Face masks: only EN certified products provide sufficient protection

February 03, 2021

Face masks: only EN certified products provide sufficient protection


As new variants of COVID-19 are spreading more easily and quickly among citizens and rollout of COVID-19 vaccination within the EU is going at slow pace, SME Safety emphasises the importance of using face masks that are compliant with European standards (EN) and wearing them in a proper way to ensure protection - as discussed at the end of this article. Using EN-compliant masks is the only way to ensure adequate protection against the virus in public spaces. The table below shows the different types of masks, their corresponding standards, and their filtering efficiency.



Mask Type


Filtering efficiency

Life Span

Cost (Euro) / unit

Filtering Facepiece

EN 149 FFP2[1]


Single use: 1 shift (8 hours)


EN 149 FFP3


Single use: 1 shift (8 hours)


Elastomer and techno-polymers filter ½ mask

EN 140 +

EN 143




Filter: up to 6 months

Mask: 10 years*


Medical mask

EN 14683


Single use: 1 shift (8 hours)

0.15 – 0.38

Community face mask

No standard yet


Reusable: Varies according to textile

5 - 12

[1] FFP refers to “filtering facepiece”




FFP2 mask

Elastomer/ techno-polymers filter ½ masks










Fig 1. Illustration of disposable FFP2 masks vs. reusable Elastomer and techno-polymers filter ½ masks


As illustrated in the table above, there are different types of masks in the market, and some of them are not effective against COVID. Standards can help to understand the different usage of these masks and choose not only the right mask but also the most sustainable solution.


Following the WHO Guidance on “Infection prevention and control during health care when novel coronavirus (nCoV) infection is suspected”, filtering masks classified as FFP2 and FFP3 according to EN 149 offer the best protection for citizens and health workers. Also, filtering Facepiece masks and Elastomer and techno-polymers filter ½ masks provide the most protection for COVID-19. In fact, they provide the same filtering efficiency as FFP2 and FFP2 masks, while having the additional benefit of being reusable up to 6 months, provided the filter pieces are exchanged once a month.  Moreover, half masks with P2 or P3 filters have the advantage of a smoother adaptation to the face as they may come in different sizes and are adjustable to the facial features.  As regards the price of half masks with P2 or P3 filters, these are approximately 4 or 5 times more expensive than FFP2 and FFP3 masks. However, the longer product lifetime more than compensates the higher price.


However, the most commonly seen in public and on the media are disposable surgical masks. These masks are unfit to filter the virus, so they are lesseffective protection against COVID-19. They are aimed at protecting patients from being contaminated by health workers during surgeries. Finally, the so-called “community face masks” are also unfitted to filter aerosols and particles. Instead, they are designed “to trap droplets that are released when the wearer talks, coughs or sneezes”.


The EU recommendation on conformity assessment, published in March 2020, intended to set a mechanism to prioritise and quickly conduct conformity assessments for personal protective equipment to ensure faster placement of masks and other safety equipment on the market given the limited production capacity of European Manufacturers. While this recommendation was justified at the start of the pandemic, several Member States raised concerns regarding the placement on the market of surgical masks that do not meet the relevant European standard.


In light of the new COVID-19 variants, SME Safety calls to void the EU recommendation on conformity assessment from March 2020 as soon as possible. Products should fully comply with European standards to better protect our citizens and health workers!


Usage and Protection

The protection of masks is guaranteed only if they are well adjusted to the face. The mask needs to be adjusted based on facial features, i.e. nose and chin shape, face breadth, etc. Protection is not guaranteed for persons with facial hair. As can be clearly observed with disposable medical masks, they do not grant a tight fit on the wearer’s face. It is always important to carefully read instructions before wearing a mask. In addition, please make sure to replace a mask according to its life span (illustrated in the table above). When disposing of them, make sure not to touch the filtering material (usually white) to avoid the contamination of your hands.

Wash your hands carefully for 60 seconds before wearing a new mask. Do not displace the mask during use, or if so, replace the mask as previously indicated.

©2013 by SME Safety