With pollution levels going off the charts in Delhi and the surrounding NCR area, people in the area are thronging chemists to purchase face masks as recommended by medical experts. But with so many kinds of face masks in the markets ranging from the very cheap to the ones which are substantial investments, it is bound to get confusing as to what kind of masks one should opt for.
Here is a roundup of various types of masks and their benefits:
Disposable Surgical Mask: Offer absolutely no protection against air pollution and are best for safety against communicable air borne diseases. These are cheap at Rs 3 to 10 each and are to be disposed after every use. This comes in a single size.
Particulate respirators are divided into three distinct groups, namely the N-Series, R-Series and P-Series. Within each of these series there are three different efficiency possibilities: 95, 99 and 100.
The N-Series (N95, N99 and N100)
N-Series particulate respirators are NOT resistant to oil and can only provide protection against particulates that do NOT contain oil, like dust from coal, iron ore, flour, pollen, etc. The difference between an N95, N99 and N100 is the efficiency of the filter. Therefore, N95 would mean NOT resistant to solids and liquid particulates that contain oil and is 95 percent efficient at filtering. Higher the number the higher the efficiency. The most commonly available and used is N95. They can be used as long as no damage occurs to the product.
The R-Series denotes RESISTANCE to oil, and provide protection against particulates that may contain oil as well as particulates that do not contain oil. They have a limited shelf life of eight hours.
P-Series (P95 and P100)
The P-Series particulate respirators, like the R-series protect against particulates that may or may not contain oil, but unlike an R-series mask, these have a longer life, of up to 40 hours.
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Based on filtration capabilities:
N-95 Masks: These are the basic anti-pollution masks that will filter out 95 percent of the pollutants which includes the PM 2.5 particle pollutants. Ensure the mask you choose is certified by a reputed organisation. Choose one that has separate passages for inhaling and exhaling to prevent fogging at the bridge of the nose. These can be used for two to three days and are priced between Rs 90 to Rs 150.
N99 and N100: These masks have a filtration capability of 99 to 99.97 percent although they aren’t effective against pollutants that are oil-based. Some of the kinds of N99 mask brands are the Vogmask, the Cambridge mask and Smart Air. The N100 masks aren’t easily available though and industrial suppliers are the ones who sell it. These are more expensive and priced around Rs 2,000 to Rs 2,800, and come in sizes ranging from XS to XL, you must find the mask size that fits perfectly in order for these to be effective. They can also be washed or carefully cleaned with a wet cloth and used for around six months.
It’s important to have a CO2 outlet to allow that CO2 to leave the mask especially if one is using the mask while exercising. CO2 outlets are valved and they close when you breathe in and open when you breathe out.
Here are some kinds of masks available:
- Totobobo Masks: A high tech anti-pollution mask this is reusable, comes in varying sizes and is priced at around Rs 2,500.
- Respro Mask: This is recommended for athletes, runners and sportspersons and filters out particulate matter PM 10. It can be used for 69 hours and comes in three sizes. The cost is between Rs 750 to Rs 1,000.
- N95 Aura Particulate Respirator: This filters out fine PM 2.5 matter and is recommended for those who report feeling uneasy or suffocated with other masks. It costs around Rs 200 each and can be used for up to five days. It comes in a single size though.
- Honeywell Kids – PM 2.5 KN95 Dust Mask: This is specially designed for kids between four to nine years old and filters out up to 95 percent of the pollutants. It has an exhalation valve to allow exhaled air to dissipate quicker and an ear loop design for easier putting on and taking off. The mask comes in fun designs.
- Vogmask: Vogmask is sold across 41 countries and is used for protection from airborne particles such as PM 0.3, PM 2.5, PM 10, dust, allergens, post combustion particles, germs, shavings, biologics, odors, scents, mold, mold spores, particles in wildfire smoke, volcanic particulate pollution, and other airborne contaminants. The filter media in Vogmask is sewn into the middle layers of the mask and is not replaceable. The disk on the side of the mask is a one-way exhalation valve to facilitate the exit of moisture and CO2 from the interior of the mask. The masks can be maintained by hand wash and hang dry. It comes in sizes from small to extra large. They also come in the options of organic cotton and microfiber.
- Cambridge Mask: Cambridge Masks, invented originally by the UK Ministry of Defence, are respirators that claim to use military grade filtration technology to filter out nearly 100 percent of particulate pollution, gases, as well as bacteria and viruses. These masks are meant for the entire family and have an inner filtration layer is made from a 100 percent pure activated carbon cloth. This mask was extensively developed and has since been made into products for use in chemical, biological and nuclear warfare protection.
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Ventilation is equally important, especially if you are using the mask during exercise. A good mask does not allow moisture and fogging near the nose-bridge and eyes.
Factors to keep in mind:
- Make sure that the mask you choose fits snugly. If the mask you chose doesn’t fit you properly, it is of no use. The mask should fit tightly on your face, leaving no gaps at the sides as pollutants are 50 times thinner than hair!
- Choose a mask with a N95 rating at the very least.
- It’s important to have a CO2 outlet to allow that CO2 to leave the mask especially if one is using the mask while exercising. CO2 outlets are valved and they close when you breathe in and open when you breathe out.
- Ventilation is equally important, especially if you are using the mask during exercise. A good mask does not allow moisture and fogging near the nose-bridge and eyes.
- Opt for masks equipped with activated carbon layers and filters to stop PM 2.5 or higher particles.
- Surgical masks sold at many chemist outlets – even those that include carbon filters – do not have any utility.
- Single use masks must be replaced after a single use.
- Non reusable masks designed for long use may become infected with pathogens. Therefore they should be wiped with a moist cloth. Improper storage might lead to breakage of the nose clip or may cause growth of bacteria and fungi. Extended usage may also cause an improper face-mask seal.
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Surgical and comfort masks are of absolutely no use in such high levels of pollution as they aren’t created for proper respiratory protection. The popular surgical face masks have been created purely to prevent the transfer of bodily fluids to other people if one sneezes or coughs. They prevent the transfer of bodily fluids from a patient to the person if they are medical care staff and protecting them from infection. While they do have a central filter layer, this is designed to only keep microbes out not to prevent air pollutants from entering the respiratory system. Strangely enough, there seems to be resistance to wearing masks that ranges from the aesthetic of not looking good to the perception that wearing masks is for people who are unwell or have weakened immunities.
Says Dr Megha Consul, Principal Consultant, Pediatrics, Max Gurgaon, “What does N -95 or N-99 mean? This refers to the fact that masks with N95 filters 95percent of PM 2.5 and so on. For areas with very high levels of PM 2.5 concentration, an N-100 mask, that works with 99.97 percent efficiency may be advisable.
However, near an industrial area, N- masks will not work and P-95 or its counterpart for industrial use – R-95, both of which can filter out oil and oil-based pollutants. These are more expensive than their N- counterparts and have to be frequently replaced (normally after 40 hours).”
Says Tamseel Hussain Founder of LetMeBreathe.in, “Vog is expensive and stylish – good filters. They have a running variant which is great for runners. These masks are great – specifically, because they have great designs, are comfortable and are high on awareness. Prana air is battery operated and has a fan with 6 filters. It’s great for physical activities – and is lighter on your lungs as compared to other masks. 3M and Honeywell are affordable and good – they come in sets. These are common masks that one can order online – easy to get – affordable and do the job.”
The different masks available in the market all have different filtering efficiencies and are approved by different certifying bodies. The reputed certifying bodies to keep in mind while selecting a mask are BIS (Bureau of India Safety), NIOSH (National institute of occupational safety and health) and GB Standards (Guobiao standards). These bodies certify the masks after extensive testing to allot the filtering efficiencies they have like 80%(FFP1), 95%(N95, KN95) for example. Ensure you opt for a mask that is approved and certified by these reputed bodies to ensure you get the best product.
Hussain adds a note of caution though, “I saw an image of our chief minister giving masks to students. A great campaign but if you look at the image closely you realise the child is being given an adult mask. Each mask has different sizes and it’s crucial to make sure you’re wearing the right one.”
You need to decide what is your requirement, whether you need a disposable or are a usable unit. Disposable face masks usually cover half the face and offer protection against dust borne particles, and reusable are both half face and full face options and can protect against air borne particles, gases, fumes, etc.
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