What is a KN95 face mask? We consulted medical experts on deciding whether it’s right for you — as well as where to find legitimate KN95 face masks.
What is a KN95 mask?
Nina Shapiro, MD, professor of head and neck surgery at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine and author of “HYPE: A Doctor's Guide to Medical Myths,” said a KN95 mask is manufactured to offer 95 per cent protection from particulate matter, like the N95 mask. In fact, KN95 masks are the Chinese equivalent of an N95 mask in the U.S. A governing body like the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) sets the standard for KN95 masks in China.
And many different countries have different mask standards that result in different medical-grade face mask names.
How to buy a KN95 mask?
Because KN95 masks are not NIOSH-approved and many are manufactured in China, they can be tricky to shop for. One of the biggest issues is an influx of KN95 counterfeits on the market, said Anne Miller, executive director of Project N95, a nonprofit that helps people source personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical supplies. The best way to purchase KN95 masks and similar respirators are to buy directly from manufacturers, Miller explained. However, large manufacturers often won’t sell a single box of KN95 masks, opting to work exclusively with large distributors. Those distributors further complicate shopping for a KN95 face mask: It’s hard to know exactly where they’re coming from.
Using the FDA’s lists is “probably the best — if not the only — way to tell if a mask came directly from an approved manufacturer,” Friese said. Even if a mask advertises that it’s made by one of the FDA EUA-authorized manufacturers, there is still a chance it could be a counterfeit — unless, of course, you’re buying directly from the mask manufacturer.
Do you need to double mask with a KN95 mask?
If the KN95 or N95 mask you’re wearing is either NIOSH-approved or on the FDA’s EUA list, and it’s tightly fitting, it offers adequate protection to the wearer and those around them. A KN95 mask generally offers more protection than double masking, as long as it properly fits you. But if a KN95 mask has gaps along the sides or is loose-fitting, it can lead to potential aerosol leakage in and out of the mask. So no matter what, if the KN95 has any gaps, a second mask should be worn. For outdoor activities or brief interactions, wearing a surgical mask with an additional multi-layer cloth mask over it (double masking) is an “excellent” option
Additionally, if you’re working in a healthcare or caregiving setting, KN95 and N95 masks are your best options.