Why all face masks are not equal....

A question we're often asked is what are the differences between one medical face mask and another? 

In this blog we shall try and answer this as plainly-speaking as we can. When we are discussing face masks in this article we are referring to the type often described as surgical or medical face masks, with ear-loops or head ties, typically available in lots of retail and online stores and seen in the image below.

For medical certification purposes, in relation to the UK, this style of face mask falls into two categories, Type I or Type II under EN14683:2005 construction and performance requirements.

  • Type I has a Bacterial Efficiency Rating (BFE) =>95%
  • Type II has a Bacterial Efficiency Rating (BFE) =>98%

These masks are further defined as being splash-resistant and non-splash resistant. The splash resistance rating relating to the penetration resistance of potentially contaminated fluid splashes.

To indicate a face mask has a medical splash resistance rating it is given an R annotation becoming a Type IR or a Type IIR mask.


Under EN14683:2005 there is a further rating for breathability, which is used to determine the resistance airflow of the face mask. In real terms this means how much airflow is allowed in and out of the mask.

EU Class BFE Rating

 Breathing Resistance
Pa / cm2

Type I =>95% <29.4 None
Type IR =>95% <49.0 >120
Type II =>98% <29.4 None
Type IIR =>98% <49.0 >120

As far as we are aware, civilian face masks of this style are not tested to meet any of the European EN14683:2005 standards.

So whilst all face masks may look the same, in terms of bacterial filtration efficiency, whether or not they offer splash resistance and how breathable they are, they really are very different.

Here's a video we made to put it into plain-speak.

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