Face masks; which are face covering pieces, have different uses and different makes giving them a difference in efficacy in carrying out what they are intended to serve. In the market, several face masks are advertised with commonly, several types of masks intended for the same use.
There are just three major uses of masks/face coverings, namely; protective uses (mainly against health hazards), decoration (fashion), or religious (cultural) reasons. Outlaws have also found a use for masks in disguising their facial features (we wouldn’t like anyone to think of a mask in such a context). We’ll focus our attention on the masks designed to protect against health hazards as well as evaluate their efficacy.
There are factors to consider when acquiring a mask for any intended mode of use ie; quality, efficacy, durability/re usability, work ability, safety and cost.
Just to clear the air, use of masks to guard against health hazards depends on type and extent of anticipated risk and therefore different masks may be suitable for use in a similar hazard but different settings (bio safety level requirements). The discussion below will help cite out some of those specific areas.
The certification of a mask to be of required standard, basically, is proof for it’s quality. Thus, any quality mask must have; Manufacturer’s name, Mask name (description), CE number of the certification body + EN 149: 2009 (if European manufactured/tested) + the mask class (eg. FFP2 or N-95) + acronym (NR-not reusable or R-reusable, D-dolomite tested, V-with a valve. Note; those are only present in mask types manufactured past 2009), The marking must comply with Directive 89/686 / EEC on PPE. The above information is printed on the packaging material or the mask its self.
How well does the mask perform its intended purpose? The answer to that question gives the efficacy of the mask and pretty well applies to just any product. For a health hazard as emphasized above, efficacy is examined in mainly two facets; the filter penetration limit ( which is the proportion of airborne particles that get impeded at standard air flow rates-tuned to average human breathing pressures) , and inward leakage ( proportion of air getting into the airways without filtration through the mask). The other important thing to note is that the raw material used for manufacture highly contributes to the efficacy of a mask.
Studies have demonstrated efficacy in different masks with: Filtering Face Piece 3 (FFP3) being Superb at filter penetration limit of 99% and maximum leakage of < 2%, can protect against airborne pathogens & asbestos; FFP2 which is equivalent to N95, has penetration limits >94% and inward leakage < 8%, it protects against all dreaded airborne human pathogens; the celebrated surgical (medical) mask has discrepant efficacious perhaps relating to manufacturer honesty and quality, one puts it at > 80% for all airborne pathogens.
How about our cloth masks? the CDC puts them at ~ 50%. Notice that the more snugly a mask fits, the better its efficacy (applies for all types).
For those who want efficacious close to 100% or nothing to do with
the external environment, Powered Purified Air Respirators (PAP-R) will serve (though they are more of ‘breathing helmets’ than masks). Some of them effectively protect against chemical weapons besides the thrill of looking like an astronaut (only required in Bio-safety level 4 labs and other extremely hazardous environments). To save for the verbosity, a table for comparison shall be provided.
How long a mask can be utilized is a must know fact on all those protective face pieces. Generally, all medical masks are single use with period of intended use ~8 hr. However, prolonged use (up to 24 hr) is allowable for some of them (FFP2/N-95), dolomite tested masks can generally be used for prolonged periods. In the current COVID-19 crisis, desperate approaches to allow repetitive use of disposable masks are being looked into, for instance, re sterilization, disinfection/washing and ironing but non has been solidly recommended or applied (https://www.rivm.nl/en/novel-coronavirus-covid-19/professionals/reprocessing-ffp-type-masks).
Most of the other out of healthcare setting masks intended for health purposes are reusable. PAPR equipment are reusable with regular maintenance, disinfection and routine replacement of critical parts. So ones choice of mask will depend on the degree of protection they need.
The rule of thumb for all masks is; if it gets dump/wet, dirty, no longer fits as its supposed to, or damaged in any way, worked for its service period, it needs replacement. For the reusable types (like the cloth masks), its then time to disinfect/wash, dry, then iron.
A device will always rate high if it’s as easy to use as it’s effective in the purpose its intended for. As the saying goes, design is always a battle to deliver functionality and ease of use so their is usually a compromise between the two. Unfortunately, as you could have noticed, the least comfortable masks have the best efficacious. In the area of health, safety comes before comfort, so don’t leave out what you’ll need because you prefer to breathe easier. However, all protective masks are designed to be tolerable for use over a specific duration. You may not escape the sore nose with the FFP2/N-95.
what contributes to the safety of a mask is primarily the materials used in its manufacture, age group/health status of the user and its performance while in use. Masks are made from materials generally safe for use by a majority of the population if they are of proven quality (certified). Children and debilitated individuals will certainly have problems with some masks. Individuals with allergies should always check for product composition.
since the out break of COVID-19, never has their been a greater need for masks than in 2020, at least in the past few decades. As a result, the costs have at least tripled! Since the demand will push on for at least a year, the costs are unlikely to drop to less than double the previous, never the less, they are still affordable. Thankfully, the costlier more effective ones are not needed in a low risk public setting and most of the time, it is the sole responsibility of the employers to provide them. The more commonly needed cloth masks can be locally made and are not expensive to buy, a simple guide is offered by the CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover.html). So, worry not of the burden laid on your credit card/purse.
In a nutshell
A comparative description of the commonly available masks.