The health crisis has caused a boom in the supply of masks, currently available in stores, gas stations and supermarkets, as well as in pharmacies. There are many types, designs and sizes, but not all offer the same level of protection, comply with current regulations, or are properly tested.
How to know if a mask is good, protects and is certified by official entities? Certain indicators reveal its quality (for example, levels of breathability or the efficiency of its filtration of particles / bacteria); certification, such as the presence of the CE or the standards developed by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN)
It should be mentioned that masks are only a complement of protection. It is essential to continue complying with the rest of the preventive measures recommended by the Ministry of Health.
4 keys to choose good and effective masks
Labeling and standardization
The masks can present stamps and certificates that allow them to be identified and distinguished from sanitary material without accreditation. This label is different in each model. How to know if the mask is classified according to the different regulations?
Surgical masks have the CE (European Conformity) marking, a guarantee that the product complies with current regulations. They incorporate the quality standard UNE EN 14683: 2019 + AC: 2019, and are available in three classes: Type I and Type II and Type IIR.
Hygienic masks can show the quality standards UNE 0064 (parts 1 or 2), UNE 0065 or other specifications accepted as alternatives in Europe (CWA 17553: 2020). You can also find masks without specifications, which would correspond to artisan or homemade masks, which are not subjected to tests under the standards of any standard.
PPE type masks (Category III) show the CE marking accompanied by the number of the notified body that certifies them and the initials R (reusable) or NR (not reusable). These are tested under the UNE EN 149: 2001 + A1: 2009 standard. Within its classifications, the types FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3 can be found according to, among other variables, their level of filtration. According to the Ministry of Consumption of Spain, these are recommended to healthcare personnel and / or personnel in direct contact with the virus.
Hygienic, Surgical or PPE?
The market offers a wide range of good quality masks, which can be classified into three types: hygienic, surgical or PPE. In general, the first are indicated for healthy adults and children, that is, those who have not contracted SARS-CoV-2.
Surgical masks are what we are used to see in clinical settings. Its objective is to prevent infected healthcare personnel and patients from transmitting infectious agents. These masks are designed to filter exhaled air. The objective is to protect those around you, avoiding the spread of viruses when sneezing, coughing, or talking. They must have a mechanism that allows it to be fitted closely over the nose, mouth, and chin. They have been manufactured with 2-3 textile layers that guarantee an efficient filtration of the virus particles. Protect the user’s immediate environment.
The PPE masks (personal protective equipment) are mostly used by healthcare personnel and / or professionals in contact with the coronavirus. This product corresponds to the masks commonly divided into types FFP1, FFP2, and FFP3 according to their level of filtration. Although each category, in ascending order, offers a higher level of filtration, it is not correct to say that it protects the user more. On the contrary, the correct use of each level is recommended according to the environment to which each person is exposed. If you are not a professional, are not in contact with the virus or do not have risky activities related to COVID-19, you do not need this type of mask to protect yourself from contagion, except for medical indications.
About durability and hours of use
It is advisable to review the durability specifications provided by the manufacturers as information on durability, humidity and temperature conditions for storage. Surgical, PPE and hygienic masks (in their non-reusable version) are recommended to be used for a maximum of 4 continuous hours, for reasons of comfort and hygiene. After this period or if they have been exposed to excessive humidity or deterioration due to use, they should be discarded and replaced with another mask.
The reusable PPE or hygienic masks share the same specifications for use. After 4 continuous hours of use and / or when they show signs of excessive humidity or deterioration, they should be washed according to the manufacturer’s instructions or, on the contrary, replace them with a new one. disinfect them. The reuse levels must always be available as information for the consumer, thus informing the useful life of the mask until it loses its filtration capabilities.
Sizes and versions
Choosing masks for each user depends on the correct fit. They must be acquired by each user (adults or children) according to the characteristics of each face (sizes) and present a correct and effective fit when using it. Although the surgical and PPE versions in their standards are not tested or intended for use by minors (they cannot guarantee compliance with their standards for these age ranges), it is beneficial. The hygienic mask has measurement and sizing recommendations that benefit and protect kids from the age of 3 years old.
It is recommended that children from the age of 3 years old, begin to familiarize themselves with the mask, which will also increase their protection in outdoor environments, despite the fact that there is no legal obligation until kids turn 6 years old.
According to the Ministry of Consumer Affairs and the Spanish Association for Standardization (UNE), design guidelines have been established that children’s masks must meet according to their age: from 3 to 5 years old, the mask will have dimensions of 5.5 cm in height and 13 cm in width; for children 6 to 9 years old, the size will be expanded to 6.5 cm in height and 15 cm in width, while users between 10 and 12 years old will use masks 8.5 in height and at least 17 cm wide.