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FFP3 Face Masks: The Gold Standard

Posted by Mark Medistock on

Even with ongoing vaccination rounds in the country, the lurking fear of Coronavirus infection among the masses hasn’t diminished. Now more than ever, it’s necessary for healthcare staff to find the proper PPE. FFP3 face masks are currently the best NHS-approved face masks in the UK.

In the last few months, the EU has authorized the use of high-filtration FFP3 face masks for all healthcare professionals in every private and public organisation. 

Naturally, there was a rapid surge in their production. Many brands are creating newer, more refined versions of FFP3 respirator masks - with or without filters.

With so many options in the market, it has certainly become challenging to find the best face mask in the UK to stay safe while in close contact with patients and the vulnerable.

To help you with the decision, Medistock has created a detailed FFP3 face mask review. We’ll go over what an FFP3 face mask is, the face fit test, and why this protective face mask is the gold standard for healthcare workers.

What are the different types of face masks?

Before discussing Medistock’ s FFP3 face masks on sale, let’s first go over the different types of masks trending nowadays and whether they’re worth buying or not. 

Name

Features & filtration 

Protection level

Respirator masks

  • Offer the most protection against viral airborne agents
  • Best choice for healthcare workers
  • All FFP masks included in this category

High

Surgical masks

  • Papery thin disposable masks for everyday use by the public
  • Only filter 60% of the airborne particles

Medium

Cone masks

  • Thick conical masks often used by dentists
  • Cannot thoroughly prevent droplets

Medium

Valve masks

  • Small air valve attached to the fabric
  • Valves close while inhaling and open when exhaling

Low

 

What is an FFP3 face mask?

Popularly known as N99 around the world, FFP3 is the gold standard in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for all healthcare staff in Europe. FFP refers to “Filtering Face Piece” and the letter N in N99 means “Non-resistant to oil.” 

FFP3 is one of the best protective face masks, offering an amazing 99% filtration level against Coronavirus. The design fulfils the standard benchmark set for the international N99. 

Besides being the primary choice for public and private sector healthcare professionals, FFP3 is used in dangerous environments to prevent inhalation of airborne bacteria, dust particles, allergens, odours, and toxic liquids.

European health experts also advise the use of FFP3 to minimize the spread of diseases like tuberculosis or measles, because of its unmatchable protection.

Needless to say, FFP3 is the best face mask to wear in COVID hot zones to minimize the risk of close-contact transmission. However, wearing this mask still won’t completely stop the spread on a large scale. 

Main differences between an FFP1, FFP2, and FFP3 face mask

FFP half-masks are originally worn by people working in dangerous chemical-filled or allergenic environments.

Because of their advanced filtration system capable of resisting small airborne particles, they quickly became an excellent option for preventing healthcare workers from getting COVID through droplets.

Here are some major differences between the main types of FFP masks:

Name 

Features

Protection level

FFP1

  • Least protective of all types
  • A better choice for indoor use than outdoor

88% filtration & 22% leakage

FFP2

  • Intermediate level protection 
  • An optimal choice for dusty regions or areas with toxic aerosol

95% filtration & 8% leakage

FFP3

  • Maximum protection from fumes, dust, toxins, and droplets containing viruses
  • The gold standard for healthcare workers
  • An excellent option for prevention against Coronavirus

99% filtration

 

Why does the NHS favour FFP3 face masks for healthcare professionals?

All officials working at NHS trusts and government healthcare facilities are required to wear FFP3 face masks before coming in contact with an infected/non-infected patient.

That’s because an FFP3 face mask following all design protocols can meticulously prohibit even the smallest aerosol particles from reaching inside. 

An aerosol is a small fine-sized droplet produced when talking, breathing, coughing, and sneezing. Aerosols are also released when health professionals perform certain surgical procedures. For example, bronchoscopy, resuscitation, and tracheal intubation.

These small droplets remain in the air for a long time. Most droplets can’t travel long distances. But it’s pretty easy to catch them in the mouth or eyes or inhale them via the nasal passage. 

On the other hand, airborne virus-infected droplets released by a cough are capable of covering a vast trajectory - primarily because they’re pressure-induced and influenced by gravity. Thus, they can land on surfaces as far as a meter!

So if you’re not wearing a protective well-fitted face covering, the chances of Coronavirus dissemination while performing these processes or coming in contact with a high-risk patient increase dramatically. 

According to the NHS, wearing an advanced filtration mechanism FFP3 face mask along with the necessary accessories such as gloves and goggles can play a huge role in minimizing the spread. FFP3 respirator masks offer 99% filtration, making them an excellent choice for healthcare workers in COVID hot zones. 

Moreover, all healthcare staff including doctors and nurses in NHS organizations and otherwise, have to wear FFP3 face masks that have undergone a proper face fit test.

What is a face fit test?

More important than wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is to find a face mask that perfectly covers your face, including nose and mouth, without leaving any airspaces. 

A face mask that follows all necessary permeability protocols will effectively protect the wearer from foreign viruses - even in regions with high Covid cases.

A face fit test helps you find the perfect, exceptional coverage face mask that completely seals your inhalation passages with no chance of airborne droplets reaching inside the facepiece. 

This 10-minute process involves a series of different tests to determine whether or not the mask you’re wearing offers maximum prevention necessary.

Why is an FFP3 face fit test necessary?

With the sudden surge in the requirement for FFP3 face masks in the UK, there has also been a massive increase in its production.

While an uninterrupted supply of FFP3 respirator masks is certainly good news, it also means you’ll come across entirely new and unfamiliar brands on the market.

Additionally, every person has unique facial features. Some have a beard, others have broad jaws or a thin facial structure.

No one mask can fit all! You may need certain adjustments to ensure the face cover sticks tight and close to the skin.

As a result, the search for the best FFP3 face masks for healthcare staff can become overwhelming and difficult.

How will you find the right face mask that guarantees appropriate filtration and minimal leakage while working in dangerous infected environments?

A comprehensive face fit test helps with this dilemma!

By following a series of NHS-approved testing methods, you can find an FFP3 face mask incorporating aggressive resistance techniques to stop the COVID virus from reaching your body.

How can a face fit test prevent you from SARS-CoV-2?

The SARS-CoV-2 aerosol particle is about 0.06–0.14 µm in diameter. It has spikes that attach to receptors by entering through the respiratory passage.

Initially, the main transmission route for the COVID virus was thought to be droplets or contaminated surfaces. But after conducting research, experts concluded aerosols played a major role in the rapid global outspread of this infection.

Healthcare workers often work in dangerous environments with patients at risk or already infected with SARS-CoV-2. During certain procedures involving aerosol production, the virus becomes airborne, exposing the staff to Coronavirus. 

Droplets are heavier than aerosol and quickly land on the ground after traveling for about 2 meters from the origin.

Aerosol particles are lightweight and can remain airborne for a few minutes. They can travel much further than the source. Also, because of the minute size, they can reach deeper into the lungs and pose severe health risks.

A study found that healthcare workers who were exposed to the aerosol virus were six times more likely to be infected than others. Three professionals came in contact with an infected patient and subsequently got COVID infection, even after adhering to precautions. 

Medistock’s FFP3 face masks specifically resist these small aerosol particles effectively. But it’s imperative to perform a face fit test first. This will ensure no chance of inhaling SARS-CoV-2 particles when working in infected spaces.

What is the best time to do a face fit test?

The face fit test should be done when you’re wearing a particular type of FPP3 respirator face mask for the first time.

For instance, if you’re new to a specific face mask brand or model, your employer should perform a brief face fit test. 

Additionally, it needs to be repeated if the wearer’s physique has changed enough to alter the mask fitting. This includes shaving the beard, weight gain or loss, piercings, moles that could get in the way of the mask, etc.

Requirements for a face fit test

To keep your face securely enclosed, the face mask should conceal your nose and mouth completely.

Usually, the air you inhale goes in through the fabric, while filtering the virus. But air gaps between your face and the mask edges can allow contaminated air to get inside. 

That’s why it’s important to shave off your beard before a face fit test as it could manipulate the results. Get rid of stubble or any facial hair that could get in the way of proper mask fitting. 

However, if you can’t get clean shaved for personal reasons, you should choose alternative face masks compatible with facial hair.


Photo credit: blogs.cdc.gov

Who can do a face fit test?

A face fit test should only be carried out by qualified and trained personnel who have a proper understanding of how this test is performed. Make sure the person doing the face fit test has a certification or accreditation by Fit2Fit

Types of face fit tests

The face fit test includes several small tests to measure the effectiveness of an FFP3 face mask in filtering Coronavirus agents. The tests are performed by certified individuals on the standards laid out by HSE (Health & Safety Executive) while following social distancing protocols. 

Here are the two main types of face fits tests:

Qualitative analysis:

Also known as the “taste test,” this method is used to determine if the aerosols of certain liquids can pass through the mask and be detected by the wearer. It’s a good way to subjectively see whether or not the face mask is securely positioned around the nose and mouth, making it impossible for the droplets to penetrate the respiratory tract.

Preparation:

This test takes about 30 minutes. The tester will first explain the entire procedure and provide instructions on what to expect. Before starting the actual test, the specialist will perform a taste sensitivity screening. You cannot smoke or chew gum at least 15 minutes before the screening. 

  • The tester will place a hood on your head that’s connected to a nebuliser. 
  • Keep your mouth open slightly. 
  • When the nebuliser bulb is pressed and you feel some aerosols, let the tester know. 
  • They will proceed with further steps if you can detect the taste. Otherwise, you’ll be given a different fit test.
  • Some aerosols feel bitter, others taste sweet. You can eradicate the taste by drinking water.

Process:

  • First, the tester will show you how to put on an FFP3 mask properly by demonstrating it on themselves. 
  • Then you should perform a self-fit check. Put your hands around the mask edges and breathe in and out. If you feel air passing through the sides, the mask needs adjustment.
  • Again, the hood is placed on your head. 
  • The nebuliser bulb is pressed to release aerosols inside the hood.
  • You will be asked to perform some exercises in the following order;
    • Breathe normally
    • Breathe deeply
    • Side to side head movement
    • Up and down head movement
    • Read while breathing and wearing the mask
    • Breathe while bent forward
    • Breathe normally
  • If you can taste the aerosols after performing the movements, you’ll need to change your mask. If you can’t taste anything, your FFP3 mask is perfectly fine!

One of our Colleagues (see below) did a Face Fit test for the Valmy FFP3 Face Mask and it performed without any leakage!

Face fit test exercises


Photo credit: wyccn.org

Quantitative analysis:

The quantitative method focuses on a numeric analysis of FFP3 face mask filtration and leakage level. Even though there are two tests for this analysis, the Portacount method is favored more often.

  • Portacount fit test:
  • While performing various exercises, the tester will measure the number of particles per cubic centimeter outside of the FFP3 mask vs the same for the inside of the mask. The resulting difference determines whether the FFP3 face mask has passed or failed the test. 

  • The laboratory test chamber (TIL) fit test:
  • Per the rules set by the European Standard BS EN 149, the laboratory test chamber fit test requires a special salt aerosol solution dispersed in a chamber where the wearer sits donning an FFP3 face mask. This test measures the Total Inward Leakage (TIL) both outside and inside of the FFP3 face mask. After calculating the fit factor ratio, the specialist determines if the face mask is fitted perfectly or not. Because of its complexity, experts avoid using this quantitative analysis technique.

    Important features of Valmy FFP3 face mask

    With its head office based in France, Valmy is currently one of the top-rated medical equipment manufacturing companies in Europe. They produce exceptional quality face masks aimed to protect you from foreign harmful agents. 

    The Valmy SPIREOR series brings you an unparalleled FFP3 face mask with a next-gen filtration mechanism. This is one of their best-selling signature collections - which is why it’s going away fast on Medistock!

    Valmy FFP3 respirator mask is NHS-approved, free of latex and PVC, and INSPEC certified. 

    Thus, being the gold standard for workers in high-risk health departments, the ergonomic design, nearly a whopping 100% filtration, and ultra comfortability, Valmy’s FFP3 is an ideal choice for doctors, nurses, and other frontline workers.

    Here’s a closer look into the features of Medistock’s FFP3 masks:

    Product specifications:

    • White color
    • Non-woven fabric
    • Ultra-soft breathable material
    • Hypoallergenic material
    • Propylene elastic straps
    • Propylene mask filter
    • An adjustable steel nose piece
    • Nonreusable 
    • Non-washable
    • 2mm thickness
    • Weighs less than 6g
    • Measures 227 x 98 mm
    • Expires after 5 years

    Materials: 

    Medistock Valmy FFP3 face masks are thoughtfully-crafted for prolonged usage, with a non-woven, breathable, allergen-resistant, soft, and overall comfy/cozy fabric. With this material, you can rest assured that you’re not only getting maximum protection in dense workspaces or COVID hot zones but also remarkable quality at a low price.

    These masks are capable of preventing maskne or acne caused by sweaty skin under masks. Even in harsh weather, Valmy FFP3 guarantees unmatchable protection and convenience. 

    Another outstanding feature of Valmy FFP3 face masks is their hypoallergenic material. It is completely free of harmful compounds or allergenic components that could aggravate allergies. 

    Despite its multiple-layered structure, you won’t feel any weight while donning Medistock’s Valmy FFP3. 

    Adjustability: 

    Adequate adjustment settings are important if you’re looking for a super protective face mask. The FFP3 face masks at Medistock are medical-grade with a wire sewed in on the nose piece. You can change and reposition it according to your liking and ensure no gaps for maximized prevention in crowded places.

    Comfort:

    If you’ve to wear a facepiece for long periods (such as 8+ hours) you need a face mask that doesn't compromise on comfort. Medistock’s Valmy FFP3 facemasks do just that! 

    Combining both 21st tech filtration and breathability comfort, these no-valve face masks offer aggressive protection while ensuring you enjoy effortless inhalation and exhalation. 

    Filtration:

    Being the most superior in terms of filtration, Valmy FFP3 face masks can filter out up to 99% of the dangerous viruses, bacteria, and other harmful microbes dispersed in the air. They are also a viable choice to prevent disease spread such as tuberculosis or the avian flu. 

    Standards/Certifications:

    These face masks follow all Council Directive standards by the European government and boast the IC seal of approval.

    Affordability:

    You can buy Valmy FFP3 no-valve face masks from Medistock at an incredibly reasonable price. 

    In short, Valmy SPIREOR series FFP3 face masks will prove to be a valuable purchase ensuring exceptional prevention in hospitals and healthcare environments with patient interaction.

    FFP3 face mask FAQs

    Fit check process


    Photo credit: wyccn.org

    • Is P3 the same as FFP3?

    In essence, both FFP3 and P3 offer solid protection from Coronavirus. However, P3 is a high-grade filter attached to a mask - not a fabric face mask. The sophisticated filters are reusable and need to be replaced. It's mostly used by construction workers or employees in a toxic environment. 

    Medistock’s FFP3 face masks have no filter or valve. It’s lightweight and easy to wear. No-valve face masks are not only more comfortable than P3, but also quite budget-friendly. 

    • How much does an FFP3 mask cost?

    Valmy FFP3 face masks at Medistock are available for less than £5. 

    • Are FFP3 masks reusable?

    No, ditch any used FFP3 masks after the first use. Each mask can be used for about 8 hours.

    • How to dispose of FFP3 face masks?

    FFP3 face masks cannot be recycled. The best way to dispose of FFP3 is by tying it up in a garbage bag carefully. Additionally, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds after removing the face mask and throwing it in the bag. 

    • Is FFP3 mask washable?

    No, FFP3 masks cannot be washed by hand or in a machine. 

    References:

    • https://www.hse.gov.uk/respiratory-protective-equipment/fit-testing-basics.htm
    • https://www.nature.com/articles/s41415-020-1850-x 
    • https://www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrpdf/rr1029.pdf 

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