Between coronavirus, brand-new variants, and now sci-fi-worthy hybrids—what’s good, flurona?—the best N95 face masks on Amazon are back to being best-sellers. They offer the most protection out there (no shade to your cute, printed cloth mask) which is even more important seeing as the Omicron variant appears to be the most contagious one yet. (Apparently, the Delta variant was only the beginning…)
However, not all N95 masks are created equal. With protective masks in increasingly high demand, counterfeit versions have flooded the virtual shelves, and some so-called N95 protective face masks aren’t actually the real thing—and therefore don’t offer the same defense. As a result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends doing a little homework when it comes to choosing the best personal protective equipment for you (and your fam). With that in mind, here’s what you should know.
What are N95 masks?
N95 face masks are generally considered to offer better protection than other masks you might’ve collected over the past few years, with a high filtration rate that far outperforms cloth masks or DIY face coverings. One-time surgical masks now used for traveling, commuting, or hitting up the grocery story, they feature several layers of a synthetic material called polypropylene, which filters out 95% of particles as small as 0.3 microns—95% being where the “95” in N95 comes from.
Beyond that, these disposable face masks feature subtle differences that can impact comfort and safety, such as adjustable ear loops (for a more secure fit to your face) or nose wires that make it easier to wear with glasses. They can be more breathable than you think, and offer foldable options so you can stash a couple in your bag.
What’s the difference between N95 and KN95 face masks?
We’re glad you asked: KN95s are just another kind of particulate respirator mask—like N95—and they function the same way (again, with that 95% filtration). The primary difference is that N95 is a standard for the USA, whereas KN95 is China’s version—meaning the certification process is a bit different. While N95s have to be certified by the NIOSH, a.k.a. the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, KN95s need approval from the FDA.
How to shop for the right N95 mask
To make sure you’re getting the peak performance from an N95 mask—and not falling for a counterfeit—it’s essential to wear those that have been NIOSH-certified. To make it easy to find them, the CDC has put together a handy list of NIOSH-approved N95 respirators, which include mainstays like M3 and Makrite. To ensure you’re getting the best N95 face masks on Amazon, head on over to double-check that yours is on the list before you add to cart. (If you’re in the market for KN95s for whatever reason, the FDA has a separate database for that, too.
Since we’re clocking year three of the pandemic and dealing with new variants, it might be a good time to restock on new PPE to either wear on its own or layer with reusable cloth masks. Whether you’re looking for an adjustable nose bridge, a breathable face mask with max protection, or a version with customizable elastic ear loops, these NIOSH-approved N95 masks will keep you covered—and as safe as possible when you’re out and about.