Face Masks – What do They Actually Protect us From?

10 mins read
couple with face masks

Unfortunately, the coronavirus continues to spread around the world. Nowadays we want to talk about something else, but the most pressing topics of the day are masks, disinfectants, two meters distance away, and so on. Always by your side, we have prepared several articles for you to make a better and more educated choice.

The virus

Recent studies show that a significant proportion of those infected carries the virus without symptoms, and even those with symptoms can pass the virus on to others even before symptoms.

This means that the virus can be transmitted by people at close range from each other – talking, coughing, sneezing, even if these people do not show any symptoms to patients. Therefore, we have to wear masks outside, especially in places with many people.

In addition, particles contained in the air may fall on an object or surface. That is why it is important not to touch our face with dirty hands and to clean our hands and surfaces that we touch often.

How face masks work

When someone with COVID-19 around us coughs, sneezes or talks, they disperse small particles carrying the virus into the air. Masks help by covering our face and nose and blocking the particles that carry the virus. On the other hand, by wearing a mask, we protect other people if we are carriers of the virus without symptoms.

Why is it necessary to wear face masks in public places?

Health experts have argued that healthy people should not buy masks to have more for really sick people. But because the coronavirus can also spread to seemingly healthy people who show no symptoms, health experts say it’s different.

We all need to wear a face mask outside our homes. If we are caring for a sick person at home who cannot wear a mask, we need to wear a mask at home as well. Last but not least, of course, healthcare professionals who meet sick people every day must also wear protective masks.

Types of face masks

Choosing which mask to wear is not an easy task. Here are some of the more common types of face masks, what benefits they have, and for whom they are most suitable.

The truth is that there is no right choice for everyone – different masks are suitable for different people at different times and in different settings.

Face Mask N95

N95 is a disposable respirator mask designed for close contact with the face, thus protecting not only from droplets but also from airborne particles. “N” in the name of the mask indicates that it is not resistant to fat. 95 means that it filters 95% of 0.3-micron particles. By comparison, human hair is 70-100 microns thick.

Properly installed, it also provides complete protection against bacteria, dust, and pollen. However, in order to work well, this mask must make perfect contact with the face.

Therefore, breathing with them is difficult and is not recommended for people with chronic respiratory, cardiac, or other conditions that make breathing difficult. They are not suitable for children and people with facial hair, because it is not possible for them to fit the mask well to the face.

N95 masks are only recommended for medical personnel.

Protection:

  • Viruses – 95%
  • Bacteria – 100%
  • Dust – 100%
  • Pollens – 100%

Surgical Face Mask

The surgical mask is a disposable personal protective device that stands freely on the face and is a barrier between the wearer’s mouth and nose and potential contaminants in the environment.

Surgical masks are not suitable to be worn more than once. They protect the wearer from sprays, splashes, and droplets with large particles, and also prevent the spread of potentially infectious respiratory secretions from the wearer to others.

If your mask is torn or damp, or you find it difficult to breathe through it, you should remove it, dispose of it safely in a sealed bag and replace it with a new one.

Surgical masks are composed of several layers. The inner absorbs liquids and vapors so that they do not come out from the outside of the mask. The middle layer is an antibacterial filter.

The colored outer layer is waterproof to prevent the passage of external liquids to the nose and mouth of the wearer. The filter in these masks provides 95% to 99% protection against viruses. Protection against bacteria, dust, and pollen, although weaker than protection against viruses due to the shape of the mask, is still good.

The authentic protective mask must have CE conformity marking and instructions for use. There must be a standard for production on the packaging, for example, EN 149: 2001 FFP1.

Masks must have a European model Declaration of Conformity – either it must be included with the product, or the instructions for use must have a link to find this declaration in electronic form.

If you see these details on the masks, then they are manufactured in compliance with all safety requirements and meet the expected level of protection.

Protection:

  • Viruses – 95%
  • Bacteria – 80%
  • Dust – 80%
  • Pollens – 80%

Activated Charcoal Face Mask

Disposable activated charcoal face masks are used more to protect against unpleasant odors than for medical purposes.

They are popular in Asian cities, where traffic is heavy and the air is polluted. They are not suitable as the only protection against viruses.

Protection:

  • Viruses – 10%
  • Bacteria – 50%
  • Dust – 50%
  • Pollens – 50%

Face Mask FFP1

Masks can also be categorized according to the degree of particle filtration. These are our familiar standards FFP1, FFP2, and FFP3.

But what is really behind these short names?

The FFP1 mask stops at least 80% of the particles carried by air. Masks with this degree of filtration are recommended for protection against irritating but not harmful particles.

The FFP2 mask stops at least 92% of the particles carried through the air. These masks are suitable for industry, construction, and agriculture, as well as for medical purposes.

They can be used to protect against influenza virus, coronaviruses, as well as pneumonia and tuberculosis bacteria. This standard is close to the N95 mask in its degree of protection.

The FFP3 mask filters at least 99% of the airborne particles. It prevents the entry of very small particles such as asbestos. Does not provide protection against gases.

Protection:

  • Viruses – 95%
  • Bacteria – 80%
  • Dust – 80%
  • Pollens – 80%

Fabric Face Masks

Fabric masks are suitable for use outside rooms full of people. They can stop the droplets carrying the virus from entering the mouth and nose. These masks provide protection lower than the surgical mask, but, of course, higher than absolutely no mask. They protect more from bacteria, dust, and pollen than from viruses.

The advantage of these masks is that they are reusable and washable. However, in order to benefit from them, they need to be washed at a high temperature after each use.

Most of the homemade masks used by online retailers are not suitable, as we do not know what material they are made of, whether they have a filter, and there is no control over the process of their production. Such masks give a deceptive sense of security.

Protection:

  • Viruses – 0%
  • Bacteria – 50%
  • Dust – 50%
  • Pollens – 50%

Remember other effective ways to protect yourself besides wearing masks:

  • Clean your hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based disinfectant.
  • Stay away from others.
  • Avoid contact with sick people and stay at home longer.
  • Do not touch your face or mouth outside or with dirty hands.
  • Clean contact surfaces every day – kitchen worktops, door handles, keyboards, remote controls, telephones.

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