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What's the difference between valved and unvalved face masks?

1st April 2020

Ever since the coronavirus (COVID-19) was officially announced as a pandemic by the WHO, everyone has been looking to protect themselves and up their personal hygiene measures. Part of this has been through purchasing face masks, but with many people having never bought one before, they may not know what to look for. We’re explaining whether you should be buying a valved or unvalved one below.

What's the difference between valved and unvalved face masks?

A valve is a comfort device which makes breathing in the mask easier. If you’ve ever worn an unvalved face mask then you’ll understand these can quickly become hot, stuffy, and sweaty. For glasses wearers, this can also be inconvenient as condensation forms and steams up your glasses.

The valve is a small plastic section that is fitted to the mask, over the section that sits on your nose and mouth. It allows air to escape from the mask as you breathe out, so that the temperature is better regulated, and you can wear the mask comfortably for a longer amount of time.

It is crucial to know however, that a valved mask does not protect those around you from potentially harmful particles. Simply put, when you breathe in the valve closes, preventing harmful air particles from reaching you. However, the valve opens when you then breathe out. Although making it much easier for you to breathe, the air you push out will spread into the air. Many people who have Coronavirus do not show any symptoms and with a valved mask, could be letting out harmful particles to those around them.

How much protection do the masks offer?

When deciding which mask is the most suitable for you, it is best to look at your lifestyle and which mask aligns closest with your needs.

FFP1 masks offer the lowest respiratory protection, at a rate of 4 APF (assigned protection factor), while FFP3 masks offer the highest protection at a rate of 20 APF. In between those two options is the FFP2 standard, which meets the guidance from the WHO and is the UK/EU equivalent of the US N95 masks. They protect against materials at concentrations up to 12x OEL or 10x APF, and you can buy them from UK Meds.

If you are not considered vulnerable and rarely leave the house in your day-to-day, then a lower protection mask is perfectly acceptable. Whereas if you are considered vulnerable, whether that be due to age or an underlying health condition, then a mask with a higher protection level such as the FFP2 or FFP3 would be more appropriate.

Should I wear a face mask to protect against coronavirus?

The advice on this point is mixed but experts agree that wearing a respirator mask offers considerably more protection against coronavirus than not wearing one.

It’s important to bear in mind that no mask or measure is guaranteed to protect you against COVID-19 so it’s important to follow all government advice on social distancing and personal hygiene. Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly and use a hand sanitiser in between. Wipe down all shared surfaces with disinfectant and consider wearing disposable gloves for certain tasks.