We’re almost a year into the pandemic now and although vaccines are being rolled out, face masks are still here to stay – and will 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 last year 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.
What is the difference between a normal cloth mask and a surgical mask?
Pack of 100, 3 layer surgical mask, £9.99, 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
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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 £89.99 now £59.99, Amazon
FFP3 / N99 Respirator masks pack of 10, £69.99, Amazon
Reusable FFP2 / N95 respirator mask, from £1.99 each – £1.89 each for four or more, eBay
FFP2 / N95 and FFP3 / N99 masks, from £6.99 each, eBay
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