Face masks that filter out airborne particles can make a big difference in your exposure to air pollution. A mask with a high-quality filter that fits properly can be an effective measure against the inhalation of harmful pollutant particles as small as PM 2.5.
What to look for in a mask – important considerations
Not all masks are effective against breathing in small pollutant particles. Here’s what you need to consider:
1. Look for a mask with U.S. NIOSH or EU FFP ratings: certification and ratings on a mask are important – they indicate that the mask has been tested and meets benchmark standards to filter out small airborne particles.
- N95, N99 or P100 rating – is a U.S. government-approved certification from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The NIOSH N95 certification, for example, means that the mask should filter out 95 percent of particles greater than 0.3 microns, which is much smaller than PM 2.5. N99 respirators filter greater than or equal to 99 percent of these particles.
- EN 149 FFP2 or FFP3 rating – is a European Union tested rating standard.
2. Make sure the mask fits securely and that there are no gaps to let outside air in. A gap in your mask that allows air in completely negates any benefit or protection you would get from filtering out pollutant particles.
3. Check the mask’s material to ensure that it can filter out small particles.
4. Make sure your mask is well ventilated.
Make an informed decision
Below are some websites and columns/articles that may help you decide what’s best for you and your family. While not all of the masks reviewed may be available in India, the reviews will give you a good idea of what to look for when purchasing a mask. (Disclaimer: Please note that the citations and links below do not represent an exhaustive search and are in no way meant to favor any particular brand.)
Richard Saint Cyr’s MyHealthBeijing website includes a number of columns and reviews of air pollution masks, including the following:
- Air Pollution Masks: A Review of the Best (November 2014)
- Awesome Trio of Pollution Mask Tests: The Winners and the Losers (May 2014)
- My Personal Fit Testing: Here’s the Best and Worst Pollution Mask For Me (May 2014)
- N95 Pollution Masks: A Buyer’s Guide (August 2013)
Other articles we have found include the following:
- Pollution Masks: 8 Best Anti-Pollution Masks You Can Buy in India Right Now (Gadgets 360-NDTV, November 10, 2017)
- Swedish start-up tackles air pollution head on (CNN, December 21, 2016)
- A Buying Guide to Air Pollution Masks (The Wall Street Journal China, Feb. 2014)
- The 5 best pollution masks in Beijing (Time Out Beijing, Dec. 2015)
- “Feel tired with the pollution? Get a mask!” (Aquicn.org)
Respirator mask reduces effects of pollution on the heart: Study suggests wearing anti-pollution filter masks can lessen the impact of vehicle emissions on people with heart failure, reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (Heart Failure Center of the University of São Paulo’s Heart Institute (INCOR-USP)- April 6, 2016)
Brands and companies
In the past two years, high-quality anti-pollution masks have entered the Indian marketplace. As community awareness about the detrimental effects of air pollution on health grows, so too has the demand for protective masks.
While DelhiAir does not recommend any one particular brand or company, the list below includes high-quality masks that meet the standards and ratings noted above and are available in Delhi or can be ordered online in India. This is not an exhaustive list and other brands and companies may exist.
- 3M – sells various N95 and N99 certified and relatively inexpensive disposable masks. You can find them at various pharmacies throughout Delhi, or you can order these masks online from com, amazon.in, ebay-India, and possibly other online merchants. You can research the variety of different 3M models that are NIOSH certified on the U.S. CDC website.
- Cambridge Mask – UK-based Cambridge Mask Co was started by the former China Director for Vogmask who named the company after his alma mater, Cambridge University. According to its website, Cambridge masks are made of three layers of filters, including a military-grade carbon filter, and are NIOSH N99 certified. The website also says its masks filter out 99.6% of viruses and 99.7% of bacteria. In India, you can purchase the masks at www.BreatheEasyLabs.com.
- Vogmask– is a San Francisco-based company that began selling its masks in India in 2014. Vogmask sells fashionable reusable masks in adult and children’s sizes that are either N95 or N99 certified. Some of the masks come with a carbon filter layer and exhalation valve, which can make it easier to breath and not collect moisture or sweat. For more information, go to vogmask.com or its Indian website and online Nirvana Being.com. According to its website, Nirvana Being has two shops – at Khan Market and at the Select City Walk Mall in Saket.
- Totobobo – is a Singaporean-based company that sells reusable N95 masks that can be trimmed and shaped to fit individual faces. The masks come with disposable filter inserts that need to be replaced. Totobobo also makes a smaller “petite” mask designed for women and children. Currently, the only reseller we could find in India is Bangalore bike company Bumsonthesaddle, where you can order online. You can also possibly purchase the mask on Indiamart.com
- Respro – UK-based Respro masks are predominantly for activity use such as cycling, running, etc. The company’s website says its masks are N99 rated with P3 European rated filters. You can read more about retro masks in its posting, Why Wear a Mask. Currently, there are no resellers of Respro masks in India. The company website, however, says that it will ship anywhere on the planet if the order is about 2,400 Rs or above.
DelhiAir would appreciate your feedback on masks.
If you have additional information on masks that would be helpful to include on this page, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The particulate masks that we talk about on this page “will not help reduce exposure to gases and vapors such as ozone, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.” To reduce exposure to gases and vapors mentioned, you will need a particulate filter mask combined with a carbon cartridge. For more information on carbon cartridge masks, please click on the link to a March 2014 3M company notice on the use of Respiratory Protection for Exposures to Particulate Air Pollution.
A final note: When it comes to air pollution, Delhi and Beijing are two capital cities that are often compared. While Delhi now has the distinction of being the most polluted city in the world based on a 2014 WHO report, Delhi residents appear to take fewer anti-pollution precautions when they are outdoors than Beijing residents. It is normal to see Beijing residents wearing masks during poor air quality days. This website often cites articles about masks, air purifiers and more from sources in Beijing (especially the MyHealthBeijing website) as these products continue to be tested and used much more frequently there. Products found to be successfully mitigating the effects of bad air in Beijing may also be helpful in Delhi.