Face masks: What you need to know

Are you still a little confused about all the different face mask options? Do you constantly see conflicting information circulating social media about multiple personal protective equipment options? With so much information available, it’s okay to be a little confused. That’s why we’ve put together a very basic introduction aimed at giving you a little more information about PPE differences. Hopefully, it’ll help ensure you’re a little more confident picking the face mask that’s right for you.

Using face masks

Remember that face masks aren’t going to protect you from the new Coronavirus when used alone. You still need to employ social distancing and regular hygiene practices alongside other preventative measures. Additionally, you need to ensure you’re wearing and handling masks properly so they remain effective. The below video and infographics from the World Health Organization help provide a concise overview of best practice.

Face mask differences

There are a variety of face masks available on the market that can be used to prevent the spread of respiratory infection. These include 3-ply face masks, respirator masks, and fabric masks.

3-Ply masks

The 3-ply face masks are single-use and should be used to assist with minimising the chance of transmission when out in public. This is because these face masks are especially effective at preventing the wearer from spreading droplets that are transmitted when sneezing/coughing. As soon as they are wet or have been removed they should be safely disposed of.

3-Ply surgical face masks are a specialized version of the ordinary 3-ply mask. These come in sterile packaging and feature medical-grade certifications. They’re commonly used in operating rooms and other environments where there is a risk of exposure to bodily fluids and blood splashes.


Respirator face masks prevent the wearer from inhaling smaller, airborne infectious particles but are generally not recommended for use by the general public. These need to be securely fitted and are not suitable for children or men with beards. There are various regional respirator options available on the market with equivalent standards.

Respirator mask options include the N95 range (NIOSH 42 CFR 84), the KN95 range (GB2626), and the FFP range (EN 149:2001). Given the global international shortage, guidelines recommend that these masks are generally reserved for medical professionals only. However, some respirators are graded as civilian masks and thus can be used by the general public (make sure they’re indicated as such before you buy them).

The South African Department of Health recently recommended that all South Africans should wear non-medical masks when in public (especially in situations where physical social distancing is difficult or impossible). This announcement has seen the increased popularity of non-medical cloth masks being used. However, there is inherent variability in fabrics and designs used in cloth masks. This, in turn, means quality and effectiveness can vary.

It is important to note that filtration efficiency varies between mask options and materials. When considering a suitable face mask option, make sure you select a product or fabric that is safe, fits securely, and is effective at filtering out infectious particulate matter.

Syntech Distribution offers a variety of affordable face mask options for purchase:

3-Ply Face Mask
KN95 Mask