How to Avoid Buying a Knock-off KN95 or N95 Face Mask
Wearing a face covering correctly and consistently remains one of the most effective ways to prevent contracting and spreading COVID-19. Given the most recent surge in Omicron variant infections in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) not only continues to advise vigilant mask-wearing, but is considering updating its guidelines to suggest people wear even more protective N95 or KN95 masks, rather than cloth ones, a CDC official told the Washington Post. Typically worn in health care settings, N95 and KN95 masks fit more closely to the face than cloth and surgical masks, and filter out up to 95 percent of airborne particles—that is, when they fit properly, meet necessary requirements, and are not counterfeit.
For the best protection, it's not wise to panic buy just any N95 or KN95 mask online that claims to be the real deal. The CDC has cautioned that 60 percent of imported KN95 masks circulating in the U.S. are counterfeit and do not meet the filtration requirements they claim to meet.
Both N95 and KN95 respirators meet certain international standards. N95 masks are approved for medical use in the U.S. through rigorous testing by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). KN95 masks are meant to meet the same standards, but are not regulated by a U.S. agency—KN95 is a Chinese particulate standard. "Respirators approved by NIOSH are evaluated by NIOSH against a specific U.S. standard that includes a quality requirement," according to the CDC. "International standards do not often have quality requirements."
Several KN95 masks sold in the U.S. do meet guidelines similar to those set by NIOSH, but others don't make the cut. Proper KN95 masks are effective, but the less clear regulations and high demand have made it easier for knock-offs to slip through the cracks and make it into consumers' shopping carts, especially on third-party retailers like Amazon.com. While wearing a less-than-gold-standard mask is better than no mask at all, it's important to know that you might not be getting the protection you think you're paying for.
Here are a few smart steps you can take to avoid grabbing counterfeit masks.
And remember, if you don't have, or can't find, a N95 or KN95—or already bought a pack that looks questionable—don't panic. The lookalikes you have, a cloth, or a surgical face covering is OK and far better than going maskless.
This story originally appeared on RealSimple.com.