How to spot counterfeit N95, KN95 masks

The quality of the face mask you’re wearing matters even more now with the omicron variant, but counterfeit N95 and KN95 masks are very common.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 60 percent of KN95 masks in 2020 and 2021 were fake, so health experts share how to spot the real deal for KN95 and N95 masks. Epidemiologist Dr. Cindy Prins with the University of Florida Health said the masks offer the highest level of protection.

"An N95 or KN95, what that means is that 95 percent of fairly small particles, they're going to be filtered out," said Prins.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) signs off on N95 masks. But KN95s are not regulated by the agency, instead, meeting international standards. 

The CDC said red flags include:

  • If a company selling KN95 masks claim those masks are NIOSH-approved
  • If a NIOSH-approved mask has any decorative fabric
  • If a mask claims to be NIOSH-approved for children.

Health experts shared some NIOSH-approved requirements on N95 masks or similar guidelines to look for on KN95 masks.

"Number one, when you're looking at that mask, there should be a company name on there. It should be a NIOSH-approved mask. There should be a lot number as well and a model number or some other information on there," said Prins about the surface of the face mask.

The CDC’s website lists approved manufacturers and models and shows the fake ones to stay away from.

"You'll find that a lot of the sort of non-NIOSH approved masks, the ones that are kind of all over the place, those don't have most of that information. You'll find a lot of them just say KN95 and maybe have a serial number or something, but don't have much else," said Prins.

Another clue is how you wear it. Dr. Prins said NIOSH-approved masks typically have straps that go behind your head, not ear loops. So whether you're buying in-store or online, public health experts said it’s a good idea to double-check.

"Be aware that unfortunately, some companies have got a little bit savvy to where they know what they should be marking a mask with, and may have even sometimes copied some of these other markings," said Prins.

Any mask should create a tight seal to your face to be effective, and Dr. Prins said it’s okay to double mask with a surgical mask and cloth mask on top if necessary.