How to Spot a Counterfeit Mask – What Are the Risks?

When you’re working with vulnerable people, or patients who have potentially dangerous diseases like Covid-19, you need to know you can rely on your PPE. Good quality N95 masks and respirators, that are designed and manufactured to NIOSH standards, will stop up to 95% of virus particles. This can help to considerably reduce the risk of transmission and keep patients and healthcare workers safe.

However, the sudden increase in demand for personal protective equipment caused by the pandemic has led to a surge in counterfeit masks. These masks can be significantly less effective than they claim to be and may not do much to stop the virus at all. Luckily, there are some red flags that can help you spot fake masks and avoid putting yourself and others at risk.

What is a Counterfeit Mask?

 NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) has set standards that all approved protective masks need to meet. These standards help to ensure that the masks really do offer the protection that they advertise and that they’re fit for purpose. A counterfeit mask is one that’s falsely marketed as being NIOSH approved. 

Counterfeit respirators and masks may still protect the wearer from viruses and infection to some extent. However, without thorough testing, it’s impossible to say what percentage of particles and droplets they keep out. While some counterfeit N95 masks may provide a reasonable level of protection, others may be almost entirely ineffective.

Red Flags

Telling the difference between genuine face masks and counterfeit products isn’t always easy. However, there are a few typos and errors commonly spotted on fake N95 and surgical masks. These red flags can help you identify counterfeit products and ensure you get the level of protection you really need.

NIOSH is Misspelled 

All real N95 face masks have to be approved by NIOSH. NIOSH approval shows the product has been properly tested and meets the body’s strict guidelines. A lot of counterfeit N95 masks misspell NIOSH or don’t list the acronym at all. If you see NOSH, NOISH, NOOISH or any other variation of letters on a pack of N95 respirators, they’re almost definitely fake.


The Masks are Approved for Children

 According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) NIOSH doesn’t approve masks for children. So, if a mask claims to offer protection for people under 18, it’s probably counterfeit.


Masks that are approved by NIOSH won’t have any decoration or embellishments. If you do see any decorative fabric, sequins or patterns, the masks are very likely to be fake. Cloth masks are also not approved by NIOSH, so if your mask is made out of textile, it’s unlikely to meet modern safety standards.

No NIOSH Markings 

All N95 respirators that meet current safety standards will clearly display NIOSH markings. Look for an approval number on the filtering facepiece respirator or headband (this will begin with the letters ‘TC’) and NIOSH markings on the filtering facepiece respirator.

 You should also look for numbers that indicate the NIOSH filter series and filter efficiency level. This will generally be N95, although for other FFR types you might see N99, N100, R95, R99, R100, P95, P99 or P100.

The Masks Have Ear Loops Instead of Headbands

NIOSH certified masks should have headbands to hold the respirator in place. Masks that have ear loops instead of a headband are unlikely to meet international standards.


N95 Masks vs KN95 Masks


If you search a large online retailer like Amazon, you’ll probably see both N95 and KN95 masks on sale. N95 is the American standard and KN95 is the standard in China. While KN95 masks aren’t fake, they don’t necessarily offer the same level of protection as N95 masks as they don’t undergo the same rigorous testing. Most medical professionals in the US use N95 masks. These masks are designed to stop 95% of airborne particles. 

KN95 face masks aren’t approved by NIOSH and don’t meet the same standards as N95 respirators. Though in theory they should offer broadly the same protection, there are no guarantees that KN95 respirators will perform to the same level as a N95 face mask.

However, some KN95 face masks have been approved for use by the FDA. These masks were tested and given emergency use authorisation (EUA) back in 2020 and should offer a good standard of protection against coronavirus and other infections.


Why are Counterfeit Masks Dangerous? 

When used in conjunction with other personal protective equipment, good quality respirators and surgical masks can help to stop the spread of Covid-19 and other viruses. Properly tested masks stop 95% of particles, helping you to avoid infection and keep yourself and others safe.

If a respirator mask is fake, there’s no way to tell how effective it will be against the omicron variant or against any other type of virus. If you wear a fake mask when you’re at work or out and about, you may be at increased risk of either catching a virus or passing an infection on to the people you come into contact with. Because counterfeit filtration masks are untested, there’s no way of knowing how effective, or ineffective, they are.

NIOSH Certified Equipment List

 NIOSH provides a testing, approval and certification program assuring respirators used in the workplace meet the required standards. Products that meet these standards are added to the NIOSH certified equipment list and can be found on the CDC website. If you’re unsure whether or not the respirator mask you’ve bought meets current safety standards, search the NIOSH database to see if the manufacturer is listed.

Investing in properly tested face masks and respirators will help to ensure that your PPE offers the required level of protection. Find out more, and explore our range of approved and tested masks, by taking a look around today.

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