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Wearing face masks and regular COVID-19 testing have become part of our everyday life. And as COVID-19 cases are on the rise ahead of summer, many cities and institutions are encouraging the use of masks indoors.
Following the rise in more hospitalization cases and the highly-infectious BA.5 Omicron variant, Los Angeles is expected to bring back its indoor mask mandate, reports the L.A. Times. New York City health officials in May released a recommendation that people wear surgical masks in public indoor settings, but they did not reinstate the mandate that was dropped in March. Philadelphia in April brought back its indoor mask requirement and rescinded it less than two weeks later after case counts and hospitalizations declined. Some universities — including Columbia University, Georgetown University and John Hopkins University — announced that face masks are required in classrooms and some indoor spaces, reports CNBC.
Even as statewide mask mandates have expired, many people have opted to continue wearing them to keep germs and other airborne viruses at bay. Before you restock your mask supply, you’ll want to know the differences among the three most common types of respirators being used to protect against the coronavirus. Keep reading for more on where to buy real KN95, N95 and KF94 masks, how to spot fake ones and more.
What’s the Difference Between Face Masks and Respirators?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously recommended that people set aside fabric face coverings and upgrade to medical-grade protective masks to better safeguard against coronavirus. Surgical face masks (the pleated disposable three-ply masks used by medical professionals) are still the first line of defense to help stop the spread of the virus, but KN95, N95 and KF94 masks (also called air purifying respirators) are also recommended by the CDC.
The U.S. agency notes that “a respirator has better filtration, and if worn properly the whole time it is in use, can provide a higher level of protection than a cloth or procedural mask.” They also state that if N95, KN95 or KF94 masks are unavailable, then a cloth mask is still better than none at all.
KN95 vs. N95 vs. KF94 Masks: What’s the Difference?
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the agency that tests and approves air respirators for workplace use, has a list of approved particulate filtering respirators, according to the CDC. These NIOSH-approved air-purifying respirators protect by filtering particles out of the air while the user is breathing.
There are seven classes of filters for NIOSH-approved filtering face respirators available right now. The minimal level of filtration approved by NIOSH is 95 percent. The N, R and P designations refer to the filter’s oil resistance.
Here are the main differences among KN95, N95 and KF94 masks, which all filter out particles as small as 0.3 microns:
- N95 masks are approved by NIOSH and filter 95 percent of airborne particles. They are not resistant to oil. The surgical N95 is a NIOSH-approved N95 respirator that has also been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration as a surgical mask.
- KN95 masks are the Chinese equivalent of N95 masks and meet international safety standards. They are not approved by NIOSH, but they do filter out 95 percent of particles. Some manufacturers were granted emergency use authorization by the FDA when N95 masks were hard to find, but note that some brands have since had their approval revoked.
- KF94 masks meet South Korea’s safety standards and filter 94 percent of particles. They are meant to give you a snug fit. Some KF94s are FDA approved, and it’s important to check that the face mask was manufactured in South Korea.
How to Tell if Your Mask Is Authentic
It’s important to make sure you don’t purchase a counterfeit mask, especially from online marketplaces that don’t verify authenticity. You can tell N95 masks are authentic if they have a GB number, which tells you when the mask was constructed. No GB marking indicates it’s not a certified medical grade mask. And, there is also no such thing as a kids N95 mask, since NIOSH approves adult-only masks. Brands do however create masks sized for children and others that give you extra comfort.
Since KN95 and KF94 masks are not approved by NIOSH, a tell-tale sign that they’re fake is if they’re stamped with “NIOSH-approved.”
The FDA also states that it “does not issue any type of device registration certificates to medical device facilities,” and that also applies to face masks. Therefore, if a mask’s description notes that the item is “FDA registered or “FDA listed,” that means the manufacturer has simply listed or registered the product but that it isn’t necessarily “approved” or “authorized” by the agency.
Overall, your best bet for ensuring that a face mask or respirator is effective or approved by a government agency is by choosing one that is on the NIOSH Certified Equipment List or the FDA’s database of approved medical devices.
Ahead, we’ve rounded up the best KN95, N95 and KF94 masks that are guaranteed to be authentic, including options seen frequently on Hollywood stars.
The Best N95 Masks to Shop Online
1. Kimberly-Clark Professional N95 Pouch Respirator
The Kimberly-Clark Professional N95 Pouch Respirator is NIOSH-approved and comes with 50 per package. They are white, have a pouch design and two blue headbands to secure the mask. These masks are tight and do not allow air to filter inside.
Kimberly-Clark Professional N95 Pouch Respirator
2. 3M Aura Particulate N95 Respirator
The 3M Aura Particulate N95 Respirator is also NIOSH-approved and has an embossed top panel designed to help reduce the fogging of eyewear from warm, moist exhaled air. It also has a soft inner material, sculpted nose panel and custom seal.
3M Aura Particulate N95 Respirator
3. Benehal N95 Face Masks
Benehal N95 Face Masks offer great breathing ability that makes extended wear time easier and enables high worker acceptance rates. The nylon and cotton mask is comfortable and has an adjustable metal nose clip to customize the fit.
Benehal N95 Face Masks
4. Happy Masks
You have to keep your eyes out for Happy Masks, which sell out regularly and were recently restocked on the California-based company’s website. The brand has tons of unique designs and styles, from solid, bold colors to rainbows, strawberries and dinosaurs.
The masks feature five layers, including a three-ply nanofiber membrane filter, which has been tested by Nelson Labs to provide over 99.9 percent filtration against viruses, bacteria, pollen, air pollution, smoke and other pollutants. It has a parrot beak style ideal for longer use and wear.
Happy Masks Strawberries Pro Mask
The Best KN95 Masks to Shop Online
1. WWDoll KN95 Masks, 25-Pack
WWDoll’s KN95 face masks feature a five-layer design with non-woven cloth, belt-blown fabric and hot air cotton as well as an adjustable nose bridge.
WWDoll KN95 Face Masks, 25-Pack
2. Evolvetogether KN95 masks
Sustainable brand Evolvetogether’s KN95 masks have a six-ply design that’s breathable and water-resistant. They have soft, no-tug ear loops. And the company’s mission to be sustainable comes down to the no-box packaging. They even come with a plant-based, biodegradable pouch for on-the-go travel. (The masks have been seen on stars including Pete Davidson, Rihanna, Anne Hathaway, Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron, Dakota Johnson, Anya Taylor-Joy and Sarah Jessica Parker.)
Evolvetogether Manu KN95 Masks
3. Vida KN95 Masks
Vida offers high-protection, recyclable KN95 face masks in different sizes, including a family pack, regular, kids and kids x-small. They’re available in quantities of 10 to 1,000. Colors come in black, white, gray, lavender, fuchsia, coral, denim, blush, seafoam and aquamarine, and the brand also offers UPF 50+ options with fun prints. An added bonus is that each purchase is a donation to the VIDA Global Education Scholarship Fund.
Vida KN95 Printed Masks
4. Maskc KN95 Face Masks
Maskc’s fashionable KN95 face masks feature an ergonomic design in a variety of colors and five-ply construction that filters 95 percent of particles of 0.3 microns or smaller. The breathable masks are perfect for running or working out. Plus, they’re 50 percent off for a limited time when you use the code FLASH50.
The Los Angeles-based brand has been spotted on Katie Holmes and Naomi Watts, who both wore the brand’s neutral KN95 in New York. Other stars who have worn Maskc include Jenna Dewan, Hilary Duff, Jennifer Garner, Bella Hadid, Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, Blake Lively, Joe Jonas, Sophie Turner and Olivia Wilde.
Maskc KN95 Face Masks, 10-Pack
5. Powecom KN95 Masks, 10-Pack
Powecom’s KN95 masks come in a 10-pack and in denim blue, pink, gray, black and white. The masks are made of multiple filtration layers of polypropylene and electrostatic cotton, and they’re available in both ear loop and headband models. The 3D foldable design gives you extra comfort, perfect for ergonomic fitting.
Powecom KN95 Masks, 10-Pack
The Best KF94 Masks to Shop Online
1. Vida KF94 Recyclable Masks
Vida offers six colors in recyclable KF94 masks, including white, gray, black, light blue, light pink and light green. Prices vary based on quantity, beginning with $25 for a 10-pack to $1,200 for a set of 1,000. Vida is also offering global mask donations, giving medical-grade masks to hospitals in Africa, South America, India and other countries in need. Donations range from $30 to $1,000 and will cover the cost of the masks (at cost).
Vida KF94 Face Masks, 10-Pack
2. WellBefore 3D KN94-Style KN95 Masks
WellBefore’s face mask “follows the KN94 standard” for the South Korean equivalent of China’s KN95 and offers the best of both face mask styles, such as more comfortable adjustments and four layers of filtration.
WellBefore 3D KF94-Style KN95 Mask
3. KF Flax KF94 Face Masks
These non-woven KF94 face masks are individually wrapped and come in a set of 20. Made in South Korea, each mask has four layers of protection against airborne particles.
5. Dr. Puri KF94 Micro-Dust Protection Mask
Dr. Puri’s KF94 masks comes in small, medium and large sizes and are proven to filter 99.4 percent of microns
Dr. Puri KF94 Micro-Dust Protection Face Mask