The 7 Best KN95 Masks for Adults and Children, According to an Expert
While there are still many uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, there is one thing that remains indisputable: Masks play an important role in slowing the spread. At the start of the pandemic, cloth masks and disposable surgical masks were the face coverings of choice among the masses. But in the wake of the omicron variant's surge, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has now declared that KN95 and N95 masks are the best defense against COVID-19.
"These masks offer different levels of particle filtration," Chicago-based internal medicine physician Vivek Cherian, M.D., tells EatingWell, noting that it's the result of their multilayer construction and secure, face-hugging fit. "N95s and KN95s both filter 95% of airborne particles," he continues. "Regular surgical masks are not nearly as effective."
Aside from their multilayer filtration systems, N95 and KN95 masks further increase your protection against COVID-19 with their advanced design, which includes face-fitting edges that minimize your exposure by fully covering your nose, mouth and chin. Their signature duckbill shape offers a more spacious chamber that not only promotes more breathability, but also strategically directs your exhale away from you. Additionally, these masks typically have an adjustable nose bridge to enhance their fit and keep them from falling down and exposing your nose. Depending on the design, N95 and KN95 masks either have ear loops or secure straps that go around your head and ears.
With Cherian's guidelines, we've compiled a list of the best KN95 and N95 masks, each of which is featured on the FDA's Emergency Use Authorization List and will boost your defense against the coronavirus. Here are seven FDA-approved KN95 masks that you can buy:
- Expert's Pick: 3M Aura Particulate Respirator 9205+ N95 Mask, $29.99 for set of 20; amazon.com
- Best for Kids: Vida Kids KN95 Mask, $35 for set of 10; shopvida.com
- Best Runner-Up for Kids: WellBefore Adjustable KN95 Kids Mask, $29.80 for set of 20; wellbefore.com
- Best for Glasses Wearers: Maskc KN95 Face Mask, $36 for set of 10; maskc.com
- Best for Small Faces: Boncare KN95 Face Mask, $22.99 (originally $40.99) for set of 30; amazon.com
- Best for Large Faces: Newmark Dr.Family 5-Ply Protective Face Mask, $25.99 (originally $29.99) for set of 20; amazon.com
- Best for Travel: Kimberly-Clark Professional N95 Pouch Respirator, $55.80 for set of 50; amazon.com
What's the Difference Between KN95 and N95 Masks?
So, what's the difference between the two? Cherian explains that N95 masks are approved and regulated by the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health, whereas KN95s are regulated by China (and don't have approval from NIOSH). He adds, "That being said, according to the CDC, KN95s are currently the most widely available respirator that also meets an international standard, and ultimately there's no question that KN95s offer more protection than surgical masks."
Other than those differences, they both filter at least 95% of airborne particles measuring 0.3 microns when you have a proper fit. Similarly, cloth masks can filter fine droplets less than 10 microns in size, but only when they're made with multiple layers of fabric, says the CDC. Note: The coronavirus measures approximately 0.1 microns and is usually bound to larger particles like droplets, but Cherian assures that both N95 and KN95 masks work for COVID-19-sized particles because they use electrostatic absorption to draw them in and they "move erratically throughout the mask as opposed to straight through, and this increases the chances of getting entrapped in the mask fibers." He adds, "Viruses usually are attached to droplets or aerosols, which [can] be generated from talking, coughing, breathing, etc., and can absolutely be collected by N95 masks quite efficiently."
How to Choose the Right Mask
Since they offer the highest level of protection, KN95 and N95 masks have been in high demand and shoppers have seen an influx in iterations, making it difficult to determine the best KN95 masks available. Only a handful of Chinese manufacturers have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use, so when shopping, Cherian warns to be wary of counterfeit masks and to pay close attention to telling details like the markings on your chosen model.
"There's no foolproof way to spot a counterfeit KN95 mask, but one way to spot a counterfeit mask is to see if the company name has its stamp on the mask," he explains. "According to the CDC's website, to validate a KN95 mask, you want to ensure it is tested by an ISO/IEC 17025-accredited test lab specific to the country that holds the standard." Legitimate masks also have FDA-approved markings on the box or the mask itself, and certain brands now include an anti-counterfeit label to verify the masks' authenticity. Check the CDC's website to find verified KN95 and N95 mask brands and sellers for more peace of mind.
If you're unable to get your hands on masks due to stock shortages or shipping delays, Cherian notes that you can prolong the usage of your personal protective equipment. "It's important to realize that both N95 and KN95 masks can be reused as long as it's in a non-health care setting," he shares. "Now, if there's an accident and the mask gets wet or soiled, then you should not reuse the mask." Also worth noting, if your mask loses its shape, you should avoid reusing it since effectiveness also depends on having a proper fit, he adds.
However, if you don't have access to an N95 or KN95 mask, Cherian says that your next best option would be to use well-fitted surgical masks. He adds, "Remember: The worst thing you can do is to use a simple face cloth or even a face shield—there is actually no data to support face shields [being] at all effective." But if you're in a pinch, there are ways you can up your cloth mask's defense. While a new study from the CDC found cloth masks to only lower your odds of contracting the virus and testing positive by 56% (surgical masks lowered them by 66% and respirators lowered them by 83%), the organization shared that double masking a multilayered cloth mask with a disposable surgical mask can improve your protection against the virus. Make sure to wear the surgical underneath the cloth mask as this will push the edges of the surgical mask closer to your face and add more filtration.
Now that you're familiar with how KN95 and N95 masks work, keep scrolling to learn more about the best FDA- and NIOSH-approved options you can buy. Below, you'll also find the exact masks that Cherian uses to keep himself and his family safe.
The Best KN95 and N95 Masks
Expert's Pick: 3M Aura Particulate Respirator 9205+ N95 Mask
Wondering which mask Cherian has been using? He shared that his personal favorite is this NIOSH-approved N95 mask from 3M. "The best N95 or KN95 masks ultimately will be the one that has the most snug fit," he reiterates. "I myself use 3M's Aura Particulate Respirators." This mask has a three-panel design that allows it to filter 95% of particles and direct exhaled air away from the nose to reduce fogging up your glasses. Speaking of eyewear, the N95 mask's low profile ensures that there's plenty of real estate for your glasses. Its curved construction and adjustable nose clip allow it to fit a variety of face shapes, and its chin tab helps keep it in place when you're talking or on the move.
Best for Kids: Vida Kids KN95 Mask
For the little ones, Cherian said that Vida's popular KN95 mask "fits very well" on his children's faces. The FDA-listed and recyclable kids' mask offers 95 to 99% filtration efficiency thanks to its five-layer design, which is also made from soft, nonirritating materials to ensure comfort. The adjustable metal nosepiece combined with its contoured shape creates its snug-fitting profile. And best of all, it comes in packs of 10, 20, 30, 50, 100, 250, 500 and 1,000, as well as 15 kid-friendly colors and patterns. Note: Vida's KN95 masks are also available in adult sizes!
Best Runner-Up for Kids: WellBefore Adjustable KN95 Kids Mask
WellBefore's kid-friendly KN95 mask is another Cherian-approved option. It filters 95% of airborne bacteria, viruses and debris with its five layers, each of which is made with a highly breathable non-woven fabric. In fact, this makes it a great choice for sensitive skin-prone children (or adults with petite faces), as the moisture-wicking inner layer is intended to minimize irritation. Adjustable ear loops and nose bridge details guarantee a secure, tight fit. Choose between sizes extra-small (ages 2 to 4), small (ages 5 to 8) and regular (ages 9 to 12).
Best for Glasses Wearers: Maskc KN95 Face Mask
Maskc KN95 masks have risen in popularity after being spotted on famous faces such as Jennifer Garner, Jennifer Lopez and more. But according to shoppers who wear glasses, they're one of the most comfortable options out there. The celebrity-loved KN95 mask stops up to 95% of airborne bacteria particles using five layers of quality-made filters. Soft ear loops prevent tugging and an adjustable nose bridge delivers a snug fit. Per the brand, the mask's lightweight feel and breathability also make it an excellent choice to wear while working out.
Best for Small Faces: Boncare KN95 Face Mask
Reviewers with small faces described the Boncare KN95 Mask's fit as "perfect; neither too big nor too small." The slim-fitting pick has a five-layer filtration system to deliver more reliable protection from up to 95% of airborne particles, as well as a pointed cup design for improved breathability and comfort. In fact, Amazon shoppers also noted that the unique shape helped keep the mask from smudging and removing their makeup. An adjustable nose bridge and elastic ear loops further improve the fit.
Best for Large Faces: Newmark Dr.Family 5-Ply Protective Face Mask
If you're someone with a larger face, Amazon reviewers have vouched for this spacious-yet-secure mask, which filters up to 95% of particles with its five-ply and 3D design. Elastic ear loops prevent pressure from prolonged wear and the adjustable nose bridge creates no-slip, secure coverage. The inner layer is made from a soft tissue-like material to minimize irritation and discomfort.
Best for Travel: Kimberly-Clark Professional N95 Pouch Respirator
Recommended by Cherian for its efficient filtration system, the Kimberly-Clark N95 Pouch Respirator makes an excellent NIOSH-approved design. It's capable of filtering up to 95% of particles, including ones 0.3 microns in size, and has a large breathing chamber for improved ventilation, which makes long flights and train rides more comfortable. In fact, the brand says that it offers 75% more breathability compared to its counterparts. The respirator creates a tight seal around the nose, mouth and chin for advanced coverage and protection, but travel-bound wearers will enjoy its dual strap design as it keeps the mask in place when you're picking up your bags, shuffling to find tickets, getting to your seat, etc.
The situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to change quickly; it's possible that information or data has changed since publication. While EatingWell is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations by using the CDC, WHO and their local public health department as resources.