There are many types of face masks available which can make purchasing the right type confusing. Understanding all the terminology can be a lesson in itself. So we have put together some information and standards to help you below.
EN numbers are the European Norm standard that an item needs to meet to do their job effectively. There are a few EN numbers specifically for face masks which include EN149, EN14863 and EN166. These standards can include:
- The level of bacterial filtration efficiency which indicates how effective they are in preventing bacteria penetrating the mask.
- The differential pressure measures how easily air passes through the mask.
- Splash-resistance pressure is their ability to prevent liquids penetrating the mask.
- Microbial cleanliness determines the total number of viable microorganisms on the face mask using an extraction method.
The EN code assigned to the face mask gives assurance that the mask meets the level stated and categorises them into types such as Type I, Type II, Type IIR, FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3.
These face masks protect the wearer from external substances including harmful dust, aerosols or particles in the air. They are graded in different levels which are FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3, and they are also referred to as filtering masks or respirator masks. For Covid-19 use, the European Safety Federation recommends a minimum level of FFP2.
Filtration masks or respirator masks offer the highest level of filtration from external substances and the lowest level of inward leakage. These masks need to meet EN149 standards. These are classified into three types:
FFP1 face masks are filtration masks that protect against solid and liquid particles with a filter efficiency of 80% and inward leakage of less than 22%.
FFP2 face masksare filtration masks that protect against solid and liquid particles of average toxicity with a filter efficiency of 94% and inward leakage of less than 8%.
FFP3 face masks are filtration masks that protect against solid and liquid particles of high toxicity with a filter efficiency of 99% and inward leakage of less than 2%.
Medical face masks
These types of face masks are designed to reduce the risk of the wearer from spreading infections by exhaled air. They are graded into different levels referred to as types and can be supplied as sterile or non-sterile. These tend to be a non-tight fit but have some adjustments like ties and nose piece. Although their purpose is to filter exhaled air, the filtration should work both ways but they are not tested for this purpose and due to this and their looser fit they are not promoted for personal protection purposes. These masks should meet EN14683 standards although there are masks available that are referred to as medical masks that don’t comply with this, so it is important to check their conformity. They are classified into three types:
Type I face masks are medical masks that provide a bacterial filtration efficiency of approximately 95%.
Type II face masks are medical masks made up of 3 ply construction which prevents large particles from penetrating the mask. These are not effective against bodily fluids. They will have a bacterial filtration efficiency of over 98%.
Type IIR face masks are medical masks made up of 3-4 ply construction which prevents against large particles and has a splash-resistant layer to protect against bodily fluids. They will have a bacterial filtration efficiency of over 98%.
Other medical face mask names:
Fluid-resistant face masks have a high bacterial filtration efficiency and offer some splash-resistance. These may also be called surgical face masks or Type IIR face masks but you will need to check their fluid-resistance. They can provide protection for others from the wearer transmitting infection.
Surgical face masks provide a high bacterial filtration efficiency and can act as a barrier to fluids and particulate materials. These are also referred to as Type II face masks. They can protect others from the wearer transmitting infection.
Other face coverings/masks
There are also a variety of other face coverings available that are sometimes referred to as comfort masks, hygiene masks, everyday masks, fabric masks or DIY masks. These do not need to meet any standards and can be made from a variety of materials including fabric and they may contain a filtration material. These can be reusable and washable. These face masks do not offer the wearer protection but they can reduce the wearer from spreading viruses in the air as they exhale.
Face shields are plastic visors that are worn using a headband which provides the wearer protection from fluids. Unlike face masks, these also protect the eyes. They do not provide any filtration for the mouth or nose and it may be advisable that a face mask is used in conjunction with a face shield. These should meet EN166.