit to the face because of the elastic head straps, however, they do not offer a perfectly flush fit.
If you’re wanting the closest fit possible then a moulded mask is the way to go. These are designed with the shape of your face in mind and fit snuggly to your nose, mouth and chin.
This can make the mask more effective, as it minimises the risk of particles getting into your respiratory system through any gaps that a looser-fitting mask might leave.