Face masks protect you from infectious diseases. If you are thinking about getting face masks, you need to decide which type to buy and how many you should stock up on.

Different Masks Suit Different Uses

You can wear disposable masks that cover the nose and mouth for protection from the environment or to prevent spreading your bugs to others. But not all masks are created equal and are used for different purposes.

For example, masks used for hygiene during food preparation are typically labelled as “paper masks”. These are thin, single-layered or two-layered paper masks and are not meant for protection from haze or to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

Related: When a Mask is a Must

Cover Your Cough with Surgical Masks

If you are shopping for a mask to stop the spread of an infection to your family or colleagues, look for a surgical mask that consists of two or more layers of flat or pleated fabric. A good quality surgical mask generally has a three-ply layer with the innermost layer used for absorbing moisture, the middle layer is a filter and outermost layer repels water.

Surgical masks are made from fabric or polypropylene and should have a minimum of 95 percent bacteria filtration efficiency. You can find out what it is made of from the box label.

Ever wondered why some masks have pleats? The pleated material allows you to expand the mask so that it covers the area from the nose to the chin.

Surgical masks can also protect you when others around you are sick. You should always wear the mask with the pleated side facing out.

There are also different ways to secure the mask. A popular method is with ear loops where a string-like material attached to the mask is placed behind the ears. Some masks have loose tie-ons that consist of four straps to tie the mask around the head, or elastic straps that stretch to secure the mask to your head.

Related: FIGHT the Spread of Infectious Diseases

Be Free from the Haze with Respirators

For a mask that reduces your exposure to airborne elements, look for a “respirator” such as an N95 mask. Not to be confused with surgical masks, respirators have a higher filtering efficiency and are made to have a better fit than conventional face masks. They typically come in a contour cup design, have an adjustable nose piece and have at least two elastic straps that go around the head, one above the ears and one below.

Tip: Respirators are not designed to fit children as their faces may be too small for the respirators to fit properly. While it is not ideal, it is better for children to wear a surgical mask if protection is needed.

Related: How to Protect Yourself Against the Haze

A Buying Checklist

Disposable masks and respirators are meant for single-use and should never be shared, washed or recycled. So if your mask or respirator gets damaged, soiled or if you have trouble breathing with it on, it should be discarded and replaced with a new one.

When buying your masks and respirators, check for:

  • The manufacturer's name printed on its packaging.

  • The filtration efficiency that you are looking for. Surgical masks should have a filtration efficiency of 80 percent or higher, and N95 respirators should have a filtration efficiency of 95 percent.

  • An expiry date on its packaging. Unused disposable respirators are valid for about three years from the date of the manufacture—if they are not opened and are stored properly.

  • A listing of materials. Make sure it does not contain materials that you are allergic to.

  • A good fit.

So when you need to stock up on masks, keep an eye out for those that suit your needs. Masks and respirators are available at pharmacies, clinics and supermarkets, such as Unity, Watsons, Guardian, Cold Storage and FairPrice.

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