What distinguishes the different types of masks on the market

Mouth-to-nose protection (MNS) is part of the personal protective equipment (PPE) that must be worn during work and activities where, due to their hazardous nature, health impairments or injuries of various degrees may occur. In some Asian countries, the wearing of hygiene masks in public is known to have been common practice for some time to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. In many of these areas, the mask is not only accepted as part of a social protection concept, but has long been a part of everyday life in many areas. Due to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, this practice has now evolved in this direction for the majority of the population worldwide.

Important here is the subtle difference of all products that offer wearers different protection. Because there are different types of masks, some of which differ significantly in their design and protective effect.

In the following, we would like to explain the general types of masks with their respective characteristics and not only their individual function, but also the corresponding area of application of the mask types.

A basic distinction is made between three types: mouth-nose protection, surgical masks and particle-filtering half masks.

The mouth-nose covering (community or everyday mask)

While medical face masks and particle-filtering half masks must meet precise standards and regulations for the protective effect, mouth-nose coverings are not tested according to corresponding legal and normative requirements. Therefore, they can be placed on the market without an official procedure. Thus, there are no specifications from the legislator for the production of the materials used for the masks, such as filtering performance. In most cases, these mouth-nose coverings are sewn from commercially available fabrics. Accordingly, their appearance and tightness are varied - as the fabrics used differ in design and material properties.

Since they are worn in everyday life, the term "everyday mask" has often become established colloquially. Such everyday masks do not provide the performance evidence defined in the technical standards, as precisely required for all our medical face masks and the particle-filtering half masks.

They therefore generally offer less protection than the strictly regulated and meticulously tested mask types, such as the FFP2 mask. However, this does not mean that everyday masks have no protective effect at all. Internationally, there are numerous scientific publications that confirm the experience gained about the effectiveness of mouth/nose coverings in terms of general population protection. For example, the mucous membrane of the mouth/nose can, by and large, be protected from contact with contaminated hands, which offers at least some protection with a textile in front of the mouth than without fabric over the mouth and nose. In addition, the release of droplets and splashes from talking, coughing or sneezing is basically reduced by a fabric covering in front of the mouth.

The medical mask (surgical mask or mouth-nose protection)

Medical face masks are medical devices and have been developed with countless improvements and studies explicitly for the protection of others. Above all, they protect the other person from emitted, infectious droplets. 

Due to the shape and fit of our medical face masks, some of the breathing air can flow past the edges. Especially during inhalation, this so-called "leakage flow" can draw in unfiltered breathing air. Therefore, medical face masks generally offer the wearer less protection against pathogen-containing aerosols than particle-filtering half masks (see below). However, medical face masks can protect the wearer's mouth and nose area from direct impingement of exhaled droplets from the counterpart, as well as from pathogen transmission through direct contact.

In contrast to everyday masks made of mere fabric, medical devices are naturally subject to special requirements. They must therefore at least meet the legal requirements and comply with the European standard EN 14683:2019-10. For this, we naturally provide a successful verification procedure (conformity assessment procedure) to prove precisely and transparently that our products at least meet all legal requirements.

We then mark all our medical masks with the world-renowned CE mark to make them available in Europe for everyone's protection in the next step. Of course, we also submit medical products such as our masks to the technical organization responsible in Germany (the TÜV Rheinland) for detailed testing to ensure maximum transparency at all levels. Through their global network of experts and laboratories, the full range of accurate, valid and fully comprehensive tests can be guaranteed under state-of-the-art conditions and permanently performed according to previously defined standards. In addition, we also have our own state-of-the-art Palas test stand.

When using our protective masks must be noted that ...

  • ... when using the mask for the first time or for the first time, the user should test whether the mask allows enough air to pass through so that normal breathing is impeded as little as possible.

  • ... a soaked mask should be removed and replaced.

  • ... when removing the mask, it should only be touched by the straps if possible

  • ... after removing the mask, hands should be washed thoroughly in accordance with general hygiene rules (at least 20 to 30 seconds with soap)

  • ... as disposable products, they are intended for optimum protection of the wearer and should therefore be changed regularly and disposed of safely after use.

The respirator mask(FFP2 mask)

The particle-filtering half masks, which are also known colloquially as respirators, "dust masks" or FFP masks (Filtering Face Piece), protect the person wearing them from inhaling the smallest airborne particles, aerosols or hazardous/toxic substances.

They are predominantly white, foldable ("coffee filter shape") and known for high wearing comfort due to our skin-compatible soft fleece. The masks are manufactured by us as disposable products for the best possible protection of the wearer and must therefore be changed regularly and disposed of properly after use. The wearing time when used at the workplace is specified in the risk assessment (DGUV Rule 112-190) for a work shift. A work shift can be roughly declared as a period of time over eight hours.

However, an FFP mask can only provide its filtering performance if the edges of the mask fit snugly against the skin and no air currents get into or out of the mask. In addition, the mask must always fit snugly over the mouth, nose and cheeks. Our optimized tight fit ensures all the prerequisites for full intrinsic and extrinsic protection, while at the same time wearers of our mask enjoy a high level of wearing comfort.

Like medical face masks, FFP masks must comply with clear requirements of laws and technical standards. In particular, the filtering performance of the mask material is tested with aerosols against the European standard EN 149:2001+A1:2009. FFP2 masks must filter at least 94% of the test aerosols. They therefore provide proven effective protection against the smallest particles. The above test standard is clearly printed on the surface of our FFP mask together with the CE mark and the four-digit identification number.

In summary, we would like to state:

  • Mouth-and-nose coverings (everyday masks) are usually made of commercially available fabrics and are intended for private use only. Mouth-nose coverings help to protect other people from fine droplets and particles that every person often emits invisibly to the naked eye, for example, when speaking, coughing or sneezing. However, there are no legal requirements or technical standards for mouth-nose coverings made of bare textiles or disposable masks that do not comply with medical standards during manufacture.

  • Medical mouth-nose protection (MNS) such as surgical masks, surgical masks or medical face masks comply as a medical device with a clear test standard with precise requirements and must be CE certified. The exact lower limits of the filter properties are clearly defined and should also be tested bindingly by the manufacturer. They can be identified by the CE marking on the packaging. Mouth/nose protection not only offers any necessary prevention, but also reliable protection of the person opposite from potentially infectious droplets (external protection) and also clearly contributes to the safety of the wearer (self-protection).

  • FFP masks (particle-filtering half masks) are items of personal protective equipment within the scope of occupational safety and have the purpose of protecting the wearer from droplets and aerosols. Like a medical mouth-nose protection (surgical mask), FFP masks must meet strict legal requirements and technically clearly defined standards. In tests with aerosols, FFP2 masks must filter at least 94 percent of aerosols. They are therefore proven to provide effective protection against them. The test standard as well as a CE mark with a four-digit identification number of the testing body are printed on the surface of the FFP mask in a way that is clearly legible for all users.