The Truth About Face Masks: What You Need To Know Before Buying Them

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The Truth About Face Masks: What You Need To Know Before Buying Them

Think you’ve scored a fantastic deal for face masks?

Well, how confident are you to say so?

In March alone, over 34,000 counterfeit and substandard masks were seized from online platforms. 5 out of 6 masks purchased across Singapore were further revealed to be made from poor quality materials.

What does this say then? Two things – Are our masks capable of protecting us from infectious diseases when we’re outside? Are the people around me donning on proper protection to protect themselves and others?

We can’t really be sure of the latter, but we can always start with finding proper protection for ourselves. It’s always a two-way street – we want to protect ourselves and others from infecting and spreading infectious diseases.

In short, masks of substandard quality are running rampant, but many consumers remain oblivious to the red flags. Moreover, the variation of masks in the marketplace can further confuse us, and that’s totally uncalled for.

Not to worry, we are here for you. In this blog, we will address the red flags and common misconceptions about face masks (with examples) and guide you on choosing one that really protects you.

1. Face Masks, Medical Masks & Surgical Masks – What Are Their Differences?

To get started, these 3 types of masks are commonplace in our local markets. However, it is essential for us to know their differences!

A common misconception consumer has is that surgical and medical masks are two different objects. Rather, both of them undergo the same standard and product testing to verify their protection efficiency against infectious diseases and fluids.

A distinct difference that separates medical masks from regular face masks are their product certifications and compliance with the American and European Standards, as regulated by Health Sciences Authority (HSA).

A face mask, on the other hand, is not required to undergo testing procedures and is mainly used to protect the wearer from dust and larger particles. Some examples include 2-ply face masks, fabric/cotton reusable and washable face masks.

Nonetheless, to better illustrate their differences, here’s an overview that compares medical masks and regular face masks:


Medical Masks

Non-Medical Face Mask

Is It A Medical Device?

Yes – Class A


Intended Purpose

Protects against droplets, particles and body fluids.

Protects against dust and larger particles (expelled by user)


ASTM F2100-19*, EN 14683*, CE, just to name a few

Either GB/T 32610-2016 or none

Bacteria Filtration Efficiency (BFE)**

At least 95% & above

Not tested

Particle Filtration Efficiency (PFE)**

0.1 micron (PM0.1)

Not tested


<49.0 Pa/cm2

Not tested

Fluid Resistance (body fluid, blood, etc)

120 mmHg

Not fluid resistant

Source: Health Science Authority (HSA) & The Straits Times


* You can find out more about the specific tests conducted in ASTM F2100-2019 and EN 14683:2019 here.

** BFE & PFE Tests evaluates the mask’s ability to filter out bacteria and particles. The general guide is that a higher percentage would indicate that mask is capable of preventing the passage of more bacteria or particles.

2. Does N95 Masks Give Me The Most Protection Over Other Face Masks?

Sadly, this is another misconception consumer often have about N95 masks.

They are often perceived as providing the best protection against infectious airborne diseases, but little do consumers know, they are also one of the highest reported counterfeits according to Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

MOH’s group director of operations, Mr Koh Peng Keng, has clarified in a news conference that: “For the general public, if they fall sick, our advice is that they should wear a face mask, a normal surgical mask, and not use the N95 masks.”

This was further supported by Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who cautioned that respirators can cause breathing difficulties, giddiness or aggravation in existing medical conditions for its users due to its tighter fitting.

Hence, the general guideline is that N95 masks should only be worn by medical staff.

3. Which Face Masks Are Then Recommended For The General Public?

According to WHO, the Ministry of Health (MOH), and infectious disease expert, medical masks are the preferred option for the general public for a number of reasons:

  • They have been proven and tested track record of protecting the wearer from being infected and spreading infectious diseases.
  • Their high breathability along with high BFE and PFE provides sufficient comfort and are suitable for users who have to wear masks for longer durations in public settings, take public transport, have regular interactions with other people (e.g. at work) or are staying with elderly.
  • The low flammability feature of medical masks will also prove to be suitable users who are working in environments exposed to high temperature or fire (e.g. kitchen, restaurants,

However, spotting a licensed medical mask can be tricky due to the high volume of counterfeits, which brings us to our next tip!

4. How Can I Spot A Licensed Medical Mask Before Making A Purchase?

Apart from the overview above, there are some prominent features of the medical masks that you can keep a lookout for. 

A) Product Name: Product should be called “Medical Mask” rather than just “Face Masks” or “Disposable Face Masks”


B) Brand: A box of medical masks without a brand is always a big red flag. Keep a lookout for the brand or manufacturer’s name for a quick online search to verify any product certifications the brand or manufacturer may have on their website.


C) Promotion: Being a hot commodity in the market, a box of medical masks sold at a promotional price should always be treated with a pinch of salt.

On the flipside, some boxes can also be sold at a high price which does not prove their authenticity at any level. This ultimately dates back to price psychology 101 whereby consumers tend to associate “higher price” with “higher quality”.


D) Expiry Date: A box of medical masks should have an indicative shelf life printed on the box.


E) Masks’ Specifications: A box of mask that plainly claims to provide “99% protection” is misleading and should be shunned at all costs. What you should be looking out for are technical terms such as:

Bacterial Filtration Efficiency (BFE) ≥ 95%
Particle Filtration Efficiency (PFE) ≥ 98% @ 0.1 micron (PM0.1)

BFE and PFE are often printed on the box packaging of medical masks as they are the main specifications that evaluate the masks’ efficiency in filtering out particles and bacteria of varying sizes.


F) Certifications: The most crucial and validating evidence to look out for are the product certifications from the American and European Standards as medical masks are regulated by Health Sciences Authority (HSA) in Singapore. Some examples include Conformité Européenne (CE), ASTM F2100-19, EN 14683, just to name a few.

About The Certifications

  • CE is a universally recognised logo, often found on the boxes of face masks, which bourns the mark of approval from the European Economic Area for safety, health and environmental protection standards.
  • ASTM F2100 -19 and EN 14683 are test procedures confirmed to the US and EU standards that evaluates the material performance of medical masks. Simply do a quick online check on the medical mask’s brand or manufacturer to view and verify the certified documents.


Performance Classes Under ASTM F2100-19

Performance Classes Under EN 14683: 2019

Some Key Pointers to Note

Face masks that resembles medical or surgical masks, but are not of medical grade, will usually bear either the standard GB/T 32610-2016 (Chinese Standard) or no certification on the packaging.

5. If I Have Purchased A Box of Medical Masks, How Can I Verify Their Quality?

If you have already bought a box of medical masks, here are 3 simple ways that you can verify their quality.



What Are The Takeaways From Here?

Finding certified/licensed medical masks in the local market is no easy feat. Afterall, we desire a mask capable of providing us with a greater sense of security and protect ourselves and others.

Positioning itself at the middle of the spectrum between protection and comfort, medical masks can very well be the great equaliser for us to do our part to flatten the curve.

Furthermore, it is advisable for consumers to purchase the medical masks from local manufacturers, merchandisers or retail stores so that assistance on any product purchases or enquiry can be traced and addressed efficiently.

We hope that you have found this blog helpful in deciding which face mask to purchase – Don’t forget to bookmark this page so that you can always return and refer to it, as well as sharing it with a friend to help them make a wiser decision together!