A complete guide on how to buy a real N95 respirator mask online
Even as public health officials urge us to improve our mask game, fakes and little-known brands continue. Here is what you can do.
A year after the coronavirus pandemic, it is completely infuriating to purchase a medical mask online.
N95 is the most coveted mask to keep secure against Covid-19, due to its close fit and 95% efficiency in filtering airborne particles. And to complete the list, there's the KN95 from China, a mask for medical personnel, which provides great filtration and is relatively looser fitting.
But internet retailers have found these masks to be very difficult to procure. As soon as the pandemic struck, health care staff and governments began to have a difficult time locating them. There was so much demand for them that a grey market existed for them.
Even after stocks have increased, it is still difficult to locate genuine N95s and KN95s for sale. That is because there are few well-known brand-name manufacturers, so it is difficult to distinguish between the many companies in the industry. Even on reputable sites like Amazon, counterfeiters continue to flood the market.
The outcomes are often frustration when a heavy-duty mask is needed. Federal health officials recently stressed the importance of all of us getting tight-fitting masks because of the emergence of new coronavirus strains that spread rapidly.
Project N95, a nonprofit that helps people acquire protective coronavirus equipment, says that “people don't know what's legit, and they don't know which suppliers are legit.” “That problem was with us from the very beginning of the pandemic.”
I just spent several hours studying and comparing masks online, and nearly purchased a pack of counterfeits on Amazon. Thankfully, I avoided falling into the pit and found high-quality, trusted masks from an excellent online store.
While I was researching the business, I learned a lot about how to recognize fraudulent mask listings and how to sidestep fake reviews. This is how to use medical-grade masks to search out masks that can keep you and your loved ones safe.
Choose a mask
My adventure started on the CDC website. When I found the agency-tested N95 and KN95 mask maps, I saw N95 and KN95 mask test results, including make, model number, and filtration performance.
I read up on the different trade-offs that occur between the two types of masks. The N95s are normally fitted with straps that wrap around the back of your head, making them especially snug. Wearing them for long periods can be uncomfortable.
The KN95s, which the Food and Drug Administration has licensed for use by healthcare staff in the event of an emergency, have ear loops that are more secure than a N95 mask. There is also a drawback to this — the KN95 lets out more air than a N95.
If you regularly spend time in high-risk areas like hospitals, N95 respirators may be more appropriate. If all you need is a basic face mask for occasional use, like to the grocery store, then the KN95s will probably be appropriate.
After conducting the study, I determined that a KN95 mask from Powecom, a Chinese company, was most appropriate for my needs. In C.D.C. checks, the mask's filtration efficiency was checked to be 99 percent.
After this, I went to Amazon, where I purchase everything from dog food to batteries in the outbreak. That was when everything went downhill.
Amazon should be handled with caution.
The search results for "Powecom KN95" on Amazon showed me hundreds of face masks that all earned a rating of 4.5 stars. I completed the order by clicking “Add to Cart.”
However, before checking out, I browsed through the reviews to find out what people thought of the company. It was reported that there were around 130, with a handful of one-star ratings from aggrieved customers who suspected that the masks were most likely fake. I cleaned out my shopping cart.
I had almost purchased a counterfeit, how had that happened? In a chat with Entrepreneur, Saoud Khalifah, the founder of Fakespot, an online company that provides tools to identify fake listings and reviews online, said that a third-party vendor has possibly stolen the product listing and is selling fakes to make a fast buck.
There's a free-for-all out there, he said. The “normal” Amazon customers do not know that they just bought a fake mask. This is the most important issue: You come to believe that the situation is genuine, and then you fall ill.
Khalifah also showed examples of dubious masks for sale on Amazon.
- One of the most successful new releases of women's fashion scarves, a pack of 50 masks, was featured on Amazon this week. Obviously, masks are not scarves, as this acted as a tip-off that something was wrong. As well, all of the letter A's have been replaced with accented characters in the listing summary. This is how Amazon's fraud detection mechanisms were bypassed, according to Mr. Khalifah. I called Amazon about it, and they removed the listing from their site.
- Another set of 20 face masks had appealing aesthetics and was deemed to be approved by the C.D.C. The set also received favorable reviews with an average of 4.4 stars. However, the feedback showed that most consumers had obtained the masks for free, indicating that they had been offered anything in exchange, such as free masks. “One lukewarm review, one paid-for review, described the masks as ‘thin and very, very big.'
- It was also noticed that reviewers of another pack of 100 masks, all of whom gave it 5 stars, had previously written promotional reviews for other brands.
Amazon issued a statement saying that it prohibits the sale of counterfeit products and dedicates resources to enforce this policy. It suggested that N95 and KN95 masks had unique policies, such as a mechanism for screening inventory and issuing actions to those who sold fakes.
Amazon also told us that it had cleared up the dubious Powecom mask that I was so close to buying, as well as the mask that was being sold as a scarf. It also commented that there was no evidence that the 20-mask pack was counterfeited, and it did not touch on the larger 100-mask pack.
The salesman advised that the counterfeits he found on Amazon could also be found on other well-known retailers, such as Walmart and eBay, that allow third-party sellers to ship items. He said to buy authentic masks, one should do so in a less traditional manner while shopping online.
place an order from an approved source
Following this advice, I kept looking for the Powecom mask.
I visited the manufacturer's website, which has step-by-step instructions for checking whether a mask is authentic. Scanning a bar code on the package with a phone camera was needed in order to carry out the mission. I went on to the website bonafidemasks.com to see if it was an approved distributor of Powecom masks in the United States.
That made me feel more reassured. So I ordered a 100-pack for $99. When the shipment arrived in the mail, I checked the bar codes to verify the authenticity of the items. They were legit.
In another case, I might have directly ordered the masks from the manufacturer. Proven mask manufacturers, such as DemeTech in Miami and Prestige Ameritech in Texas, offer N95 respirators on their websites.
In certain cases, however, purchasing directly from a retailer poses specific difficulties. To minimize the price, you'll usually have to buy in bulk.
What difference does it make if you just want to try on a few? Project N95, a nonprofit of Ms. Miller's, imports bulk shipments of respirators and resegments them into smaller packets for individuals to purchase on their own. It's a very boring process to go through, she explained.
No, you're not joking.