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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?

Quite simply, the valve is a comfort device. It does not affect or contribute towards the level of protection that the mask offers, but it controls how much air can escape from the mask and how quickly it can do this.

If you’ve ever worn an unvalved face mask then you’ll be well aware that these can quickly become hot, stuffy and sweaty. For glasses wearers in particular, 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.

How much protection do the masks offer?

As mentioned above, the valve has no bearing on how protective the face mask is. Instead, you should look out for the FFP rating when deciding which mask you require.

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.

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.