The best face masks for 2021

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COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations are on the rise among the unvaccinated in parts of the US and abroad due in large part to the spread of highly contagious diseases delta variant. TO number of states They have returned to indoor mask mandates, especially for students attending face-to-face classes, and it is common for companies and events to also require masks for in-store purchases or for large gatherings.

Before talking about face masks, it is important to underscore that the best way to protect yourself against severe COVID-19 disease is get vaccinated. But now that we are in the middle of the holidays and will be spending more time shopping and with friends and family, reviewing the best mask options is a good idea, regardless of vaccination status.

We spoke with two infectious disease specialists to determine the best mask and face covering to protect against coronavirus in 2021. Here are their advice, followed by some updated recommendations based on their experience.

Read more: The CDC and WHO recommend that fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors. Here is the latest

Disposable versus cloth masks

“I highly recommend that everyone get vaccinated, especially with the highly transmissible delta variant,” says Dr. Bob Lahita, director of the Institute for Autoimmune and Rheumatic Diseases at St. Joseph Health. “In terms of masking, the N95 provides maximum protection against COVID-19.”

A surgical N95 respirator It is a disposable face cover used in hospital settings, which filters at least 95% of the particles in the air. Lahita recommends saving N95s for “those who really need them”: healthcare workers and the immunosuppressed. The CDC recommends prioritize the N95s for healthcare settings first.

A popular alternative to the N95 mask is the KN95 mask, which is the Chinese equivalent of the American standard. KN95s are made of the same material as N95s and are also designed to filter at least 95% of airborne particles. Another alternative is the KF94, the South Korean equivalent of an N95, which has a slightly different shape and a filtration efficiency of 94%.

“To optimize protection against highly infectious delta, I would recommend a high-quality KF94 or KN95 for high-risk situations,” says Dr. Bob Bollinger, professor of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and founder of health emocha.

Whether you are using a N95, KN95 or KF94, it will not be completely effective unless the mask fits your face properly. “Make sure it fits snugly, with no gaps around the nose, face and mouth,” says Bollinger. This is the reason why these masks usually have an adjustable nose wire to ensure a perfect fit.

Then there is surgical style masks – the kind of disposable protective mask you can find in every convenience store these days. While these surgical mask style liners offer less protection than N95 respirators, they are still useful in preventing the spread of the delta variant by trapping respiratory droplets. Look for a mask with at least three layers of material and, again, a snug fit around the mouth, nose, and face. Also, if the elastic ear loop is not tight enough, try knotting or twisting the loop to make it tighter.

Do what you do don’t trust a cloth mask You are no longer alone, you are good at protecting others from your respiratory droplets, but not at protecting you against theirs, even with a filter pocket. “I would say that people should choose disposable masks, not fabrics,” Lahita says. “A cloth mask is better than none if you don’t have access to disposable ones. It helps protect others if you sneeze or cough, but it is less effective than the disposable version or the N95 mask, especially since many people don’t wash their faces. cloth masks frequently. “

However, one way you can use a cloth mask is double mask with a disposable mask underneath. Especially if you can’t find an N95, KN95 or KF94, says Bollinger, “a good quality disposable mask under a cloth mask is a reasonable alternative, as long as the fit on the face, nose and mouth is tight.”

Different skins for different tasks.

Different types of face masks offer different levels of protection. But not everyone needs exactly the same level of protection, and specific situations may require more or less caution.

If you are unvaccinated, immunosuppressed, or at increased risk for COVID-19, you should wear the most protective face covering you can get. That means wearing a tightly fitting N95, KN95 or KF94, or a double mask. A protective mask is especially important if you are in an area with high community spread and / or low vaccination rates.

Opting for greater protection is also a good idea when you are in a higher risk public environment, such as traveling by public transport or visiting a healthcare facility, regardless of your health.

If you’re fully vaccinated and low-risk, Lahita says a surgical-style disposable mask is fine for regular daily use.

How to avoid counterfeit masks

In the US, N95 must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration as well as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to qualify for medical use.

Because KN95 and KF94 are not regulated by the US authorities, it’s a bit more complicated to know you’re getting the real deal, and counterfeit masks have abounded throughout the pandemic. FDA approved certain KN95 under an Emergency Use Authorization in 2020, and although that authorization has expired, the list of FDA-approved face mask manufacturers remains a useful resource. The CDC also keep a list of non-NIOSH approved masks that have undergone leak testing.

When it comes to KF94, your best bet is to buy from a manufacturer in South Korea, who have their own strict tests associated with the KF94 tag.

Another important note: ignore the term “FDA registered” when shopping for masks. As the FDA notes on their website, facilities “involved in the production and distribution of medical devices intended for use in the United States generally must register annually with the FDA.” But, more importantly, “the FDA listing and registration database does not denote approval, clearance or authorization of that facility or its medical devices.”

Our current facial mask suggestions

Below we’ve put together a list of N95, KN95, KF94, Surgical Style Masks, and Cloth Masks (which, again, we only recommend when duplicating). While we have not expressly “tested” most of these masks, they conform to the mask recommendations of previous experts.

Project N95

Project N95 is a non-profit organization that tests personal protective equipment to help shoppers make sure they are buying legitimate and proven products. The store sells N95, KN95, surgical masks, and more than a variety of brands. By purchasing directly from Project N95, you can ensure that your face shield is tested and reliable.


WWDoll KN95s are manufactured in a factory in China that is on the US FDA list. They have five layers of fabric, a foldable 3D shape, ear loops and an adjustable nose bridge to help you achieve a more secure fit. If the white respirators look too clinical for you, these also come in black and pink.


A previous favorite in the cloth mask space, Vida now also makes disposable KN95s, and they come from US-approved factories in China. Choose from a range of mask colors and regular or kid sizes. You can buy a 10-pack to a 1,000-pack of these KN95s, and send the used ones back to Vida for recycling.


Powecom’s KN95s are affordable, with a 10-pack costing less than $ 15. They feature the standard five-layer face mask, adjustable earmuff design, and come from a US-licensed Chinese manufacturer. Reviewers say they are comfortable and form a nice tight seal around the face, with no gaps at the edges.

LG Health Care

These LG Health Care KF94s are made in Korea with four layers of material. Unlike the KN95s, the KF94s have a two-tier design that allows for a tighter fit, but also adds more room in the mask for breathing. Since these also have an adjustable ear loop design, it’s even easier to get a gap-free seal.

Evolve Together

Although they are slightly more expensive per mask than the disposable masks you’ll find at convenience stores, EvolveTogether masks have everything you need: they are leak tested, comfortable and as sustainable as a single product can be. use. The mask packaging is recyclable and biodegradable. They feature four layers of material, an adjustable nose bridge, and earmuffs. (Evolve Together also manufactures KN95s, but they are often sold out).

We care

WeCare disposable face masks are individually sealed, which is useful for hygiene purposes when you are on the go. The three-layer masks have earmuffs, nose wire, and are sturdy and reasonably comfortable. They come in a variety of colors and patterns, for both kids and adults. They come in a box of 50.

ICU Health

There’s something to be said for a disposable mask brand that you can easily pick up in person when you need it. These ICU Health masks are widely available at stores like Target and Walmart. These face masks aren’t scoring points for innovation or comfort, but they get the job done, offering three layers of protection, ear muffs, and an adjustable nose bridge. And because they are relatively inexpensive, they are perfect for double masking.


If you plan to use a cloth mask to make a double mask, Uniqlo Airism masks are a comfortable option for everyday use. They are made from the same breathable, refreshing fabric that Uniqlo sportswear and underwear are made from, helping to alleviate the discomfort of wearing a fabric mask. They have three layers of fabric, plus a built-in washable filter, and come in four sizes, from small to extra large.

Under armor

One circumstance in which a fabric mask has clear advantages, at least in terms of comfort: exercise. Wearing an N95-style respirator during exercise isn’t feasible, but you can add a disposable mask underneath a fabric mask for extra protection, and Under Armor Sportsmask is a great competitor to breathable masks – it’s one of CNET’s top picks. face masks for exercise. This mask has three layers of breathable fabric and does not stick to your face or make you feel hot, but instead offers a cooling effect.

This story has been completely updated from its previous version, with new information and new skin options.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.

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