As the highly transmissible Omicron variant sweeps across the globe, health officials say it’s time to upgrade your reusable cloth masks for disposable N95 or KN95 masks instead — which, of course, isn’t as environmentally friendly but will offer better protection for you and others around you.
Personally speaking, I quite like the KN95 mask even though I was initially put off by the beak-ish silhouette. Once you’ve tried KN95s, it’s harder to go back to cloth masks (which always get damp for some reason) or back to medical masks (which touches too much of the face). Whereas other masks wrap across your face, KN95s feel like a soft cone that’s gently cupping your face‚ which makes wearing lipsticks or lip balms a whole lot easier. Plus, as a glasses-wearer, KN95s are the best option for non-fogged lenses.
Why are KN95 masks better?
While we acknowledge the variety of disposable face masks out there — medical masks, N95 respirators, KN95 masks, ear-loop masks, and around-the-head masks — for the purposes of this guide, we’re focusing on KN95s because, as the Wall Street Journal reported, “KN95 masks have a filter layer made of polypropylene, which is a type of plastic, they are effective at trapping small particles.” And, in case you didn’t know before, you do now: The “95” in N95 and KN95 stands for the 95% of particles that these masks can filter.
Plus, the ear loops on KN95s allow for easy on-and-off wear and with their beak-like structure, they’re surprisingly breathable and for taming any dreaded “maskne” since these don’t touch the face as much as medical masks do.
How should KN95 masks fit?
According to the CDC, the mask should fit snug, but not overly tight, on the face. KN95s should be large enough to fully cover your nose and mouth (in other words, please don’t wear a children’s mask) and any gaps or openings along the top and sides should be sealed to prevent any air leakage. KN95s are also designed with metal nose wires that you can adjust to your face.
How can I tell if my KN95 mask is legit?
With such high demands for KN95s, the market is now flooded with counterfeits. So, how do you spot fakes? The most important thing is to look for the NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) stamp of approval on the packaging, especially if you’re a person who frequents higher-risk and more congested areas, like hospitals or schools. But, if you’re a person who already social distances day-to-day, perhaps the most courteous thing you can do is properly mask up when coming in contact with others, whether or not your mask is NIOSH-certified. While we’ve tried to vet the efficiency of KN95 masks based on customer reviews, we further encourage you to research your purchases as well.
Can I reuse my KN95 mask?
Say you’re only using your KN95 for a quick errand or for a rideshare cab. Do you really have to dispose of it after that one-time use? According to a report from Smithsonian Magazine, you can reuse your KN95 — but use good judgment when doing so. “There is no hard-and-fast deadline — the masks’ effectiveness declines over time — but experts say if the mask is visibly dirty or damaged, stained, or gets damp, it’s time to let it go,” reporter Corryn Wetzel writes. So, while it’s perfectly fine to hold onto still-crisp KN95s (even if you use them for 5 minutes at a time all week), definitely rotate them out after, say, a one-time sweaty workout session. “Any time someone comes in close contact with an individual infected with Covid-19, they should opt for a new N95 or KN95 face mask,” Wetzel adds.
The New York Times reports that you can also place used KN95 masks — as long as you haven’t come in contact with someone infected, which in that case you should dispose of the mask immediately — into a paper bag and set it aside for several days before re-wearing: “The coronavirus has an expected survival time of about 72 hours, so waiting for, say, five to seven days should be enough time for it to be inactivated.”
Where can I find cute and colorful KN95 masks?
Glad you asked. Pandemic life can be such a drag, but your protective masks don’t have to be! Here are some of the best printed, colorful, and chicest KN95 mask options we’ve found.
The Non-Duck Face Mask
If you’re not into the birdish beak look, planet-minded hygiene brand eveolvetogether has figured out a flatter, wraparound mask style that’s highly breathable, lightweight, and still meets KN95 standards. Masks are also delivered in biodegradable packaging. What’s tickled us most, however, are the interesting hues offered like forest green, navy blue, khaki beige, and hot pink (which is sold out at the moment). KN95 masks from evolvetogether have been a particularly hot seller with our readers and it’s easy to see why.
HUHETA KN95 Face Masks 20-Pack, $45.99
The Lightweight Set
Reviewers especially rave about how non-bulky and audible-friendly these KN95s are (rest assured, these masks are still made with five-layer protection). Great for teachers, wait staff, on-site project managers, or anyone else who has to speak (a lot) in their daily life.
The Hype: 4.4 out of 5 stars and 4,792 ratings on Amazon.com
What They’re Saying: “I am a teacher and I need to wear masks almost whole day when I with my students. Those masks are light and fit me very well. The most important thing is-they do not muffle my voice !!! My students can hear me very well. I love it!” -Pei, Amazon.com reviewer
The Indigo Splotch
Imagine wearing these KN95s that look like a shibori dye project gone terribly right. Now that’s what we call an immediate mood booster.
The Hype: 5 out of 5 stars and 1 review on mybarriere.com
What They’re Saying: “Great fit. Easy to breathe through.” -Diane E., mybarriere.com reviewer
The Highlighter Effect
The best part about wearing Mountain Dew-esque neon is that it’s so ridiculously transcendent that it ends up going with any outfit — and that’s a fact.
The Waste-Not Mask
Not only do these masks come in pleasant colors like Seafoam, Denim, Blush, Coral, and Lavender, they’re sustainable! With every order, Vida will send a prepaid label so that you can mail back your used masks for proper recycling.
The Hype: 5 out of 5 stars and 85 reviews on Shopvida.com
What They’re Saying: “The shape of the KN95 allows room to breathe and talk, making it more comfortable than many masks. I also like the fact that Vida recycles the used masks.” – Barb H., Shopvida.com reviewer
The Pretty In Pink
You can be assured that any mask you purchase from Bonafidemasks.com is guaranteed NIOSH-approved — the retailer even has an Authenticity Statement that you can read here. The one mask that’s really caught our eyes is this classic Barbie pink KN95 that will add pizzazz to these mask-wearing days.
The Variety Show
With five colors to choose from, these 5-ply masks will allow you to mix and match your PPE with your outfit.
The Hype: 4.6 out of 5 stars and 4,738 ratings on Amazon.com
What They’re Saying: “I can breathe, Im not eating the mask and most important to me is I can finally put my glasses back on after a year of walking blind!” -Anklebiter, Amazon.com reviewer
The Camo Crew
Make no mistake — these camouflage-print face masks are designed to be seen.
The Hype: 4.5 out of 5 stars and 336 ratings on Amazon.com
What They’re Saying: “Great masks. Love they are individually packed. They are comfy & good quality especially since we have to wear them long hours while at work.” -Crystal Rae, Amazon.com reviewer
The Tie-Dye Set
We’re in a pandemic winter, which is why it’s the best season to bust out these summer-evoking tie-dye masks.
The Hype: 4.6 out of 5 stars and 1,963 ratings on Amazon.com
What They’re Saying: “I only wear KN95s when I travel. I like the way the masks lay flat against your face to create a good seal but the ‘pocket’ in the front provides plenty of space to breathe. The metal for the bridge of your nose is very pliable to allow a secure and comfortable fit. That makes this my favorite mask when I am wearing my glasses as I don’t get any fogging! As long as we need to be wearing masks, we might as well have a little fun with the design so the tie dyes bring a little joy to the world.” -coco puff, Amazon.com reviewer
The Celestial Trio
If you’re like us and tired of this world we’re living in, perhaps these galaxy-themed face masks will transport you (in some small way).
The Hype: 4.6 out of 5 stars and 116 ratings on Amazon.com
What They’re Saying: “Work in the healthcare field and wanted something different for my required mask wearing. These are very comfortable and fit my face good. They are smaller than other KN95’s that I have been required to wear. Will be buying these ago!” -martha cheek, Amazon.com reviewer
The Plaid Pack
Truth be told, Maskc has become a celebrity favorite and the brand’s KN95s always sell out (like the one pictured above). But, we still include these on our list because Maskc frequently restocks — though, we recommend getting yourself on the waitlist or newsletter so you don’t miss out. You can also shop the rest of the Maskc lineup here.
The Hype: 5 out of 5 stars and 59 reviews on Shopmaskc.com
What They’re Saying: “I work at a school and with the surge of omicron it is suggested that we wear kn95 masks. Maskc is the only brand of kn95s I can wear and especially over a whole day.” -Lili H., Shopmaskc.com reviewer
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