The CDC Says These N95 and KN95 Masks Are Legit (No Knock-Offs Here!)

·5 min read
Photo credit: Melodie Jeng
Photo credit: Melodie Jeng

Here’s the thing: Experts have confirmed that the Omicron variant spreads more easily than the original COVID-19 virus, so it’s more important than ever to wear a protective face mask (we care about chu!). And in light of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updating their mask guidelines earlier this month, we have more info on what exactly are the best face masks for protection against COVID-19, which you can have a gander at right over here.

TL;DR? Let us break it down for you: The CDC's official guidelines suggest that N95 masks are the most effective, with KN95 masks coming in at a close second and cloth face masks providing the least amount of protection. But, um, before you go stocking up on N95s and KN95s, you should know there are a lot of counterfeit ones out there that aren't as protective as the real things (which is very #DarkestTimeline, if you asked me). Good news is the CDC has provided us with info on where to buy the best N95 and KN95 masks, and we've got that all summarized for ya, below.

What are the CDC's new mask guidelines?

As we mentioned above, N95 and KN95s are IT, per the CDC's new guidelines. And cloth masks? Not so much. That's because the loosely woven nature of cloth masks doesn't really filter out air particles as well as N95 and KN95 do.

Also, you might have noticed that the CDC refers to these more legit masks as "respirators." But what does that even mean, you ask? Basically, a respirator is a specialized mask that offers better filtration due to its nearly gap-less design. When worn properly, the edges fit tightly on your face, forming a seal around your nose and mouth to filter out airborne particles. Because, as you know, less exposure to said particles = less risk of contracting and transmitting the virus. So, yes, respirators are masks, but not all masks are respirators. Got it?

Now, I want to make something clear: While the CDC suggests that cloth face coverings provide the least amount of protection, that doesn't mean they're pointless. A cloth mask is still better than no mask, and if you want to sport your cute cloth mask, then might we suggest double masking with a disposable one underneath? Whichever kind of face covering you choose, just make sure it fits properly over your nose, mouth, and chin with no gaps on the side.

What is the difference between N95 and KN95 respirators?

Well, basically, it's all in the certification. N95 masks meet stricter health and safety requirements and are approved by the National Institute of Occupational Safety (NIOSH). And while N95s are the best of the best, KN95s are the most widely-available respirators that meet international standards, according to the CDC. So if you can't get your hands on an N95, a KN95 is still great.

Now, I know what you may be thinking: Aren't we concerned about the supply shortage of N95 masks? If you're asking this, you’ve definitely been reading the news (go you!). Back in the early days of the pandemic, the CDC DID ask the general public not to wear respirator masks to help ensure that health care workers could access them. But the latest CDC update encourages people to wear N95 masks "when greater protection is needed or desired." That could mean wearing one on public transit or any public place social distancing isn't possible or while you're taking care of someone who has the virus or someone at an increased risk of severe illness.

How do I know if an N95 or a KN95 mask is fake?

Ah, yeah. Unfortunately, lots of online retailers are flooded with counterfeit respirators. Our quick suggestion? Take a look at the CDC's list of N95 NIOSH-approved mask manufacturers—or better yet, shop any of the (yes, approved!) N95 and KN95 masks we've rounded up, below! (No sense in sifting through all that info when we've already done the hard work for ya.)

Shop KN95 Masks

Shop N95 Masks

For more info on exactly what to look for when shopping for a legit respirator, here it is, straight from the CDC. (BTW, right now the CDC only has info on how to spot fake N95 masks. So if you're shopping KN95s, stick to our CDC-vetted list above.)

An N95 respirator may be counterfeit if it has...

  • No NIOSH approval markings. NIOSH-approved respirators will have an approval label with a number that starts with TC, followed by seven digits. If you're still feeling sus about it, you can verify the approval number on the NIOSH Certified Equipment List, too!

  • No markings at all on the facepiece. In addition to the TC number, real N95s will typically feature the brand name, model number, lot number, and the NIOSH name/logo. Here's what it all should look like.

  • Decorative fabrics or add-ons, such as sequins. Yeah, soz. Legit respirators are pretty boring-looking, which is cool!

  • Claims that this mask is approved for children. Big nope. At the time of writing this article, NIOSH does not approve of any type of respiratory protection for children.

  • Earloops instead of headbands. Headstraps FTW.

Just saying, along with the usual good stuff (like getting vaccinated and boosted, maintaining social distancing, and frequent hand washing), investing in one of these respirator masks is the best way to keep you and your people super safe and healthy.

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