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At this point, most of us are pros at social distancing, handwashing, and finding sanitizing options that actually smell good. However, with the spread of highly contagious COVID-19 variants like Delta and Omicron, keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe is of the utmost importance. One way to lower your risk of transmission and contraction: investing in a trustworthy mask.
Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that anyone over the age of 2 wear a mask indoors to limit transmission of the virus. And with COVID cases surging and some states and counties mandating indoor face coverings, it's a good time to add a few more masks to your collection. Among the most protective face coverings are high-filtration N95 masks, which the CDC notes are even effective enough for us by healthcare workers (but keep in mind, these are not surgical masks). Even better, some designs are NIOSH-approved, meaning they are regulated by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and filter at least 95% of airborne particles.
7 NIOSH-approved N95 masks you can buy online right now:
But, what exactly makes a N95 mask NIOSH-approved? Keep reading for testing guidelines and qualities that earn these face coverings the seal of approval.
Unlike cloth masks, N95 masks are constructed from woven fibers that are porous enough to breathe through, but thick enough to intercept large particles. This material also has a mechanism to diffuse smaller particles by trapping them within the filter fiber. "In all cases, once a particle comes in contact with a filter fiber, it is removed from the airstream," according to the CDC. "It is very difficult for such particles to be removed once they are collected." In other words, COVID-19 particles are less likely to penetrate these masks and infect the wearer.
As per the CDC, "the most important aspect of a NIOSH-certified respirator's performance will be how well it fits to the face and minimizes the degree of leakage around the facepiece." Although fit varies due to people having unique face shapes, masks should always cover the nose and mouth. N95 masks have a "duckbill" design that allows for more breathing room, while a flexible nose piece and stretchy straps ensure a secure, no-gap fit.
"Respirator filters must meet stringent certification tests established by NIOSH," notes the CDC. Tests conducted by NIOSH examine factors such as porosity and filter thickness that contribute to every mask's ability to protect from germs.
While finding a NIOSH-approved N95 mask may seem as simple as a quick Google search, the CDC warns that counterfeit masks with false "NIOSH-approved" labeling have misled buyers into purchasing masks that "may not be capable of providing appropriate respiratory protection." Pro tip: Check your face covering against this list of NIOSH-approved N95 manufacturers from the CDC to be extra certain.
To help you out, we've combed through the CDC's list of approved manufacturers, so you don't have to. Ahead, find seven NIOSH-approved N95 Masks you can buy online to protect against spiking COVID cases, including the Delta and Omicron variants.
What you'll love: The 'duckbill' silhouette of this N95 mask allows for a comfortable and breathable fit that's garnered more than 4,200 perfect ratings on Amazon. Stretchy straps keep this mask firmly secured to the face while fibrous material blocks germs from the air stream. Best of all, each pack comes with 50 masks, and they are currently discounted by 25%.
Keep in mind: Unlike masks with traditional ear loops, this N95 is secured with two over-the-head straps.
Customers say: "This 'duckbill' or 'pouch' N95 mask is a simple, brilliant design that folds flat. It conforms smoothly to the face, and the fabric feels soft. The bridge-of-nose wire is actually two parallel wires and molds well to the nose slope, preventing fog on eyeglasses."
What you'll love: This curved, three-panel design provides a large pocket for comfort and maximum breathability while still remaining secure around the nose and chin. What's more, this customer-loved design directs exhaled air away from the nose panel, making it a great choice for anyone tired of their glasses fogging up. Pick up a pack of three masks for $10, or snap up a 10-pack for $28, which is a lot more cost-effective.
Keep in mind: Upon first opening, these masks have a chemical odor, but it quickly fades after several minutes, according to users.
Customers say: "The fit is snug but not tight nor restricting. I breathe with ease and I feel very well protected. It's really easy to put the mask on. My glasses do not fog up, and the cushion on the nose bridge is a welcomed bonus. I love that each mask is individually-wrapped. I will be purchasing more."
What you'll love: In addition to surprisingly fast shipping and great customer service, Bona Fide Masks has face coverings that are incredibly secure, according to people who've tried them. The long, bendable nose piece contours to the wearer's face, while two latex bands wrap around the head to keep the mask snugly in place. And right now, you can score a pack of 30 masks for more than 50% off.
Keep in mind: Some reviewers note that the nose piece on this mask can feel tight after many hours.
Customers say: "I am a nurse practitioner, and in the community I had been double masking, wearing a surgical mask under a cloth mask. I had to tape the paper mask under my eyes to prevent fogging of my glasses. This mask is comfortable over the nose and after a bit of adjusting, my glasses do not fog, telling me that it is a good fit both under my eyes and under my chin; I can see the mask moving in and out as I breathe."
What you'll love: Fluid-resistant and adjustable, this mask provides a comfortable experience for wearers with a large breathing chamber and soft, lightweight material. If you wear a mask for multiple hours a day or struggle to find a face covering you enjoy wearing, this Honeywell N95 is worth checking out.
Keep in mind: Like the 3M Aura Particulate Respirator N95 Mask, this mask has a chemical smell at first that fades after airing it out.
Customers say: "I like the way they fit and stay on. They are large enough to let me breathe, but snug around the chin and nose. They don't slip down."
What you'll love: If you wear a mask for work, school, or long-haul trips, you already know the need for a mask that stays comfy and holds its shape for hours. This N95 has six layers of filtration while still leaving a sizable chamber for comfortable breathing. It also features two stretchy over-the-head straps and an adjustable nose piece to maintain a snug fit all day.
Keep in mind: These masks are a little on the pricey side, but users say they're worth it.
Customers say: "I wore these for a recent trip where I had to wear a mask for many hours, and so far they are the most comfortable I have purchased. The elastic goes all the way to the back of your head, not just the ears. Also, on the inside in the area around the nose, it has a band of extra foam that helps seal around the nose better, which helps a lot to reduce fogging when wearing glasses."
What you'll love: These lightweight and comfortable N95s have a nose clip that keeps the mask securely on their face. This adjustable feature prevents gaps and slippage, keeping you safe through a full day of wear. Even still, the mask's domed shape is spacious (and thus breathable).
Keep in mind: Some reviewers say this mask is best suited for people with smaller faces.
Customers say: "The mask is very snug fitting which is what you want with an N95 mask. The top doesn't cut into my eyes. The tabs on the side of the mask offer extra protection by covering more of your face. The elastics are attached to those tabs. The very sturdy nose piece stays well-formed. Inside the mask, the nose piece is cushioned by a foam strip so it doesn't dig into the skin. The circumference fits well around the entire face. I know the mask fits well because if I breathe hard, the mask suctions in. That means there are no air leaks around the edges."
What you'll love: Following the mid-January update of the CDC's mask guidelines, N95 supplies have fluctuated in efforts to meet their growing demand. If you're looking to skip the hassle and buy in bulk, these masks come in packages with as many as 500. Better still, customers say they're comfortable and fit snugly.
Keep in mind: A few shoppers warn that the straps on these masks break more easily than others they've used.
Customers say: "The Individually Wrapped N95 Particulate Respirator Mask fits comfortably over my nose, cheeks and chin. I can breathe easily and my glasses do not fog on cold, rainy days while I wear the mask. The snug fit seems to protect me from inhaling particles from my environment as I need to be among strangers every day while working on a special project."