With the new sub-variants of Omicron and the number of COVID cases on the rise, face masks are still here to stay – and will likely be part of our everyday existence for a good while yet.
We’ve learned a lot about how face masks can protect us against the spread of Coronavirus, but naturally, the advice surrounding masks has changed and many people are looking to update their face coverings. Here's what you need to know about higher-grade face masks such as N95, FFP2 and FFP3 face masks and where to buy them for increased protection against COVID-19.
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Which face mask or covering is best to wear?
Cloth masks have been the norm for so long, and at the start of the pandemic the government advised the general population to use them instead of medical-grade masks because of fear of shortages for medical staff.
The government website no longer carries this recommendation, so now, people are turning to higher-grade face masks, such as surgical face masks, N95, FFP2, and FFP3 face masks - these offer better protection for the wearer against the spread of coronavirus than cloth masks.
In fact, Independent SAGE members are now urging people to continue to wear masks, with the immuno suppressed or most at risk encouraged to wear the more tight-fitting FFP3 versions.
With current figures indicating that one in 30 people have covid, coming into contact with someone who has the virus as you go about your day seems almost inevitable. Also, the prevalence of Long Covid, particularly among workers in professions such as teaching and other frontline settings also shows that now is not the time to underestimate covid.
So, it's a good idea to have some masks on hand with high protection. Keep reading to find out more about them.
What is the difference between a normal cloth mask and a surgical mask?
Pack of 100, 3 layer surgical mask, £7.95, Amazon
Unlike cloth masks, surgical masks are water-resistant – so if someone coughs close to your face, water droplets should be blocked by the mask. They are one size fits all though, so people with smaller faces might find them loose-fitting.
It is possible to adjust the size by folding them in half and tying knots in the ear loops – as detailed by dentist Dr Olivia in the below video – to ensure a more snug, and safe fit.
WATCH: How to properly adjust your surgical mask so it fits snugly and safely
Of course surgical masks are not washable, and ideally should be discarded after every use.
You can also buy strap extenders which make the masks smaller for children and those with small faces
Silicone face mask adjuster, £1.89, eBay
What is an FFP3 mask?
An FFP3 mask is one that contains a filter. FFP stands for Filtering Face Piece. FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3 masks are the three grades of masks classified under the EN 149 European standard of testing and marking requirements for masks which filter the air. An FFP1 filters at least 80% of airborne particles, and FFP2 filters 94% and with an FFP3, that number rises to 99%.
An FFP2 mask has a similar performance requirement to the N95 masks worn in the US and the FFP3 has similar performance requirements to the American N99 masks – though there are some differences in test requirements.
In Austria, these types of masks are now required on buses and in other public areas, and in Germany, elderly people have been given them to go shopping.
How long can you wear an FFP3 mask?
The masks, which are commonly used by medics, are classified for single shift use – marked NR (not reusable) or R, re-usable (more than one shift). The NHS recommends medical staff to always dispose of the mask when it’s been separated from the face – but of course front-line medical staff are working in conditions where the risk of exposure to coronavirus is high.
These masks are not washable and must be disposed of after they’ve been used.
Where can I buy an FFP3 mask?
Both FFP3 and FFP2 masks are available from online retailers including Amazon and Ebay… keep scrolling for some options.
FFP3 / N99 Respirator masks with valve and cushioned lining, pack of 10, was £15.48 now £12.45, Amazon
Unica FFP2 reusable with nano tech, £19.99, Amazon
Looking for a washable, reusable FFP2? This incredibly breathable, five-layer mask offers some of the best protection you will find available. The inner and outer layers are treated with Tex-nanotech aa hydro olephobic product which basically means it's able to able to prevent the absorption of water, fats, proteins and other microorganisms. They are CE certified to be effective for up to 50 washes, andthe internal fabric and the elastic bands are hypoallergenic and gentle on the skin. In addition the ear bands are equipped with adjustable O-rings for a comfortable fit. The reviews state this is a good mask for small to medium sized faces.
Wildcraft Hypa Shield CE Certified 6-Layer W95 Face Mask pack of 5, £12.99, Amazon
If need a washable FFP2 mask for someone with a larger face, a good option is this six-layer mask which is effective for up to 30 washes. It's available in packs of three, five and seven.
FFP2 disposable masks, from £2.01 each, eBay
If you're looking for a place to bulk buy disposable masks, eBay is a great option.
Single-use FFP2 / N95 respirator mask five-pack, £9.99, Boots
Boots also do their own brand of disposable FFP2 masks, which are praised by reviewers for their effectiveness and comfort. a pack of five works out at just under £2.00 per mask and there's next-day delivery available.
FFP2 masks for children
Children's FFP2 standard Protective Face Mask - from £7.49, Cambridge Masks
Cambridge Mask offers washable, certified child-safe masks that meet the FFP2 standard in a wide range of fun colours and patterns. XS size is perfect for toddlers two plus and size S for children below 16 years old.
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