RS Recommends: The Best Face Masks To Protect Yourself Against the Omicron Variant – Rolling Stone

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With skyrocketing cases of Covid-19 due to the Omicron variant, there’s a lot of new information out there about which face masks can actually help protect you against this new variant. Before you start panicking, recognize that while Omicron is super transmissible, more so than the original or Delta variant, a good-quality face mask will still offer you some level of protection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The best way to protect yourself from the Omicron strain is still the same advice as for previous strains: get vaccinated, and wear a well-fitting face covering. But more and more healthcare professionals, along with the CDC itself, have been encouraging people to change up the kind of masks they reach for — and cloth masks might be on their way out.

We may not be able to put away our masks just yet, so here’s what you need to know about the latest guidance surrounding the Omicron Covid variant, along with top-rated face masks for Omicron that you can find online right now.

What Are the Best Face Masks for the Omicron Variant?

According to the CDC, the best way to protect yourself from the Omicron variant is by wearing a top-grade N95 or KN95 respirator. The CDC site clarified that some types of masks (like N95s) provide more protection to the wearer than others (such as cloth or even surgical masks).

But what’s still quite important for any mask is fit, specifically a “well-fitted mask or respirator [worn] correctly that is comfortable for you and that provides good protection.” The CDC says your mask should have “at least two layers of washable, breathable fabric” covering the mouth and nose (don’t let it keep slipping), and is snug without any gaps, like with a nose wire. While this can still apply to a lot of the best face masks out there, properly-fitted respirators are considered the gold standard now.

President Joe Biden recently said that along with free at-home rapid Covid tests, the government would now also provide households with free N95 masks, although the timeline for that rollout has yet to be announced. Even still, given what we know about the Omicron variant, the agency says, both getting a vaccine and wearing masks are needed to reduce the transmission of this variant.

We’ve rounded up some of the best face masks for the Omicron Covid variant that you can stock up on online right now. Note that these masks can help prevent the transmission of Covid, but they are not intended to replace vaccination and other doctor-recommended practices. If you are experiencing severe symptoms or think you may have come into contact with someone with Covid, you should seek out medical assistance immediately.

How to Tell If Your Face Mask Is Counterfeit

One of the biggest issues with buying the best face masks online right now is unfortunately the number of counterfeit masks and unapproved respirators on the market. You should always make sure the label on your N95 respirator (or the packaging) shows NIOSH approval. NIOSH, or the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, is the federal agency responsible for workplace health and safety. In fact, the NIOSH has a list of approved N95 respirators, but if you’re not sure, in general they feature two head straps and a wired nose clip.

While similar masks made internationally like the best KN95s from China and KF94s from Korea are viable options, they’re always officially approved by U.S. health officials, or regulated by the NIOSH the same way N95s are. Considering that around 60 percent of KN95 respirators in the U.S. are fake or aren’t actually NIOSH-approved, do your research before you buy. CDC reported some signs of counterfeit masks, which include no NIOSH markings, decorative add-ons (like sequins), or yes, even “NIOSH” spelled incorrectly.

We’ve got you covered here — all the masks on this list are approved in some way, either by the NIOSH, the FDA, or the KFDA.

1. Blue Bear Protection N95 Masks

BEST OVERALL

n95-masks-delta

zhangxu

One of the best face masks for Omicron is hard-textured N95 respirator masks. While they were originally meant for protecting against dust and debris in laboratories and construction sites, the latest N95 masks help stop 95 percent of particles in the air around you, including SARS-CoV-2 particles. This Blue Bear Protection set gets you a 20-pack of FDA/NIOSH-approved disposable N95 respirator masks that sit comfortably against your nose and face, with a strap around your head.

These are not intended to be reusable masks (you should dispose of them after use), but the company says the masks will give you “full protection” for at least eight hours of use.

Buy: Blue Bear N95 Mask (20-Pack) at $29

2. VIDA KN95 Masks

BEST KN95 MASK

VIDA KN95 Face Masks

VIDA

While there are masks with slightly superior filtration on this list, if you’re going on daily errands, and also care about the environmental impact of tossing so many disposable masks, then these KN95 masks are the way to go. VIDA’s KN95 Masks are FDA-listed and filter up to 95-99 percent of airborne particles 0.3 microns or larger.

Every time you order masks from VIDA, you’ll receive a prepaid return label so you can send back your used masks for recycling sustainability. Not that aesthetics are the most important right now, but these protective masks don’t look as  industrial as other options, and come in a variety of colors. Right now, you can also get 30% off their selection of masks before your next trip with the promo code ROLLINGSTONE30. 

Buy: VIDA KN95 Masks at $25+

3. WellBefore NIOSH-Approved N95 Respirator Mask

BEST SOFT N95 MASK

niosh n95 mask

WellBefore

N95 respirators are certainly protective, but admittedly not always the most comfortable. If maximum breathability is your goal, then look no further than US-based company WellBefore’s first NIOSH-approved N95 Medical Respirator mask.

This mask features a super comfy material that won’t feel scratchy against the skin, plus an adjustable “nose foam” that fits snug against the nose bridge to prevent your glasses fogging. We also like it for the customizability of the head straps, which when adjusted, makes this N95 great for all different face shapes and sizes and gives you the best fit possible.

Buy: NIOSH-Approved N95 Respirator Mask at $1.99/each

4. Kimberly-Clark N95 Pouch Respirator

BEST DUCKBILL-STYLE MASK

Kimberly Clark N95 Respirator

Amazon

“Duckbill”-style masks have gained popularity recently thanks to their unique design, which sits away from the mouth and nose for more comfort. This N95 pouch respirator from Kimberly-Clark has all the superior filtration of an N95, but is still up to 75 percent more breathable than the NIOSH minimum requirement.

Even though these mask might look weirdly industrial, rest assured that they’re definitely for everyday use, and not just made for healthcare professionals or construction workers—anyone who has needed to work face-to-face with the public or travel on airplanes frequently will appreciate these pouch-styled, breathable face masks with adjustable nose wire. While they can hold up a lot of sweat in general, you’ll never have to worry about a flimsy fit.

Buy: Kimberly-Clark N95 Pouch Respirator at $57.15

5. Kyungin Flax KN94 Masks

BEST KF94 MASK

Kyungin Flax KN94 Masks

Amazon

Because exporting KF94 masks from South Korea was banned until June of 2020, many KF94 masks never received emergency-use authorization the same way N95s did. But both feature a similar design, and these masks from Kyungin Flax are FDA-registered and KFDA-approved, with four layers of protection against 94 percent of particles.

They’re missing the classic head bands that make a respirator fit tightly, but the adjustable nose clip ensures you’ll still have a relatively snug fit. As a bonus, Kyungin Flax made these masks with comfort in mind, with an eco-friendly fabric that won’t irritate your skin, and a structured design that you’ll be able to breathe a little easier with.

Buy: Kyungin Flax KN94 Masks at $30.88

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