What is a Medical Grade Face Mask?
A medical-grade face mask (also known as a surgical mask or procedure mask) is a face mask that has been officially certified for the specific usage. Medical masks are designed for single-use and should be disposed of properly after one use. The lifetime of a medical face mask varies depending on the classification but they are generally used for a maximum of 3-8 hours. Medical-grade face masks will come with a certification classification starting with the letters EN to show that it is a European standard certification, followed by some numbers that refer to the classification of use. Medical-grade face masks break down into two EN types:
- EN 149 which includes FFP1 face masks, FFP2 face masks and FFP3 face masks
- EN 14683 which includes Type I face masks, Type II face masks and Type IIR face masks
EN149 Face Masks
FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3 face masks fall into this category. FFP stands for Filtering half Face Masks. The higher the FFP number the higher level of protection is guaranteed. Within this classification the masks are awarded two grades:
Occupational Exposure Limit value (OEL): This refers to the amount of toxic substance that is allowed in the air within a workplace.
Assigned Protection Factor (APF): Which indicates the amount of times the wearer will be protected from hazardous substances. For example wearing a face mask with an APF of 4 will reduce wearer breathing in toxic substances by 4 times. Therefore the higher the number the greater the level of protection
- FFP1 Face masks: This is your basic face mask; its fine for use when sanding or to filter out pollen from the air but nothing more than that. They filter out 80% of bacteria. FFP1 face masks have 4 X APF and 4 X OEL
- FFP2 Face masks: These face masks generally filter out 94% of bacteria in the air. The USA counterpart would be an N95 face mask. The WHO recommend FFP2 face masks for medical people that are not in direct contact with those with infectious airborne diseases. These face masks have 10 X APF and 12 X OEL
- FFP3 Face masks: FFP3 face masks offer the highest level of protection in this category and filter out 99% of bacteria. They are the equivalent to the USA certified N99 face mask. The WHO recommend FFP3 face masks are worn by medical professionals that are dealing with patients with contagious diseases. FFP3 Face masks have 20 X APF and 50 X OEL.
EN 14683 Face masks
Type I face masks: These masks help stop the spread of bacteria and airborne diseases and are a minimum requirement. They have 95% efficiency in filtering harmful bacteria.
Type II and Type IIR face masks: These face masks have a 98% efficiency in filtering harmful bacteria so they give more protection than the Type I mask. The only difference between these two masks is the R which stands for water-resistant meaning the Type IIR face masks protect against splashes of fluids.