What is the best type of face mask for you?

With Covid-19 still very much around us medical respirator face masks are a necessity in the healthcare industry, but also in lots of other sectors  too i.e. dentists, GP's, veterinary surgeons, beauty practitioners and the entertainment industry too, (we've been assisting a number of TV production companies with PPE for their staff, audiences and guests).

We are often asked to advise on which face-masks are the most suitable for different applications, and whilst we are happy to advise, the ultimate decision lies with the wearer. We often ask, 'if you were choosing for a loved one or family member which would you choose?'.

Of course you'll want to make sure that you choose one with an appropriate fit, aside from comfort this will help prevent skin irritation and potential respiratory problems too.

In this blog we'll aim to answer these questions;

    1. What are the different types of medical face masks
    2. Which type of medical respirator face mask is best for you
    3. Why it's important to wear a medical respirator face mask

1. What are the different types of medical face masks?

Medical face masks generally fall in to two categories, disposable or re-useable and then they are graded by the level of protection they offer, normally measured by the percentage of bacterial and particle filtration a mask offers. The masks are then certified and graded by the level of protection they offer.

Disposable Surgical Face Masks

For the UK, Disposable Surgical Face Masks are graded as follows;

EU Class BFE Rating

 Breathing Resistance
Pa / cm2

Splash
Resistance
(mmHg)
Type I =>95% <29.4 None
Type IR =>95% <49.0 >120
Type II =>98% <29.4 None
Type IIR =>98% <49.0 >120

 

The BFE Rating is the Bacterial Filtration Efficiency Rating. The Breathing Resistance Rating indicates the typical airflow through the face mask whilst the Splash Resistance indicates the masks resistance to fluid (usually the pressure at which it will resist liquid ingress. This rating was originally developed to measure a face masks resistance to blood from a burst artery or similar during an operation procedure).

By far the most popular disposable medical face mask for non-Covid wards / healthcare workers during Covid-19 has been the Type IIR Splash Resistant Surgical Face Mask, although please be aware a surgical mask only covers the nose and mouth; it does not protect against all airborne particles.

Disposable Medical Respirator Face Masks

For the UK, Disposable Medical Respirator Face Masks are graded as follows;

The ratings for face masks for the UK conform to EN149: 2001 and are graded FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3.

This rating reflects a number of tests the masks must pass to reach the differing grades. These include the quantities of particles/size of particles that are allowed to pass through them.

Grade

 Filter Performance

FFP1
0.3 microns greater than or equal to 80%
FFP2
0.3 microns greater than or equal to 94%
FFP3 0.3 microns greater than or equal to 99%

 

Respirator face masks generally fall into two styles, mainly;

  • Un-Valved Masks have the filtration system built into the fabric of the mask which makes the masks lightweight, comfortable and easy to wear for long periods of time.
  • Valved Masks tend to be slightly bulkier than unvalved masks but the valve allows air to pass out of the mask safely which can make them more breathable and comfortable (less sweaty) over time.

2. Which type of medical respirator face mask is best for you

With Covid-19 our recommendation has always been to use as high a grade face mask as your budget will allow. Now of course  you must also take in to consideration the environment in which you will wear your face mask i.e. if you are working in a Covid environment only an FFP3 face mask or higher will suffice, but also even in lower risk environments why not wear the highest grade protection for you and others your budget will allow? Of course we understand if you are using several masks per hour it may not be feasible to wear FFP3 masks for less high-risk environments.

Here are some examples of the different grade face respirators, valved and non-valved.

Fit-Testing

In critical environments it is strongly advised by the Health and Safety Executive in the UK that fit-testing is carried out on FFP3 masks to ensure they fit each user properly to ensure the mask provides the level of protection required.

A guide to fit testing can be read here.

 

3. Why it's important to wear a medical respirator face mask

In recent weeks and months we have seen a slackening of enforcement and requirements for the wearing of face masks in non-medical environments. This mainly due to the success of the UK's vaccination programme. That said, Covid-19 is still very much around and in medical situations the guidance is still to wear medical face masks.

Personally we have also found ourselves continuing to wear medical face masks in large gatherings i.e. when visiting shopping centres, cinemas etc.

Of course everyone is at liberty to decide how and when, but our recommendation is that if you are regularly around large groups of people, some who may be sick or coughing, such as at work or school, then it may be prudent to continue to wear medical face masks too.

Equally if in the course of your work you are regularly faced with many different members of the public, some who may not be vaccinated against Covid-19, then it may also be wise to continue wearing medical face masks.