Entering year three of the pandemic, it’s clear that masking isn’t going anywhere—especially with Omicron spreading so rapidly. If you’re searching for the best KN95 face masks and N95s to protect yourself against the new variant, you’re not alone.
While your stylish cloth mask may have cut it at the beginning of the pandemic, health experts now suggest upgrading to a better quality mask—like an N95, KN95, or KF94—that will offer you more protection and filtration. These disposable masks are currently in high demand, and completely out of stock in some places, but we’ve outlined some of the best KN95 face masks (and similar equivalents) to shop if you’re stocking up.
What’s the difference between these disposable mask types?
In the early days of the pandemic, N95 respirator masks were highly sought-after, short-in-supply PPE for medical professionals. Thankfully stock has bounced back and they’re available to shop for non-medical purposes now. The KN95 (the Chinese equivalent of the N95) is even more widely available at this stage in the pandemic.
Both KN95s and N95s are designed to filter out 95% of airborne particles, but only N95s are approved for use in medical settings stateside (having passed tests for factors like fluid resistance and flammability). They also look slightly different: KN95s use ear loops to stay put on your face and typically feature a beak-like silhouette, while N95s use straps that go around your head for a secure fit.
South Korea also produces an N95 face mask equivalent known as a KF94 which uses ear loops and an extended piece that fits up and over your nose, forming a tighter seal there: They’re especially helpful for people with small faces or anyone who needs a more customized fit.
Anything else worth knowing?
Some masks are approved by the NIOSH, or the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, against stringent US standards for quality. Others were FDA-approved for Emergency Use Authorization earlier in the pandemic (meaning that the manufacturer evaluated the product for efficacy, and that the FDA recognized it). While many of these EUAs have been revoked due to an increased supply in NIOSH-approved masks, the FDA still recommends that those respirators be distributed in non-medical settings.
These designations are helpful for zeroing in on quality picks and wading through all the counterfeit masks out there (the CDC notes that about 60% of all KN95 respirators on the market right now are fake). But just because a mask isn’t given the green light by these agencies doesn’t necessarily mean it’s useless or not providing ample protection. And any mask is better than absolutely zilch.
Regardless of the mask (even if it’s an N95), everything boils down to a good fit. Make sure that your mask forms a seal around your face, stays on easily, doesn’t inhibit your breathing, and includes multiple layers of material to protect you. For added security, you can always double up with a cloth mask on top of your paper mask, or add a filter.
Kimberly Clark’s N95 is a NIOSH-approved mask for non-medical use that features a duck-bill silhouette with one colorful stretchy strap that fits over your head.
This NIOSH-approved mask includes two bright yellow straps you can secure behind your head, and an adjustable nose piece to prevent your glasses from fogging.
3M’s N95 face masks got the green light from NIOSH, too: You can adjust the placement thanks to the two straps that circle your head, and there’s a little pocket of space in front of your mouth for added breathability.
Vida’s been making well-designed masks since the very start of the pandemic, and more recently introduced disposable masks like these N95s that are NIOSH-certified and come in a handsome blue color for kids and adults.
Here’s another NIOSH-approved mask that comes in a variety of strap styles (ear loops, over the head, and more) along with some variety in color options. It’s currently sold out in pretty much every iteration on its site, but you can enter your email for details on when the next restock is happening.
Hotodeal’s surgical-style masks were formerly FDA-authorized for emergency use. Each comes with an adjustable nose clip for securing the mask in place, and five layers of protection.
If you prefer brights over neutrals, these KN95s (which were previously FDA-authorized for emergency use) come in a multi-pack of colors.
Here’s another multi-pack of five-ply masks that’s designed for larger faces, and come in a variety of colors.
Maskc (pronounced “Mask-see”) surgical-style masks offer five layers of protection, with an adjustable nose bridge for a more secure fit.
Vida also makes five-layer surgical-style masks in brights and neutrals that you can buy in bulk (up to 1,000 masks at a time).
Evolvetogether’s masks include its signature geographic coordinates in the corner. These masks include six layers of protection, along with added charcoal in there that the brand claims helps with mask odor. Though styles are out of stock at the moment, you can sign up to get on the wait list.
Or, you can shop them in a variety pack when they’re back in stock.
Most KF94s only entered the market late in the pandemic, so they haven’t been up for approval by the NIOSH or FDA, but here are a couple well-reviewed options to peruse.
Flax’s KF94s offer four-layer protection in soft fabrics and individual packaging.
Dr. Puri’s masks are selling out quickly, but you can still find small sizes for children (in white and cute dinosaur prints).
Good Day Korea
Here’s another well-reviewed KF94 model that we like for its secure fit and comfortable ear loops.
Good Day Korea also makes kids-sized versions of the same masks. We’ve tested them first-hand and found them to be a great for smaller faces (without needing to make adjustments), whether for children or adults.
Vida’s KF94 masks come in an assortment of colors for kids and adults (and you can even shop them in bulk!).