With (no) thanks to the fast spread of new Coronavirus variant Omicron, interest in FFP2/N95 face masks is skyrocketing once again. Boots’ Protective FFP2 face masks were one of the most-purchased products on their site last week (they’ve actually sold out as a result), while brightly-coloured iterations are flying off the virtual Amazon shelves. And anecdotally? If you live in a busy British city like London or Manchester, you’ve probably seen an increase in the number of people wearing these super-protective face coverings on public transport and in other crowded, enclosed spaces. So, what’s the big deal?
The best N95 face masks and FFP2 face coverings are said to be the most protective face masks around – (nothing against your cute Rixo reusable face mask). They’re foldable, they fit closer to the face for added comfort and protection, and they serve up a filtration rate that’s far higher than cloth masks or DIY face coverings. But is it really worth buying one? Should you buy one? Are they really worth ditching your kind-to-skin silk face mask for? And where can you buy the best N95 face masks in the UK?
We’ve done a little bit of homework, so here’s everything you need to know.
What are N95 and FFP2 face masks?
N95 face masks are widely considered to be more protective than the other kinds of face coverings you may have been wearing since the pandemic began, and FFP2 face masks are pretty similar. Supposedly, both of these face mask varieties protect both the wearer and the people around them, and according to the World Health Organisation, FFP2 and N95 masks are 94 and 95 per cent effective respectively.
In fact, they’re considered to be so much more effective than those (admittedly) cute leopard print masks you keep picking up from ASOS, that countries like Austria and Germany have made them a requirement on public transport.
FFP3 masks are the most effective face mask kind, followed by FFP2/N95 masks, then surgical masks, then fabric face masks.
Not only are there a few features that make them more protective (more on that later), but they’re also effective face masks for glasses wearers due to the nose wires that prevent your specs from steaming up. Plus, they’re highly breathable. The main downside? They’re single-use, which stops them from being sustainable.
Why are N95 masks and FFP2 masks more protective?
N95 and FFP2 face masks feature multiple layers of a synthetic material called polypropylene, which filters out 95% of particles – hence why they’re called N95 masks – with extra filtration layers in between.
Need proof of their effectiveness? One study tested FFP2 face masks using NaCl (sodium chloride) particles and paraffin oil, and found that they filtered down 0.0075 micrometer solid particles – in comparison to three micrometer with standard cloth masks. Furthermore, only 6% of these particles made it through to the face.
Should you buy an N95 or FFP2 face mask?
Over in the US, N95 face masks receive a CDCertification if they are safe and effective for general use – but here in the UK, we don’t have an equivalent. For that reason, lots of N95 face masks sold in Europe aren’t certified.
Instead, FFP2 masks are your best bet, with FFP2 simply standing for “filtering facepiece”. The number after “FFP” indicates the level of protection the mask will give you, and if it says “NR” at the end of the name, too, you should take it as “non-reusable”.
According to the UK Government, “Face coverings with multiple layers and which fit snugly around the face work best.” Sure, FFP2 face masks fit into this category, but you can also get fabric coverings which satisfy this criteria. It’s up to you if you feel you need the extra protection.
Where can you buy N95 or FFP2 face masks in the UK?
Though the Boots FFP2 face masks – which went on sale online on February 1 – are currently out of stock online, it’s worth keeping your eyes peeled for when they become re-available. Advertised as fitting closer to your face to make them more comfortable and protective, they’re more expensive than a bog-standard cloth face mask, but feature four-layer protection, adjustable nose wires and ear loop fastenings. According to Boots, they “protect against harmful droplets being inhaled or exhaled by the wearer.” You could save when you shop with these Boots discount codes.
Elsewhere, Amazon has a wide range of FFP2 face masks on sale, many of which come in packs of 10 or 30. Every Amazon FFP2 face mask in this feature has been selected for its strong reviews on the site – though we haven’t tested the effectiveness of each and every one.
For more from Glamour UK Commerce Writer Sophie Cockett, follow her on Instagram @sophiecockettx.
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