How to choose a mask
What type of mask you choose depends on what you are trying to protect against, and, sometimes, what's required by governments. We will now go cover the options to help you pick the right protection.
Two important notes:
- Different countries or states require different types of face cover or mask, or may have no such requirements. We focus on UK guidelines, and please check your local guidelines or to where you're travelling.
- No mask or face covering offers complete protection, especially against disease. It is up to the wearer to decide which face covering or mask to use for different situations.
Summary of guidelines
As commonly understood, the guidelines are as follows.
Face coverings, as per UK and World Health Organisation guidelines. Face covering are required in specific situations (e.g. if social distancing cannot be maintained), or are are otherwise generally recommended.
People 60-years old or over, or people with underlying health issue
The World Health Organisation guidelines recommend medical masks.
Health assessment specifying PPE
Depends on use case. We stock FFP2 respirators.
Wearing any face mask correctly
What all face masks must do when you wear them is cover your nose and mouth. Otherwise you are not getting the most (or any) protection from wearing the mask.
Further, before you put on the mask and after you take it off, always wash your hands well with hand sanitiser.
- If the mask is not reusable, you must dispose of it correctly and not use it again.
- If the mask is reusable, take it off using the ear loops and store it safely before washing it as recommended.
Cloth face covering
Summary: This is what the UK (guidance), Scotland (guidance), and Northern Ireland (guidance) governments require in certain settings such as on public transport and shops (unless an exemption applies).
Description: The most basic cover is a piece of material that simply covers your nose and mouth. We stock cotton face coverings.
- Face coverings are reusable/washable. Although cheaper in the long-run, you have to bring into the house and wash a potentially dirty and potentially exposed/infected mask.
Summary: This is the type of mask the World Health Organisation recommends for people aged 60 and over, or those who have underlying health issues (See Table 2 in the June 2020 guidelines).
Description: In the UK (and Europe), there are two types of surgical face masks, known as Type I and Type II, and with both having the R variants (Type IR and Type IIR) which means it's fluid repellent.
We stock Type IIR surgical masks as they are the highest specification for surgical face masks. We only stock medical-grade Type IIR because of these advantages and the because the price difference from lower spec masks is relatively small.
- Very handy to stock up on as they come in sealed bags of 10 masks, 50 masks per box. Some people keep a pack at home for their morning commute, and a pack in the office for their evening commute. Some keep a pack in the car for their shopping.
- The environmental impact of disposable masks is higher than reusable face coverings.
Summary: Use only if your health and safety assessment says it is required (the UK government specifies examples).
Description: The labels FFP2/N95/KN95 refer to similar mask standards from different countries. The UK (and European) standard is called FFP2, with the N95 being the USA standard and KN95 being the China standard. There are other similar respirator types.
FFP2 respirators are PPE (personal protection equipment) and offer excellent protection for the wearer if they are suitable for the situation they are used in. However, FFP2 respirators can make breathing difficult (again, your health and safety assessment should cover this), and the respirators may not be comfortable to use for a long time.
- Needs fitting and practice to wear correctly. Worn incorrectly, the wearer may not get much (or any) protection.
- Worn correctly, they offer a good seal to protect the wearer, but that makes it harder to breath for some people. They may get itchy after extended use.