Since the pandemic, wearing a face mask correctly and consistently together with washing your hands with soap and water is one of the most effective ways to prevent contracting and spreading COVID-19. N95 and KN95 masks fit more closely to the face than cloth and surgical masks, and filter out up to 95% of airborne particles when they fit properly, meet necessary requirements, and are not counterfeit. 

The CDC has cautioned that 60 % of imported KN95 masks circulating in the U.S. are counterfeit and do not meet the filtration requirements they claim to meet, and we need to presume that some of the masks outside the US might also be counterfeit.

Proper KN95 masks are effective, but the less clear regulations and high demand have made it easier for knock-offs to slip through the cracks and make it into consumers’ shopping carts, especially on third-party retailers.

While wearing a counterfeit mask is still better than no mask at all, it’s important to understand that you might not be getting the protection you think you are paying for. Here are some pointers to bear in mind before you next purchase a mask.

There Should Be An Official Stamp Of Approval

Proper N95 masks will be approved by NIOSH. The manufacturer should be on the CDC’s approved N95 respirator list. There should be an approval label on the packaging and an approval number on the mask itself (this approval number can be verified on the NIOSH Certified Equipment List (CEL)).

You can also check the CDC list of counterfeit respirators or its list of non-approved equipment. The masks on this list have not met the NIOSH regulatory requirements for respiratory protection.

Red Flags To Look Out For

Keep an eye out for these red flags that could signal fake N95 face masks:

  • If there are no markings at all on the filtering facepiece respirator
  • If there is no NIOSH TC approval number (TC-XXX-XXXX format) on the filtering facepiece respirator or headband
  • If you see no NIOSH markings (“NIOSH” should be stamped somewhere on it)
  • If NIOSH is not spelled correctly 
  • If there are decorative details like fabric, sequins, or other add-ons
  • If there are claims that it’s approved for children. (NIOSH does notapprove any type of respiratory protection for children)
  • If the filtering facepiece respirator has ear loops instead of headbands (N95s should feature elastic straps that go all the way around the head, which ensure a snug fit that’s a crucial part of NIOSH’s N95 testing process)

Furthermore, if a KN95 mask claims to be approved by the CDC, it’s fake as the CDC, through NIOSH, does not approve KN95 masks or any other respiratory protective device certified to international standards.

If you have already bought a pack of masks that looks questionable, don’t toss it. Simply wear it under a cloth or surgical mask.