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How to Buy a Real N95 Mask Online

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Buying a heavy-duty medical mask online remains downright maddening a year into the coronavirus pandemic.

The most coveted mask to keep safe against Covid-19 has been the N95, the gold standard for pandemic protection because of its tight fit and 95 percent efficiency in filtering airborne particles. Then there’s the KN95 from China, a mask for medical workers that offers high filtration and is somewhat looser fitting.

But these masks have been far from easy to buy on the internet. When the pandemic hit last year, they immediately became scarce as healthcare workers and governments rushed to obtain them, and the demand was so intense that a gray market sprang up for them.

N95 Mask

Yet even after supplies have improved, it is often not easy to find authentic N95s and KN95s online. That’s because there are few brand-name makers, so it can be hard to know which of the dozens of reliable manufacturers. And counterfeiters continue to flood the market, even on trusted sites like Amazon.

Frequent frustration when wearing a heavy-duty mask is more important than ever. Last week, federal health officials emphasized the need for tightfitting covers because of new fast-spreading coronavirus variants.

“People don’t know what’s legit, and they don’t know which suppliers are legit,” said Anne Miller, an executive director of Project N95, a nonprofit that helps people buy protective coronavirus equipment. “We’ve had that issue since the very beginning of the pandemic.”

I recently spent hours comparing masks online and almost bought a pack of counterfeits on Amazon. Thankfully, I avoided falling into the trap and eventually found legitimate, high-quality covers from a trustworthy online retailer. Along the way, I learned plenty about spotting fraudulent mask listings and how to sidestep fake reviews. So here’s how to home in on authentic medical-grade masks that will keep you and your loved ones safe.

Pick a mask

My journey began on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. I found charts of N95 and KN95 masks that the agency has tested, including the make, model number, and filtration efficiency.

After some reading, I learned about the trade-offs between the two types of masks. The N95s typically have bands that strap over the back of your head, making them snug. They can be uncomfortable to wear for long periods. The KN95s, which the Food and Drug Administration has approved for emergency use by healthcare workers, have ear loops for a tight fit that is slightly more comfortable than an N95. The downside is that the KN95 leaks more air than an N95.

If you are often in high-risk areas like hospitals, N95s may be more suitable. But if you need a protective mask for more casual use, like the occasional trip to the grocery store, KN95s are probably sufficient.

I visited Amazon, where I bought everything from dog food to batteries during the pandemic. After researching, I decided a KN95 mask from Powecom, a Chinese brand, was best for my purposes. The show scored 99 percent filtration efficiency in the C.D.C.’s tests. That’s when things went awry.

Molly Aronson

I'm an award-winning blogger who enjoys all things creative but is especially passionate about lifestyle design. I blog over at mehlogy.com I love that I get to share my passion for healthy living, fashion, fitness, and travel with readers from all over the world.

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