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Choosing the Right Disposable Face Mask

December 9, 2021

When it comes to choosing a disposable face mask there are different factors to consider.

Disposable face masks are designed to be single-use and are either medical or non-medical grade.  Each mask has layers which are referred to as ply’s, experts recommend choosing a mask with at least 3 ply's (layers), they all come with an adjustable nose wire and either an ear loop, head band or ties to secure the mask to the face.

What is the difference between Medical and Non-Medical Grade Masks?

Different sources utilize various terms for medical masks such as procedural masks or surgical masks. For this article, we will be referring to these mask as medical grade masks. Medical grade disposable face masks are medical devices which must meet established standards and are regulated by health authorities.  Respirators, such as the N95 particulate respirator are also medical devices but tested against different standards than medical masks. Non-medical disposable face masks and non-medical respirators look like medical masks but are not regulated and usually not tested against standards as they are not intended for use in medical settings.

Who Should Wear a Medical Grade Mask?

Medical Grade Disposable Face Masks are worn in healthcare and medical settings, along with these settings, experts recommend medical grade disposable face masks for people in high-risk categories such as those over 60 or with underlying health conditions such as respiratory disease.*

What Parameters Should I consider when Purchasing Medical Grade Face Masks?

Particle Filtration Efficiency (PFE):

Particle Filtration Efficiency (PFE) is reported in % and measures the efficiency of the mask in capturing aerosolized 0.1 micron sized particles.

Bacterial Particulate Filtration Efficiency (BFE):

Bacterial Particulate Filtration Efficiency (BFE) is reported in % and is the effectiveness of preventing the passage of aerosolized bacteria.

Synthetic Blood Penetration Resistance:

Synthetic Blood Penetration Resistance is the resistance to penetration of a small volume of high velocity synthetic blood, results are reported in velocities (mmHg) as the minimum pressure where a passing test was achieved.

Differential (Breathability) Pressure:

Differential Pressure (Breathability) measures the air exchange pressure of the mask, reported in mmH2/cm2.

Fit:

A well-fitting mask should be large enough to cover the nose, mouth and chin completely and comfortably without gaps so it does not allow air to escape from edges. It should fit securely to the head with ties, bands or ear loops and be comfortable and not require frequent adjustments.

One of the common standards in North America for medical face masks is ASTM F2100 (American Society for Testing and Materials).  This standard sets out three levels of face masks based on their performance to the above parameters. Medical Face Masks will state on the package if they are Level 1, 2 or 3. Different levels are used for different purposes.  

For example, Level 1 can filter out at least 95% of particles (PFE) and bacteria (BFE), where as Level 2 and 3 can filter out at least 98% of particles (PFE) and bacteria (BFE).

To see the different levels of mask check them below:

Medical Face Mask - Level 1

Medical Face Mask - Level 2

Medical Face Mask - Level 3

Why Wear an N95 Respirator?

Particulate Respirators, the best known of which is the N95 are designed to achieve a closer facial fit compared to other disposable face masks and when used in occupational settings, they require a fit test.  Canada recognizes various country’s standards for respirators including NIOSH.  Respirators also come in medical and non-medical grades.  The N95 designation means they’ve been proven to filter out up to 95% of 0.3-micron sized particles but have not necessarily been tested for medical related parameters such as bacteria filtration efficiency (BFE) or splash resistance.

To see the different levels of particulate respirators check them out below:

Nonmedical

N95 Particulate Filter Respirator

3M 8210 N95 Particulate Respirator

Medical

Halyard N95 Particulate Filter Respirator and Surgical Mask

3M Aura Respirator and Surgical Mask

We hope this article has been useful in helping you choose the right disposable face mask.

MHCare Medical offers protection and infection control products for, doctors, dentists, hygienists and other medical and dental professionals. Contact us today to learn more.

*https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/prevention-risks/about-non-medical-masks-face-coverings.html

*This article is not meant to be taken as medical advice. Please follow the advice of your local health authorities when making decisions about your own health and the people around you.
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