7 best KN95 face masks and where to buy them online

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While many states across the country recently stripped back face mask requirements as more and more Americans get vaccinated, they’re still required in certain situations, both for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals — while taking public transportation, for example. Reusable masks and disposable masks are acceptable when you need to wear one to work or shop in a store, too, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that KN95 masks, common in China, “may be preferable in some situations or for some people.” This is especially so when “prolonged close contact with people who do not live in the same household is unavoidable, or for people who are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.”

Unlike a Louis Vuitton or Gucci bag that has a label to help you distinguish if it’s fake or not, a counterfeit KN95 mask might not look any different than the real thing.

Jeremy Friese, MD, president of Payer Market, Olive

The increasing prevalence of coronavirus variants across the U.S. — combined with increased travel and a return to large in-person gatherings — has many Americans curious about KN95 masks, with search trends and reader interest in the topic steadily rising over recent weeks. To help guide anyone wondering where to find these face masks — or even hoping to understand what they are — we consulted medical experts about the use of KN95 masks, how to purchase them and who should wear them and when.

SKIP AHEAD Best KN95 masks to buy | Who should wear KN95 masks?

What is a KN95 mask?

Nina Shapiro, MD, professor of head and neck surgery at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine and author of “The Ultimate Kids’ Guide to Being Super Healthy,” said a KN95 mask is manufactured to offer 95 percent protection from particulate matter, like the N95 mask. In fact, KN95 masks are the Chinese equivalent of an N95 mask in the U.S. A governing body like the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) sets the standard for KN95 masks in China.

And many different countries have different mask standards that result in different medical-grade face mask names, explained Jeremy Friese, MD, a former Mayo Clinic physician and the president of payer market at Olive, which builds healthcare solutions using artificial intelligence. South Korea, for example, holds up the KF94 as its N95 face mask equivalent.

“KN95 masks are meant to have a similar protection profile as N95 masks,” noted Friese. “It’s just that instead of being governed by the United States, it’s governed by China.”

Are KN95 masks authorized for use?

Effective earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration revoked its Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for KN95 masks, marking the end of their use by healthcare workers. When it was originally issued, the EUA allowed healthcare workers to use masks manufactured according to other countries’ standards in clinical settings as they faced a shortage of N95 masks, the “gold standard” face mask in the United States, according to Friese — they’re approved by the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Now that the supply shortage has ended, the FDA deemed the EUA no longer needed.

But the FDA’s list of EUA approved KN95 models doubled as a way to help Americans source legitimate masks made by certain manufacturers in China deemed effective for protection. Their popularity surged in the winter, but then lost a massive amount of interest from shoppers as states loosened mask mandates and vaccination rates increased. KN95 masks have recently regained their momentum as Americans may be looking to arm themselves against Covid variants.

But now that the EUA for KN95 masks has been revoked, what does that mean for the general public? Relatively nothing, according to Shapiro.

Shapiro said the change in FDA guidance “applies specifically to those who work in healthcare settings,” noting that KN95 makes “continue to provide excellent protection for the non-healthcare community.” Nothing about the physical KN95 masks has changed, from how they’re made to the brands that sell them, added Anne Miller, executive director of Project N95, a nonprofit that helps people source personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical supplies. The FDA’s list is still available online to reference, and it includes the non-NIOSH-approved respirator models manufactured in China that were authorized at the time the EUA was revoked.

“There’s nothing about that list that’s now invalid,” Miller said. “It’s just how it’s applied to healthcare workers.”

However: Even if a KN95 mask advertises that it was formerly a FDA EUA-authorized model, there is still a chance it could be a counterfeit, which is a big issue, said Miller. The best way to purchase KN95 masks and similar respirators is to buy directly from manufacturers, Miller explained. However, large manufacturers often won’t sell a single box of KN95 masks, opting to work exclusively with large distributors. Those distributors further complicate shopping for a KN95 face mask: It’s hard to know exactly where they’re coming from.

As far as CDC guidance goes, it states that Americans should “look for KN95 masks that meet requirements similar to those set by NIOSH. Some KN95 masks sold in the United States meet requirements similar to those set by NIOSH, while other KN95 masks do not.”

Best KN95 masks to purchase

If you’re going to buy a KN95 face mask, we found some highly rated options that are formerly FDA EUA-authorized models. And they’re popular, too. According to Evolvetogether, when it first launched its KN95 masks for pre-order on April 29, the brand sold out in two hours. After restocking on May 28, Evolvetogether said it sold 50,000 Santorini KN95 masks over the following three days.

1. WWDOLL KN95 Face Masks

These KN95 masks are Amazon bestsellers and come in packs of 25. They’re designed with five layers of fabric, including an outer layer made from non-woven fabric that filters large particles and an inner, skin-friendly layer that’s soft against your face. Each mask feature elastic ear loops and an adjustable nose bridge. WWDOLL also sells a 50-pack of White or Multicolor KN95 masks, and a pack of 25 White KN95 masks.

2. Hotodeal KN95 Mask

Also an Amazon bestseller, these White KN95 masks come in a pack of 40. They feature an adjustable nose clip, are made from five layers of fabric and have elastic ear loops. The KN95 masks also come in other colors and prints, like Grey and camouflage.

3. WellBefore KN95 Masks

WellBefore, a company that sells PPE like face masks and face shields, has three types of KN95 masks available on its website: 3D Style KN95 masks, Kids KN95 masks and these individually wrapped White KN95 masks. I personally purchased these to wear while flying and for commuting by train and subway. Because they’re individually wrapped, you can throw a few in your bag or suitcase without worrying about getting them dirty. The masks are made from five layers of fabric, have adjustable ear loops and an adjustable nose bridge.

4. VIDA KN95 Face Mask

In addition to its reusable cloth face masks (a favorite among Shopping readers), VIDA sells KN95 masks in different color options and multi-packs. They’re made with five layers of fabric and have elastic ear loops as well as an adjustable nose clip. VIDA also sells Kids KN95 masks, filters and face mask accessories like ear loop adjusters and chains.

5. Hope Health Supply KN95 Masks

Hope Health Supply, a brand that sells PPE and medical technology, offers KN95 masks in Black and White. Masks come in packs of 15, 30, 60 and 90. They’re made from five layers of fabric, have ear loops and an adjustable nose bridge. Each face mask order triggers a donated face mask to a hospital in need.

6. Evolvetogether KN95 masks

Evolvetogether’s KN95 masks come in a pack of five and they’re each individually wrapped in biodegradable pouches. The masks feature six layers, including two meltblown filter layers. They’re built with an adjustable nose bridge and ear loops. The KN95 masks are currently in stock in Santorini, a blue color, and will soon be restocked in three other colors: Copenhagen (khaki), Rio de Janeiro (black) and Marrakech (grey). You can also purchase the brand’s KN95 masks in a set of 15 (restocking soon).

7. Powecom KN95 masks

Available in Black and White, these KN95 masks come in a pack of 10. They feature an adjustable nose piece and latex-free ear loops. The mask is designed with a multi-layer filtration system as well.

How protective are KN95 masks?

KN95 masks are typically more protective than cloth masks, gaiters, bandanas and even surgical masks, Shapiro said. However, how protective the mask is in many ways depends on how form-fitting it is to your face.

“It’s the fit that makes a big difference,” she noted. “Many mask manufacturers make multiple sizes and shapes, so it’s important to have a mask with a good fit.”

Sourcing KN95 masks and other PPE

In addition to utilizing the lists published by the FDA, services like Project N95 are working to help the public purchase safe, effective personal protective gear. Miller and a group of volunteers originally founded Project N95 to help distribute PPE like N95 masks (also often counterfeited) to frontline healthcare workers. But a year into the pandemic, Project N95 is now helping the general public purchase masks and other items, and providing resources about how to determine whether or not the PPE you’re looking to purchase is safe and effective.

“We tell doctors, physician practices and members of the public that we’ll stand in the middle of a transaction for you and make sure the PPE you’re buying is right for you,” Miller said.

To use Project KN95’s services, shoppers can visit the nonprofit’s website, make a free account and browse the personal protective equipment available to purchase. Additionally, if you’re looking to buy an N95 mask, KN95 mask or other PPE on Amazon, for example, and want to know if it’s legitimate, you can email Project N95 to ensure you’re purchasing a legitimate product: [email protected]

What to avoid when purchasing a KN95 mask

Friese said it’s very difficult, and sometimes impossible, to spot the difference between a legitimate and a counterfeit KN95 mask just by looking at it.

“Frankly, there isn’t an easy way to see if a KN95 mask is a counterfeit,” Friese said. “Unlike a Louis Vuitton or Gucci bag that has a label to help you distinguish if it’s fake or not, a counterfeit KN95 mask might not look any different than the real thing.”

Miller said Project N95’s research shows that most KN95 masks are sold for between $2 and $3 a piece. If the masks you’re considering are far outside that range, she suggests you avoid them as they may be counterfeited — or it’s a sign of price gouging.

Additionally, the CDC states KN95 masks often have ear loops, although some options are designed with head straps. It also emphasizes that you should not wear KN95 masks with exhalation valves “since they allow respiratory droplets containing the virus to escape.”

When the EUA was active, the FDA also published a list of respirator models that were previously on the list of authorized respirator but no longer met the eligibility criteria (they’re now listed right below the aforementioned Appendix A on FDA’s site). Thus, masks on those lists are no longer authorized and should not be purchased or used.

Do you need to double mask with a KN95 mask?

If the KN95 or N95 mask you’re wearing is either NIOSH-approved or on the FDA’s EUA list, and it’s tightly fitting, it offers adequate protection to the wearer and those around them. Friese said that a KN95 mask generally offers more protection than double masking, as long as it properly fits you. But if a KN95 mask has gaps along the sides or is loose fitting, it can lead to potential aerosol leakage in and out of the mask. Specifically, the CDC said a proper fit may be hard to achieve with certain types of facial hair. So no matter what, Shapiro said, “if the KN95 has any gaps, a second mask should be worn.” For outdoor activities or brief interactions, wearing a surgical mask with an additional multi-layer cloth mask over it (double masking) is an “excellent” option, she said.

Additionally, Shapiro said, if you’re working in a healthcare or caregiving setting, KN95 and N95 masks are your best options. She said wearing eye protection is crucial, too.

Who should wear KN95 masks?

The CDC advises against the general public wearing N95 masks: “Do not use NIOSH-approved N95 respirators that are meant for healthcare workers. NIOSH-approved N95 respirators are critical supplies that should be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders to prevent supply shortages.”

But like the CDC states, Friese said there are situations where KN95 masks, which are more protective than cloth, disposable or surgical masks, make “a ton of sense” to wear for anyone in the general public:

  • If you might have a prolonged contact with someone who could be or is infected with Covid, like if you’re caring for a sick family member.
  • If you are at increased risk for severe illness from Covid.
  • On planes and trains, or other spaces where you might be sitting next to people for a prolonged period of time
  • In public spaces like the grocery store, offices or workplaces where you may have close contact with people for prolonged periods of time

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