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How to Find a Quality Mask (and Avoid Counterfeits)


The fast-spread of the infectious Omicron variant has prompted many individuals to attempt to improve to a higher-quality medical masks. But that’s simpler stated than carried out.

Anyone who has shopped for a masks on-line or in shops has found a dizzying array in a wide range of shapes, sizes and colours. Knowing which masks to select and ensuring it’s not a counterfeit requires the sleuthing abilities of a forensic investigator. And when you select one, it’s nonetheless a big gamble; many individuals uncover they’ve ordered a masks that’s too large or too small for his or her face or simply doesn’t match proper.

“No one has made this easy, that’s for sure,” stated Bill Taubner, president of Bona Fide Masks, the unique distributor within the United States for each Powecom and Harley KN95 masks, that are from China. “A lot of people end up doing a lot of research.”

Unlike material masks, high-quality medical masks — referred to as N95s, KN95s and KF94s — are made with layers of high-tech filtering materials that entice a minimum of 94 to 95 p.c of essentially the most dangerous particles. Under a microscope, the filters appear to be dense forests of tangled fibers that seize even the hardest-to-trap particles that may bounce round and escape the fibers of material masks. High-grade medical masks even have an electrostatically charged filter that helps appeal to and entice particles.

Early within the pandemic, high-quality medical masks have been briefly provide. Now the issue is there are such a lot of completely different masks on the market, it’s powerful to know which of them have been examined and authorized by authorities companies, and that are counterfeit. We interviewed masks producers, importers, public well being officers and impartial researchers for recommendation on selecting a medical masks. Here’s a information.

Masks come in several sizes and styles. You’ll discover “cup” model masks, “duck bill” masks and “flat-fold” masks. The greatest masks is the one that matches snugly towards your face and is snug. Start by ordering in small portions and check out completely different kinds to search out the very best one on your face. Many masks are described as “one size fits most.” But some are available small or bigger sizes. “You’re not getting the full benefit of a respirator if you put it on and it’s not forming a seal to your face,” stated Nicole Vars McCullough, vice chairman for private security on the 3M Company, the most important U.S. producer of N95 masks.

The N95 respirator masks is regulated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Almost all N95 masks use head straps — two elastic bands that wrap behind the pinnacle. If a masks claiming to be an N95 has ear loops, it’s almost definitely a pretend. The C.D.C. has a information for recognizing pretend N95s.

The KN95 is just like the N95, nevertheless it has ear loops and is made to fulfill Chinese requirements for medical masks. Some individuals favor them for consolation, and since they arrive in smaller sizes. While you could find reliable KN95 masks, the availability chain is riddled with counterfeits and there’s little regulation or oversight of the product. One examine discovered that 60 p.c of the availability of KN95s within the United States are counterfeit. Keep studying for tactics to identify them.

The KF94 is a high-quality masks that folds flat and is made in Korea. It is designed particularly for the patron market. The KF stands for “Korean filter,” and the 94 means it filters 94 p.c of particles. The masks are closely regulated in Korea, which lowers the chance of counterfeits. However, some pretend masks made in China could also be labeled KF94, so consumers nonetheless must do their homework.

The masks market is especially difficult for folks looking for masks for kids. No N95 masks has been authorised for kids, so any masks that claims to be an N95 for youths is a pretend. However, N95s do are available S/M sizes that may work for some older youngsters. KN95 and KF94 masks have kinds made for kids, so as soon as you discover one, you might want to undergo the identical vetting course of that you’d use for an grownup masks, utilizing the hyperlinks beneath.

Big retailers like Home Depot and Lowes sometimes work instantly with producers authorised by NIOSH or their distributors, so in the event you discover an N95 masks in a serious retail retailer you could be assured you’re getting the true factor. It’s a good suggestion to verify producer web sites to see the place they promote their merchandise and who their licensed distributors are, Dr. McCullough stated. 3M has a devoted spot on its web site to assist shoppers spot pretend masks.

Finding a dependable masks on Amazon is trickier since you’ll see reliable masks blended in with counterfeits, though the variations gained’t alway be apparent. If you will need to use Amazon, attempt to store instantly within the on-site shops of masks makers like 3M or Kimberly-Clark. (You can often discover a hyperlink to a maker’s on-line retailer proper beneath a product title.)

If you’re shopping for a KF94 on Amazon, look carefully on the packaging to ensure it’s made in Korea and consists of the required labeling (see beneath for extra particulars). Aaron Collins, an engineer who routinely checks masks and who has gained a YouTube following as “Mask Nerd,” recommends shopping for KF94s from Korean magnificence product importers like Be Healthy or KMact. Once you be taught the names of some KF94 producers, you possibly can attempt to discover their web sites to be taught the place they’re offered. For occasion, Happy Life lists its 5 U.S. distributors on its house web page.

You can typically discover N95 and KN95 masks on the market instantly on the web site of a masks maker, like Demetech and Armbrust USA. You may also search for firms which can be unique distributors of KN95 masks, like Bona Fide Masks. The nonprofit web site Project N95 can be a dependable place to buy.

Legitimate N95s and KN95s are required to have particular textual content stamped on the entrance of the masks. Although it’s possible you’ll discover one in a enjoyable colour, masks which can be printed with fancy designs or don’t have textual content stamped on them are in all probability pretend.

Your N95 needs to be stamped with “NIOSH,” in addition to the corporate title, the mannequin and lot numbers, and one thing referred to as a “TC approval” quantity, which can be utilized to lookup the masks on a listing of authorised ones. The C.D.C. has created an infographic exhibiting you the printing to search for in your N95.

A reliable KN95 must also be stamped with textual content, together with the title of the producer, the mannequin, and “GB2626-2019,” which is a reference to a high quality management commonplace authorised by the Chinese authorities.

The KF94 gained’t be stamped with textual content, however the bundle ought to say “Made in Korea” and embody the product title, producer and distributor title. The bundle may even have an expiration date and loads quantity printed on it. (Medical masks that carry an electrostatic cost all have expiration dates.) If your masks comes from a Korean importer, the data on the bundle might be in Korean, however many firms have begun to create English-language packaging.

A variety of sources have sprung as much as assist individuals navigate the mask-buying course of. Project N95 is a nonprofit recognized for vetting its masks suppliers. Mr. Collins, the Mask Nerd, has created quite a lot of lists and sources for masks patrons. You can try his Twitter feed, his YouTube channel and a spreadsheet he has created of almost 450 completely different masks and the way they carried out in his checks.

Mr. Collins could also be greatest recognized for his record of youngsters’s masks. While there is no such thing as a N95 masks for youths authorised within the United States, masks makers in China and Korea have created KN95s and KF94s for kids, together with some with child-friendly colours and prints. Mr. Collins created a video “primer for parents” about discovering a high-quality masks for youths that has greater than 100,000 views.

“I had retired from mask testing,” Mr. Collins stated, noting that he doesn’t obtain any compensation for his work. “But I came out of retirement to do the kids video. The only place I’ve seen a list of test data is unfortunately me.”

Wirecutter, a product assessment web site owned by The New York Times, has a information for purchasing medical masks, one for purchasing youngsters’s masks and a listing of 12 pink flags that may sign your masks is a counterfeit.

It’s not simple, however the C.D.C. has just a few lists you need to use to verify a masks has been vetted. A be aware of warning: If you don’t discover a specific masks, ensure you’ve seemed it up the proper approach. For occasion, a Gerson N95 masks gained’t be discovered below the letter “G.” It’s listed below “L” as a result of the complete title of the corporate that makes it’s Louis M. Gerson.

For N95 masks, go to the C.D.C.’s alphabetical record of NIOSH-approved respirators. You may also lookup the TC approval quantity utilizing the licensed tools record.

For KN95 masks, you need to use two checklists from the Food and Drug Administration. The F.D.A. created these lists early within the pandemic, when the company issued an emergency use authorization that allowed well being employees to make use of KN95 masks due to a scarcity of N95s. Now that the N95 provide is ample, the company has revoked the authorization for these employees, however different individuals can nonetheless use KN95s. While the record is now a bit outdated, discovering your masks on it provides reassurance that it’s much less more likely to be counterfeit — with the caveat that there’s not official U.S. oversight for any of those corporations.

Use this F.D.A. record to search out KN95 masks made in China, and this record for KN95 masks made in different nations.



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