The pollution in Thailand, India, Beijing, Vietnam, etc is something we’ve learnt to live with (compartmentalisation FTW). That means masks should now be a wardrobe staple, alongside our Feiyues and misspelled T-shirts.
With winter weather here to stay, it’s time to ditch the convenience store cheapies that, deep down, you know don’t actually work, for a better model. But with so many to choose from, it’s difficult to separate the real deal from the fakes. Here are seven of our favourite brands to stock up on.
But first, quick info dump: most masks follow American standards to show their anti-haze index. Basically, the higher the number, the better. An N90 mask, for example, filters out 90 percent of airborne particulates in the air. Choose a model with N95 or above and you’re good to go for PM2.5.
Respro® Masks have been manufactured and distributed from the UK for over 20 years and can still claim the title of ‘the original and the best’. The range is expanding into new markets worldwide as the need for protection from pollution in our urban environments increases.
- Multi-environment filter kit
- Low breathing resistance
- Improves sealing
- 3 sizes ensures effective seal for most adult sizes
- Fits without fuss
- Durable and washable
The price is around £25 – £60 on their website. (Respo website) with worldwide free shipping.
What is it? ‘British made, military grade’, as their saying goes, and this mask seemingly fulfils both promises. Filtering particulate matter through three distinct layers, including that ‘military grade carbon filter’ layer, this mask performs rather well on the USA’s National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) tests. The mask meets the NIOSH’s N99 standard of filtration, meaning that more than 99 percent of particulate matter less than 0.3 microns is filtered. The mask is the filter, apparently, so will need to be replaced after extended use (the website recommends that in AQI settings of 151-300, the mask lasts for around 220 hours).
Pros That (tested) 99 percent filtration sounds pretty good to us, as well as the funky designs and five sizes available. The mask can be hand washed as well, although this doesn’t extend the filter-life, but can be good if it gets dirty for any other reason.
Cons you can figure out the shipping, you can order from their online store in the UK, USA…
Price around $30 on Amazon USA.
What is it? A fashion-conscious choice, US-based Vogmask uses a microfibre filtration fabric to filter the air and can be washed and worn for hundreds of hours before being replaced. And if you didn’t believe that wearing a pollution mask could be fun, Vogmask lets you take your pick from an array of prints with stars, patterns, characters and animals on the mask, available in different sizes aimed at adults, teenagers and children.
Pros There’s no need to change the filters, making Vogmask very convenient to grab and go – each carbon filter lasts around 200 hours before the whole mask needs to be replaced. The colourful patterns are whimsical and add a little levity to the wearing of a pollution mask.
Cons Aside from a high price tag, the main con we came across is that the ear straps can’t be pulled tighter meaning polluted air can sneak in round the outsides if, like us, your ears just don’t seem to fit properly. But you can still rest easy in the knowledge that you’ll definitely look cool.
Price Around $30 – $40 on their website.
What is it? These are stylish silicon-sealed plastic masks in a range of colours; transparent with blue straps, black, and hot pink, with a line for children too. The China-based team behind idMASK insist their seals make it the best on the market. The unusual shape means it is particularly good for sporty types (it’s been endorsed by triathlete Katrine Amtkjaer).
Pros This mask really is airtight; put your hands over the filters and you can’t breathe at all – great as it means air gets passed through the filters without any polluted air sneaking in around from the outside. The filters start white and turn grey when they have collected enough dirt, so it’s easy to know when to change them.
Cons These masks are a little pricey, and you need to keep buying filters (129RMB for 24 filters). We also found it a little difficult to wear glasses at the same time as this mask, as it rises pretty high up the nose.
Price From 299RMB on idMASK’s website or WeChat (ID: idMASK) and on amazon.cn.
What is it? 3M offers a range of pollution mask models made from non-woven cloth, and these Nexcare masks are among the cheaper and most easily found pollution masks. They aren’t the most fashionable but they are widely available and an absolute steal, leaving you with three new masks and change from a 20RMB note. They do make you look slightly like a doctor carrying out surgery though.
Pros You won’t get a better bargain than this. They can also be easily picked up at almost any convenience store if the smog suddenly descends and catches you unprepared.
Cons They certainly aren’t the sturdiest of masks (though 3M do offer a more comprehensive range through websites like amazon.cn), and probably are one-time wonders.
Price Around 3USD for three at convenience stores around town.
What is it? ‘Designed in the EU,’ this mask is made from a nano-fibre membrane called Respilon and promises to block out viruses, bacteria, smog, dust, mould and fungi.
Pros This mask is pretty comfy, you can adjust the ear straps and it won’t break the bank. It also claims to be effective against influenza (H1N1 and H5N1) and pollen, making it handy for hayfever sufferers.
Cons ReSpimasks are marketed for single use, where it’s recommended that each mask be used once then discarded. Considering other masks offer filters that can last for 200 hours, these masks – like the 3M ones – are particularly wasteful.
Price 30USD for a pack of five, available on Amazon
What is it? This is a no-nonsense disposable pollution mask with sensible grey fabric, a side exhalation valve and KN95 credentials (KN being one of the Chinese standards). This means it’s been certified to provide effective filtration of particulate matter down to .03 microns. Each mask can be worn for between 18 and 40 hours; a rather wide berth so we’d say better to err on the side of caution.
Pros The strap fits round your whole head, not just your ears, which takes out any complication about how big your head is, and the price is right. An additional plus side is that the mask fits extremely snugly round the face.
Cons …A little too snugly. After about ten minutes we are longing to pull off the mask and let blood start circuiting in our cheeks again.
Price 84RMB for ten, available from Taobao.
What is it? This mask filters 95 percent of particulate matter, through two layers. It comes in various solid colours, with a highly adjustable fit. You can order three sizes of the mask through their WeChat account (or on Taobao).
Pros This mask looks simple and comfortable and definitely does the job of filtering. You can also get sponsored masks, where your company can plaster its logo across your face!
Cons The masks are only recommended to be used for 20 hours, or about two hours per day in polluted air. Better not spend much time outside in Beijing then…
Price available on Taobao