The Only Guide You’ll Need for Choosing Face Masks

Posted by Danielle Phillips-Green on 16th Apr 2021

Content Overview

Different Types of Face Masks How to choose your Face Fit Mask Conclusion and Our Suggestions

Parents and children wearing protective face masks

Since the arrival of the Coronavirus, we have been forced to evaluate our safety and look at new ways of protecting ourselves from things perhaps we hadn’t previously considered. In the United Kingdom it is now the law to wear a face mask in certain settings (unless exempt) however, as much as suggested guidelines have been given on what protection levels you should have, we still believe selecting the right one for you and your personal circumstances can be somewhat confusing.

'The main objective of using a antiviral face mask is to help prevent you from unknowingly passing on COVID-19 rather than protecting yourself against the virus', said Shyam Morjaria, medical director at online pharmacy UK Meds

So how do you select the best face mask for you? We have created this guide to offer some clarity over the types of masks available, how to choose one and where to buy from to hopefully make the process of mask purchasing a little more simple

The Differences Between Face Masks:

You may have heard of FFP mask variants, but do you know what FFP means?

FFP stands for Filtering half Face Masks, each variant of FFP conforms to the EU regulation EN 149:2001. This type of face mask is then split into 3 categories which is governed by their protection level, FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3. Face masks are worn to protect our airways from anything toxic in the air, this could be from particles and dust to aerosols and smoke. Each face fit mask has a varying APF and OEL, which are the protection limitations of the masks.

OEL stands for Occupational Exposure Limit value and refers to the amount of toxicity that is permitted in the air within a workplace.

APF stands for Assigned Protection Factor and indicates the factor that the user is protected against toxic substances, as an example a face mask with an APF level 4 will reduce the hazard of the user breathing in hazardous substances by 4 times.


FFP1 is the most basic of face masks. FFP1 is predominantly used to protect the lungs during DIY tasks such as sanding etc. This mask can protect against non-toxic substances such as brick dust, cement, pollen etc but it won’t provide enough protection if the substance is hazardous or toxic, a higher protection would be required. 

FFP1 Face Mask with Orange Head Band


FFP2 surgical face masks provide more protection than the FFP1. It is the EU equivalent of the US N95 standard and recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) during the outbreaks of SARS, coronavirus and the avian flu. It protects wearers from harmful substances in the air such as lead dust, as well as aerosols and smoke, thus making it a popular mask in mining and metal industries, agriculture, and is the preferred antiviral face mask for healthcare professionals to protect against flu and viruses. The FFP2 surgical face mask prevents the wearer from inhaling particles and vapours. FFP2 certified masks are also highly fluid resistant, helping to protect you from droplets when someone close to you coughs or sneezes.

Honeywell FFP2 Surgical Face Mask Front View


The FFP3 surgical face mask offers the highest level of protection from inhaling toxic substances and particles in the environment. The FFP3 mask protects users from a variety of toxins, such as asbestos, bacteria, viruses and are often used by healthcare professionals when handling hazardous pharmaceutical chemicals.

FFP3 Face Mask Respirator

FFP1, FFP2, FFP3 Face Mask Comparison Chart

Type l, Type IR vs Type II, Type llR (EN14683):

The type l, type ll and type IIR face masks are best used in public areas and socially distanced environments. These face masks usually have the benefits of ear loops and mouldable nose pieces to provide a secure fit. These antiviral face masks help to stop the spread of saliva or respiratory secretions exhaled by the person wearing it, making them a high functioning solution for preventing the spread of viruses and potentially harmful bacteria.

(The face mask below is the Type IIR Surgical Face Mask from XP21 , click here to check out more)

Type IIR Surgical Face Masks

Type lR masks are designed for environments requiring close contact such as hospitals and care homes and will protect the user against the transfer of fluids from sneezes and coughs. Type IIR face masks are surgical face masks made using a 4 ply layer that prevents large particles from reaching the patient or working surfaces. Type IR and  Type IIR surgical face masks have the same level of breathing and splashing resistance. They both have the benefit of a splash resistant layer to protect against blood and other bodily fluids. Different from Type IR and Type IIR face masks, Type II surgical face masks are made using a 3 ply layer which could protect the users from large particles but couldn’t provide effective protection against blood or bodily fluids.

Type IIR Antiviral Face Mask

The main difference is Type 1 and Type lR face masks protect against 95% of bacteria, whereas the Type ll and Type llR surgical face masks protect against 98%. The World Health Organisations recommend Type lR and FFP2 surgical face masks for use in close contact environments, particularly for use when in close proximity of known covid-19 patents.

The Comparison Between Type I, Type II and Type IIR Medical Face Masks

The N95 vs KN95 vs N99

With such similar sounding names, it can be confusing to understand the difference between N95 and KN95 masks. With this in mind, what are KN95 masks and are they the same as N95 masks?

The similarities of the N95 and KN95 antiviral mask lies in their design. Both are made from multiple layers of synthetic material and are designed to cover the mouth and nose. Both have earloop fastenings to hold the mask in place and both filter out and capture 95% of particles in the air, hence the 95 in their names.

N95 Surgical Face Mask

So, how are the N95 masks different from KN95 masks? The main difference is how the masks are certified. N95 is the US standard and KN95 is the Chinese standard. As a result of this, only the N95 surgical masks are approved for health care use in the US, despite the KN95 face fit mask holding many of the same protective qualities.

N95 surgical face masks must pass a stringent tests and certification processes created by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the US, whereas companies making KN95 masks can obtain approval from the FDA after meeting the 95 percent filtration requirement.

KN95 masks are expected to achieve fit testing requirements. These tests monitor the air inside and outside of the mask, as well as how the mask fits around your face. The N95 surgical face masks do not have these requirements to meet their standard, however, the N95 face mask requirements are more rigorous and consider the pressure drop in the mask upon inhaling and exhaling making the N95 surgical face masks more breathable than most KN95 masks.

Smart Air has created this video ( click here) to highlight the similarities and differences in more detail 

The latest mask available is the N99. Proposed to be the most effective at reducing the risk of contracting covid-19 by filtering out 99% of particles, the N99 surgical face mask is fast becoming the most popular amongst mask wearers. Studies performed to test the efficiency of the N99 discovered that in increments of 30 minutes, the N99 was more efficient than the N95 surgical face mask. However, due to their sudden popularity within medical sectors, the N99 has become difficult to get hold of and studies have shown that the next best available was still the N95 and KN95. 

N95, KN95, N99 Face Mask Comparison Chart

Now we have offered some understanding into the types of masks available, let’s discover how to choose the best antiviral face mask for you and your family.

What does your day look like?

Children and Woman Wearing Face Masks

If you are busy hopping from one commute the next, or perhaps like to get outdoors and exercise safely, stretchy materials like the cloth mask provide extra freedom of movement; whilst the reusable face mask like  Breathe Happy Commuter is a fabulous alternative for long train rides and jam-packed tubes.

If you need a mask to pop on to run into the shops once a week, the  Type llR disposable face mask provides 4 layers of protection and can simply be discarded after use. If you’re looking for a more eco-friendly alternative for your shopping trips and general day to day, the Breathe Happy Everyday filter mask is a reusable face mask and 17 times cheaper than your average disposable face mask, keeping you and your wallet happy! Details of where to purchase these masks will be detailed at the end of the article.

Considering how you require your antiviral face mask to work for you is the first step into choosing a face mask.

# What to avoid ?

Frustratingly, not all face masks take your safety seriously and some can cause more harm than good. Fleece material masks should be avoided at all costs. Research has shown that this type of material actually increases the amount of respiratory droplets being released into the air, eww! During colder periods, a lot of people tend to double up their scarves as masks for convenience which is simply a no go! Scarves are not designed to provide protection from airborne droplets and particles, so remember this if you’re next to someone wearing a scarf like a mask and keep your 2 meter distance!

# Choosing your fit:

Choosing a antiviral face mask that fits your face can be frustrating, not any two people have precisely the same facial features, so a face fit mask that is ergonomically designed to cater to you would be the ideal selection if increased comfort is really important to you. As an example, the Type 2 surgical face mask is light weight without compromising on protection. It’s a firm favourite for medical and healthcare practitioners, providing comfort for long usage. It’s added nose clip feature ensures it is secured against the nose and the elasticated ear loop fasteners mean it is firmly held in place without irritating the skin.

If you wear glasses, a mask that provides comfort and an anti-fog feature would be the selection for you. Breathe Happy have created two types of filter masks that are not only comfortable but won’t fog up your glasses or contact lenses.

WHO have created this handy  video demonstration of How to wear a medical face mask correctly, they also have other video demonstrations showing how to wear other mask types that some users may find helpful. 

# Breathability:

If you are like many others who feel claustrophobic wearing a mask, an antiviral face mask providing both better protection and breathability is the best option for you. Look for multi-layered cotton materials like the  Type II Surgical face mask with 3-ply design. Both provide outstanding protection but their lightweight cotton material allows users to feel like they can breathe as normal.

# Keeping cool:

Fabrics made from soft, stretchy materials like polyester, pull moisture away from the skin, preventing users from feeling too hot with use. Our Adult and Children’s cloth masks deliver the best solution for this and come in some cool colours to keep your teens feeling like they are still on trend whilst being protected.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), mask breathability could be measured and quantified by the breathing resistance.

  • Inhalation Resistance : should be less than 35 mm H2O (≑343 Pa)
  • Exhalation Resistance : should be less than 25 mm H2O (≑ 245 Pa)

# Staying put:

All masks should be fuss free, easy to put on and stay in place. Masks with elasticated ear loop fastenings are the best for this as the elastic material moves with you. Further to this, masks with built in nose clips are great for holding your mask in position and for stopping it from slipping, brilliant for when your hands are full in the shopping line!

# Disposable or reusable?

This is decided by your budget and simply what you would prefer. The Breathe Happy reusable face masks come with reusable filters that only need to be changed once a week; the Adult cloth masks can be hand washed at your convenience, whereas the disposable face masks like Type II, Type IIR Disposable face masks can be simply discarded after one use. What works best for you? If you want a antiviral face mask that can be thrown away and forgotten about then disposable ones are the best choice, whereas if you are more eco-conscious and don’t mind washing and replacing filters, a reusable one is your option. Just make sure you check the washing guidelines so your mask is still able to be used after a stint in the wash!

Disposable and Reusable Face Mask Comparison Chart

# Personalising your mask to you:

Whilst many fashionable alternatives are available now, they don’t always offer the best level of protection against bacteria and particles. When looking at ‘fashion’ masks, make sure you check their level of protection, if it’s any lower than the suggested Government guidelines, you may as well wear the aforementioned scarf. Purchasing fashion masks may sound more appealing but they don’t necessarily protect you or the people around you, so do your research before you buy.

# Choosing a mask for your children:

Leading on from the ‘fashion’ mask, children nowadays are becoming more and more conscientious of how they look to others; to add to this, it can be an arduous task encouraging children to do anything generally, let alone consistently wear a mask!

Children under the age of 2 aren’t required to wear one currently but how do you introduce face fit masks to ages above this?

Start by encouraging younger children to ‘practice’ wearing the mask home for short periods. You can even introduce a much-loved character that perhaps wears a mask and draw connections between the two. In introducing the mask as play, even if initially placing it on a teddy bear or doll, it makes mask wearing fun and if it’s fun, children will be more likely to get involved.

For the teens, selecting a antiviral face mask that provides protection, comfort and doesn’t look too horrendous can be frustrating. Our Child and Adult cloth masks appeal to all these requirements. Made using a comfortable, breathable fabric and in various colours to suit that ‘outfit of the day’ on Instagram, we defy any teen to not ‘mind’ wearing it! Baby Jack and Co have created a child friendly mask that features a translucent, plastic window so that you can see the child’s smile. This is a great option for smaller children as it still fosters the idea of cognitive and social development. 

When it comes to proper fit and size for your child’s mask, the same guidelines apply as for adults, it should fit over the nose and under the chin without gaps at the sides. You may have to experiment when it comes to sizing but most cloth masks fit from age 3 to around the age of 10, sometimes older depending on size. If your child is a teen or larger for their age, adult cloth masks are a suitable alternative.

# Keeping it clean:

It is really important you encourage children to help take responsibility for the cleanliness of their masks. Encouraging them to store it correctly after use if reusable and washing hands before and after handling them really maximises the protection face masks provide. It is also important to discuss with children when it is appropriate to wear a antiviral face mask and when they can take a breather, like in outdoor spaces.

Top Tips to Choose Medical Face Masks

Conclusion and Suggestions from Experts:

Choosing a right face mask can be a frustrating process but we hope the above suggestions help you in your journey to finding the right one. Remember, for a mask to genuinely offer protection, it must meet European standards to ensure defence against toxic bacteria. Both disposable and reusable face masks are a great method of protection, but they must be used in combination with suggested hand washing and social distancing practices.

Whatever mask option you choose for you and your family, make sure it works best for you. If you require further support or guidance when selecting your mask, our expert customer service team would love to help. Contact us here to get in touch.

For more information please contact us.

Tel: 0203-092-7299

XP21 Medical Supplies