Wearing a mask has long become the new normal for many of us as we’ve been trying to contain the spread of coronavirus. But as time goes on, more and more information is published about different types of masks and it can get quite confusing which one actually helps and which one you should get. Is a face shield enough? Do I need more than a piece of fabric to cover my mouth and nose? How is a FFP3 mask different to an FFP2 mask? So many questions many of us have been asking ourselves these past 12 months. But don’t worry – we’re here to help you guide your way through the face mask jungle.
CLOTH MASKS AND SIMPLE FACE COVERINGS
According to the current regulations in the UK, you’ll have to wear a simple face covering as a minimum requirement in public areas like supermarkets and on public transport. But what does that mean exactly? It simply means that you have to cover your mouth and nose with a piece of fabric. Whether that’s a bandana, a scarf, or a cloth mask is completely up to you. Unlike bandanas or scarfs, however, cloth masks are generally made from multiple layers of fabric and come with ear loops or long ties that can be tied around the back of your head. A cloth mask usually sits over your mouth and nose and the layers of fabric will provide a barrier for respiratory droplets that you breathe out which reduces the risk of infection for the people around you. Make sure to regularly wash your cloth mask in hot water to ensure sure no germs, bacteria or viruses can survive on it.
SURGICAL MASKS OR DISPOSABLE FACE MASKS
Surgical face masks are the next step up from your average cloth mask. They have their downsides compared to cloth ones, though, as they can’t be washed or reused and have to be thrown away to not lose their effectiveness. Surgical face masks are usually made of layers o thin disposable fleece and tissue and cover your nose, mouth, and chin. Surgical face masks are most often light blue, rectangular, have pleats or folds, and a little metal strip that can be formed to your nose. You can either get them with ear loops or long ties to be tied behind your head to keep the mask in place. They are designed to catch large respiratory droplets from when you cough or sneeze.
FFP2 masks are tight-fitting round or oval shaped masks that are held in place with elastic ear loops. They are similar to other international standards like KN95, N95, or P2. This type of mask is designed to create a tight seal between your face and the outside air and protects you from splashes, large droplets, and up to 95% of very small particles including viruses and bacteria. FFP2 masks have become increasingly popular during the coronavirus pandemic and some countries, like Austria, have made them mandatory in public spaces.
FFP3 masks are designed to protect you from droplet aerosols, protein molecules, viruses, bacteria, fungi, and even from highly dangerous dusts such as asbestos fibres. FFP3 is equivalent to international standards such as N99, EN149, or P3. Unlike simple surgical masks, FFP3 masks will protect you as well if you wear them, including from highly infections pathogens such as measles or tuberculosis.
Face shields are clear sheets of plastic that are attached to a headband and cover your face from the top of your head to below the chin. They are most commonly used by healthcare professionals that perform procedures that come with a lot body fluids. Face shields are a great layer of extra protection when in close proximity with others, but it has to be worn with a mask for that. The face shield itself doesn’t provide the same protection as a mask as it doesn’t create a barrier for respiratory droplets.