How to tell if your mask is real or fake

key takeaways

  • Experts recommend that you choose a higher quality mask, such as KN95 and NIOSH-approved N95.
  • Certain information must be printed on the N95 for NIOSH approval.
  • There are some home tests you can do to check the quality of your masks, although they’re not foolproof.

Despite the changing news about COVID-19, one safety recommendation has remained steady: wearing a mask. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that any well-fitting mask can be used, experts urge the public to use a higher-quality mask, such as a KN95 or NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)-approved N95.

N95 masks are highly recommended, in part because they undergo rigorous medical evaluation and fit testing. NIOSH approved and certified the masks, David M. Souleles, MPH, MPH, director of the UC Irvine COVID-19 Response Team, told VigorTip.

The Definitive Guide to Masks

While searching for masks may seem as easy as a Google or Amazon search, rampant counterfeiting makes it harder to determine if a mask is NIOSH-approved. Here’s how to make sure you have a high-quality face mask.

what does this mean to you

To check if your N95 face shield is NIOSH approved, visit the NIOSH Certified Equipment List (CEL) and enter your face shield’s test and certification approval number. If your mask does not appear under this list, it means that the approval number is invalid and the mask is not a NIOSH-approved respirator.

How can I tell if my N95 is NIOSH approved or counterfeit?

One way to determine if your N95 mask is a legal NIOSH-approved respirator is to search on the NIOSH Certified Equipment List (CEL). From there, you can enter the mask’s testing and certification approval number (for example, TC 84A-XXXX), which must be printed on the respirator according to CDC guidelines.

If you search for the NIOSH approval number and nothing comes up in the CEL, it means the approval number is invalid and the mask is not NIOSH approved.

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All approved N95 masks should have the following information on the mask itself:

  • Approval Holder Number/Manufacturer Business Name
  • Part number (this may be the model number)
  • NIOSH filter series and filtration efficiency grades (such as N95, N99, N100, R95, R99, etc.)
  • NIOSH testing and certification approval number (for example, TC-84A-XXXX)
  • NIOSH in all capital letters

Counterfeit masks have not been tested and evaluated by NIOSH and may not provide proper protection and filtering. Unfortunately, due to the high demand for N95 masks, some masks are falsely marketed and approved for sale by NIOSH. Before purchasing a mask, the CDC urges users and manufacturers to check for counterfeit masks on the Counterfeit Masks/NIOSH Approval webpage for misrepresentation.

Additionally, NIOSH provides some indications that your mask may be counterfeit, including:

  • Does not include all required label tags
  • NIOSH misspelling
  • With decorative fabric or other decorative accessories (such as sequins)
  • Claims to be approved for use in children (NIOSH does not approve any type of respiratory protection for children)
  • Use no fasteners to attach them to the ear loops behind the head

KN95 masks are equivalent to N95, but are made in China. While there are currently no CDC or Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards for KN95s, the FDA provided emergency use authorizations (EUAs) for some KN95s at the start of the pandemic when N95s were in short supply. Although these EUAs have been withdrawn as supplies have grown, this list is still a good place to start when trying to find quality KN95 masks.

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How do you know if your mask is working?

In addition to NIOSH’s seal of approval, tests have been used to test the effectiveness of masks, including surgical and cloth masks.

One tool is the candle test, where people put on masks and try to blow out lit candles. Aaron E. Glatt, MD, director of the MACP, FIDSA, FSHEA Division of Medicine and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, said that if the candle blows out while the mask is being worn, it could be an indication that aerosols can pass. Mount Sinai South Nassau.

“If you can blow out a candle, that means it’s a relatively fragile mask, it’s going to be one layer, and it’s basically holey,” Glatter told VigorTip. “If your breath can go through it, that means someone else can come in as well.”

Another test, the light test, asks people to hold the mask against a light to see if it is opaque. Presumably, the more transparent the mask, the more likely it is for particles to squeeze through.

Souleles said that while candle tests and other similar tests can demonstrate the manufacturing quality of some masks, their ability to test the effectiveness of masks should be taken with a grain of salt.

Will we wear masks forever?

“No test is foolproof, but an easy way to test the comfort of your mask is to try exhaling a lot; if your glasses fog up, it means the mask isn’t covering your nose properly,” Souleles told VigorTip. “If your fingers can go through the sides, then the mask can’t be attached to your face.”

This view is echoed by Glatter. “I think the candle test shows and proves how bad some masks are,” Glatter said. “But just because you can’t blow something out doesn’t mean you’re safe.”

Souleles recommends that to ensure your mask fits correctly, it “should fully cover the nose and mouth and be secured to the leads with ties, ear loops or elastics behind the head.”

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Overall, “proper masking is key to preventing COVID-19 infection,” Souleles said. “Wearing any mask is better than no mask at all, but the better the quality and fit of the mask, the more protection it will give you… The right mask and vaccinations provide the best protection against the virus.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means that you may have updated information as you read this article. For the latest updates on COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus news page.