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Air Pollution Masks – 5 Key Questions Answered

1. Do Air Pollution Masks Really Work?

Anti-pollution masks do work, but all are not equal at protecting you against particulate matter (PM). PM2.5 are particles that have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers, which is about 3% the diameter of a human hair. Commonly written as PM2.5, particles this size tend to stay longer in the air than heavier particles. They go deeper into the lungs making them more hazardous. Studies have found a close link between exposure to fine particles and premature death from heart and lung disease.

Most air filter masks are designed to protect against particulate matter pollution such as PM2.5. However, most air masks are not effective against gasses such as nitrogen dioxide and ozone, therefore not providing 100% protection against these hazards. Studies show that activated carbon can be effective against gasses. If you are in an urban setting and gasses are a concern, then filters containing activated carbon should be considered.

2. Can Air Filter Masks Capture Really Small Particles?

Recent research by Thomas Talhelm, Professor at the University of Chicago found that:

  • Cotton or cloth-only masks work poorly, blocking only 20% of very small particles in the air
  • Surgical masks work better (80%)
  • Masks for cyclists are even better (80–85%)
  • Respirators are best (94+%)

However, there are other factors to consider, such as:

  • Fit
  • Sealing
  • Comfort
  • Appearance
  • Life span
  • Cost

3. Doesn’t Air Just Leak In From The Sides?

child surgical

Most face masks are one size only, so air leakage around the edges of many products can be high. Very few masks are manufactured in child sizes. Look for products that have multiple sizes and adjustable ear straps. Higher end masks have significantly less leakage. StyleSEAL Air Masks come in multiple sizes with adjustable ear loops and a strong nose piece. This ensures optimal sealing around the nose and mouth, minimizing leakage. If you plan to wear a mask make sure the fit is correct, or it will only offer a false sense of security.

4. Are There Health Benefits To Wearing An Air Mask?

A quality product that is worn correctly will provide a high degree of protection. Anti-pollution masks provide protection against small particles (PM2.5) and gasses (if the mask contains carbon). In addition, Talhelm’s research found that those wearing face masks had lower blood pressure and better regulated heart rates. And though there needs to be more studies on the subject, some studies indicate using face masks can reduce the spread of disease.

There are no guarantees that wearing air filter masks will provide 100% protection from the potentially harmful agents in the air. However, wearing no mask ensures no protection at all.

5. Is It Necessary That the Air Pollution Mask Is N95 tested?

N95 is a designation given to masks by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the United States. Respirator filters are rated as N, R, or P for their level of protection against oil aerosols. This rating is important in heavy industrial sites because some industrial oils can remove electrostatic charges from the filters, thereby degrading (reducing) the filter efficiency performance.

“N” rated filters are not resistant to oil, “R” is somewhat resistant, and “P” is strongly resistant. Since an “N” rated mask is not resistant to oil,  it is unlikely to be resistant to water either. As a result, washing a filter or a mask with built-in filter should be avoided. One of the advantages of replaceable filters is that they can be easily changed, if they become wet. This is important since filters utilize static electricity to achieve high levels of filtration.

Operating Room

There are many quality filtering masks on the market that are not N95 approved, most of which are those with replaceable filters. The filter material in most of these masks will pass the N95 test. However, the test is performed on the entire mask at very high air flow rates (85 liter/min, compared with the normal adult breathing rate of 7 liter/minute). Surgical masks are also not N95 approved, but still deemed safe for hospital use.

If you think wearing a mask may be right for you, consider the benefits of StyleSEAL:

  • Filtration – Multiple filter levels up to 99% of PM2.5 plus active carbon
  • Fit – 4 sizes including child size, and adjustable ear loops to ensure optimal fit
  • Sealing – A strong nose piece with a good fit provide the important tight seal
  • Comfort – Light weight and with exhalation valve to reduce heat build-up
  • Appearance – A multitude of designs and colors to match your lifestyle and wardrobe
  • Lifespan – Off-the-face design keeps the filters off the skin, protecting them from perspiration and make-up. Outer mask acts as a washable pre-filter for the replaceable filters inside, increasing lifespan.
  • Cost – Replaceable filters mean less waste, making the daily cost less than almost any other choice. The replaceable filters are less harmful on the environment than disposables as well.

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