As the more contagious Omicron variant circulates across the globe, health experts are warning us to upgrade our masks to the more effective N95 and KN95 varieties. These masks offer a closer facial fit and filter significantly more of the virus than cloth or even surgical masks. However, authentic N95 and KN95 masks can be difficult to find online, with plenty of counterfeit models flooding the market, which could be of poor quality and not offer much (if any) virus protection. In fact, an estimated 60 percent of KN95 masks sold in the United States are fake, warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Here are the best places to buy legitimate N95 and KN95 masks for travel.
What’s the Difference Between N95 Masks and KN95 Masks?
N95 respirator masks are what you’ll see healthcare workers wearing when they’re in full COVID-protection gear. N95 masks are worn using over-the-head straps and form a very tight seal around your nose and mask. They can be uncomfortable to wear for long periods.
K95 masks are more flexible and are generally worn with ear loops, which can be easier to wear for an extended amount of time.
Both N95 and KN95 masks filter out 95 percent of airborne particles and are pretty much equally effective. However, N95 masks have been certified by the United State’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) whereas KN95 masks have been approved by a similar agency in China. During the pandemic, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given emergency authorization to certain manufacturers of KN95 masks for use in medical settings.
Where Can You Buy Legitimate N95 Masks and KN95 Masks?
Legitimate N95 masks have been approved by NIOSH. Here is a good guide from the CDC for what to look for on your N95 mask to make sure it is legitimate. A full list of NIOSH-approved N95 mask manufacturers can be found here.
KN95 masks are not approved by NIOSH (so seeing ones listed as NIOSH-approved is a good sign that the mask is counterfeit). Check out the CDC’s guide to spotting fake KN95 masks before buying one.
Here are some good places to find legitimate N95 and Kn95 masks online:
Bona Fide Masks
Bona Fide Masks is the only authorized distributor of NIOSH-approved Powecom masks and Harley KN95s in the United States and Canada. You can find a wide range of options on their site, including child-sized versions of N95 and KN95s. Bona Fide Masks also has rapid COVID tests in stock on their website.
Vida’s N95 masks are NIOSH and FDA Authorized, and their KN95 masks are FDA-listed. The site has a very helpful chart so you can compare the levels of protection offered by the various masks. Feeling guilty about all of the waste generated by disposable masks? Your Vida order will include a pre-paid label that allows you to mail back your used masks to Vida for recycling. In addition to N95 and KN95 masks for adults, Vida sells KN95 masks for children (including an x-small size). Bonus: the masks are available in vibrant colors in addition to the standard black or white versions.
Amazon is rife with counterfeit masks, so you have to be really careful when shopping on the site. One good Amazon option is these N95 masks from Kimberly-Clark, a well-known company, which has its own storefront on Amazon. The masks are the “duck-bill” pouch-style, which some people find more comfortable to wear—and which also fold down easily for travel.
Formerly known as HonestPPE Supply, Well Before verifies the effectiveness of all the masks that they sell via third-party lab tests. The company offers a 5 percent discount to first responders, schools, front-line workers, and non-profits. Well Before stocks a wide variety of N95 and KN95 masks, along with at-home COVID tests.
The safest place to buy a mask is directly from the manufacturer, but most only sell to companies (not consumers) and have extremely high order minimums. Project N95 buys directly from manufacturers and splits the masks into smaller shipments to sell to anyone who needs them. Despite the company’s name, both N95 and KN95 masks are sold through Project N95.
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