Counterfeit, fake and subpar masks and respirators have become a massive problem throughout the past two years of the pandemic. As a result, there are thousands of counterfeit masks and respirators, even on commonly used marketplaces, such as Amazon.
This has become an increasingly worrying problem as identifying a fake mask from a real mask is not an easy task, especially when it comes to the more devious ripoffs. This issue is exacerbated by the lack of knowledge surrounding masks, respirators, and certifications.
Of course, this is understandable as masks have very suddenly become an integral part of our daily lives. However, on top of this, efforts by the media and organisations to raise awareness for identifying fake masks have often only caused more confusion.
Therefore, in today’s post, I wanted to discuss how you can identify authentic masks. To do this, we will be relying primarily on the required markings that each mask must have as per their standard and classification.
Some standards have databases that you can use to authenticate devices and the validity of their approval. For example, the Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety has a database of all KF-rated masks.
Unfortunately, finding and navigating the database is not easy in English. However, if you’re looking to authenticate some Korean-made masks, don’t worry! I will also cover how to verify your KF masks in this post. So, without any further ado, let’s look at how you can identify real masks.
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Information on this blog is for informational purposes only. Readers are encouraged to confirm the information herein with other sources. Furthermore, this information is not intended to replace medical advice from professionals. This website assumes no responsibility for the accuracy of information and information is subject to change without notice.
Required Mask Markings
Every mask (respirator) that follows the standards 42 CFR 84 (N95 and above), EN149:2001 (FFP1 and above), GB2626:2019 (KN90 and above), and AS/NZS 1716-2012 (P1 and above) is required to have markings visible on the exterior of the device. However, adding to the confusion is that every standard has a different selection of markings – N95 and KN95 require different mask markings, for example.
You may notice some masks with extra markings such as lot number (recommended but not required for NIOSH-certified devices). Additional markings on a mask are fine. However, you want to ensure that all necessary markings are present on a device.
If any of these markings are absent, the mask is not abiding by the applicable standard and is likely a fake device. In other words, you will want to stay as far away from these masks as possible.
Of course, someone trying hard to create a counterfeit mask could fake the required markings such as the approval number (NIOSH), standard, and model number. For that reason, some organisations maintain up to date databases where you can check approval numbers and model numbers for their authenticity. More on that soon!
NIOSH (N Rated) Required Markings
NIOSH requires that five markings be present on all approved respirators. Below is a list of the markings that MUST be present:
- Approval holder
- TC approval number
- NIOSH logo OR block text
- Classification (N95, N99, N100, etc)
- Model/part number
- Lot number
For most mask manufacturers, the approval holder will be presented in the form of a company name or logo. There is no specification between which must be shown, as long as either a name or logo is present. In the case of private labelled devices (devices manufactured by one brand and sold by another), the private labelled company will display their logo or name instead.
Secondly, NIOSH certified devices must display a TC approval number. This number is significant because it signifies that NIOSH has approved a mask and because it can be authenticated online. This is one of the most important advantages of N-rated devices – within just a few seconds, they can be authenticated, and users can verify the mask’s authenticity.
Thirdly, NIOSH certified masks must display the NIOSH logo or name. This is usually placed on the front or side of the mask, near the TC approval number. If the name is printed instead of the logo being shown, all letters should be capitalised and in block form.
All NIOSH devices are also required to show their exact classification. These will be N95, R95, P95, N99, R99, P99, N100, R100, P100 or surgical N95. These show the device’s filtration and the oil resistance of the device (N = non, R = resistance, P = oil ‘proof’).
Finally, NIOSH-certified devices must display their model number. For some companies, such as 3M, this will be very straightforward, and the model will be something like 1870+, 8710, 8511 or otherwise. The model number may be slightly more complex and harder to follow for other manufacturers.
European EN (FFP Rated) Required Markings
European EN (FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3) masks have a similarly strict marking system to NIOSH. However, unlike the following standards on this list which are considerably more lenient regarding essential markings, EN149:2001 authentic masks are required to display five markings.
- Manufacturer name
- Product name/model number
- Standard (EN149:2001)
- Classification + R/NR
- CE Mark
Similarly to NIOSH-certified devices, EN149:2001 authentic masks must prominently display the manufacturer’s name. This may be as a logo or as a written word. The standard accepts both styles.
Secondly, the product name or model number should be shown. Oftentimes, this will be the name of the mask in question. For example, some common FFP2 devices are Aura 9322A, SuperOne 3205, and 5211. All of these devices have their name featured on the front of the device, which is easily viewable.
European EN authentic masks must also display the exact standard they adhere to. For FFP-rated filtering facepiece respirators, the standard will be EN149:2001. There is nothing more to this marking, just that manufacturers must display the standard somewhere. If you can’t see the standard on the front of the mask, check the straps as the standard can be shown there (source).
Fourth, the classification of the mask must be shown. This will generally be FFP1, FFP2 or FFP3. These numbers related to the device’s performance, with FFP3 devices offering significantly improved filtration efficacy over FFP1 and FFP2 devices. R or NR will also follow the FFP classification indicating if the mask is reusable or non-reusable.
Finally, it’s important to discuss the CE mark. Although confusing, the CE mark is not a mark of quality. Rather, it signifies that products sold in the EEA have been assessed to meet high safety, health, and environmental protection requirements (source). The issue is that CE also stands for China Export, a mark commonly seen on goods exported from China
As can be seen in the image above, the European CE mark is slightly different in that the E only overlaps with the full circle of the C on the end. On the other hand, in the case of the China Export mark, the E sits closer to the C, and if you imagine a full circle on the C, it will overlap with the E, similar to a Venn Diagram.
AS/NZS Standard (P Rated) Required Markings
Where EN149:2001 and 42 CFR 84 respirators have in-depth markings required on all devices, AS/NZS 1716 (P1, P2, and P3) devices only require much simpler markings. This means that it’s easier to confirm the authenticity of a P1, P2 or P3 device at a glance. However, it also means that counterfeits are easier to produce. The required markings on P rated respirators are:
- Manufacturer’s name, trade name, or mark
- Classification (P1, P2, P3)
- AS/NZS 1716
If any of these markings are missing, find an alternative device as the device is either fake or not adhering to the AS/NZD 1716 standard. However, keep in mind that these respirators can have some or all of the markings on the straps or bottom of the device. Sometimes these won’t be visible at first glance.
Firstly, P rated respirators must display the manufacturer’s name. Sometimes, this name will be accompanied by a logo, and sometimes just a logo will be shown in place of the name. These are acceptable as long as the manufacturer is identifiable from the mask alone.
Secondly, the classification of the device must be stated. In this case, the classification will be either P1, P2 or P3. P1 offers the lowest level of protection, up to P3, which offers the highest level of protection. As in the image above, the classification may be noted as ‘class P2’ or in a similar form.
Finally, the standard must be mentioned. In the case of these respirators, the standard followed is AS/NZS 1716 (Australia & New Zealand standard). Nothing else is required, just the name of the standard. However, other markings may include a lot number, model number, or otherwise. These are not essential, though.
China Standard (KN Rated) Required Markings
GB2626 is the Chinese standard to which KN90, KN95, and KN100 respirators are certified. There are two versions of this: GB2626:2006 and GB2626:2019, an amendment made in 2019. While the differences between the two standards are relatively minor, you should use GB2626:2019 masks as they adhere to more consistent and slightly stricter guidelines.
Before going any further, it’s worth mentioning that even devices with these markings are worth avoiding where possible. This is because GB2626:2019 masks are declared compliant by the manufacturer (source). In addition, there are no continuing ongoing quality tests and no central testing body or bodies. As such, even KN95 devices that comply with the required markings may offer lower filtration and performance than the standard requires.
To avoid low-performance masks, it’s essential to check for masks tested by CNAS (China National Accreditation Service for Conformity Assessment) accredited laboratories. I will discuss this more in the Certification Approvals section. For now, check that the device in question has the required markings. If it does, move on to the approval verification section
With that being said, here are the required markings for KN95:
- Manufacturer’s name or logo
- Standard (GB2626:2006/GB2626:2019)
- Classification (KN90, KN95, KN100)
These required markings are identical to the AS/NZS standard respirators. The only differences are the standard and classification, which are different in the Chinese system.
Firstly, the manufacturer’s name and/or logo must be shown. As with other standards, either of these forms is acceptable if the manufacturer can be clearly identified. Model numbers will also commonly be shown (as in the image above), but these are not required.
Secondly, all GB2626 masks are required to show the standard. As previously mentioned, all newer masks should show GB2626:2019, and this will become mandatory. However, some older masks will still show GB2626:2006. Both are acceptable, but the more modern standard is slightly more stringent.
Finally, the classification of the device must be clearly marked. In the case of GB2626:2019 masks, you will be looking for KN95 (very common), KN90 or KN100 (much less common). This classification states the performance level of the mask in question.
NIOSH Certification Approval
TC-84A-6973 is clearly seen as the NIOSH approval number.
Verifying that NIOSH certified masks are officially certified and listed in NIOSH’s database is very straightforward and, thankfully, the quickest verification process on this list. To begin, head to the database, which can be found here. On this page, you will be met by a text box.
You’ll want to enter the approval number you are verifying in that box. These will be in the format TC-84A-XXXX. As per NIOSH requirements, these approval numbers are clearly marked on all compliant respirators. Finding the number should be as simple as looking at the device in real life or in an image.
Once you’ve found the number, enter it on the database website. If the entry exists (and is typed correctly), you will be met with a result. You can click on this result to show the full details – just click on the approval number. This will allow you to see all of the details regarding the approval. Keep in mind that many of these fields will be left empty for filtering facepiece respirators.
When viewing the full approval details, you will be able to find the company name, product name, classification, private labels (if applicable) and more. If all of this information lines up with the markings on the respirator, you have a legitimate device in all but the most exceptional counterfeits.
European EN Certification Approval
Unfortunately, confirming European FFP1, FFP2, and FFP3 masks is not as easy as NIOSH devices. This is because it’s a two-step process and also since it’s not always possible to tell if a certificate is authentic without reaching out to the body in question.
To begin with, we need to identify the notified body that certified the mask in question. We first need to identify the body’s representative number to do this. You can find this on the mask as below:
In this image of a Stealth Mask N95 (one of my favourite disposable masks), you can see that there are four numbers next to the CE mark – in this case, 2849. This is the notified body that certified this particular device. All European EN certified devices will have these numbers. If not, avoid the mask.
Now, we can visit Notified Bodies Nando on the European Commission website. This is a database of all authorised bodies and their applicable standards. On this website, find the applicable body. In this case, 2849 (2801-2900 and then find the exact number).
In this case, the notified body is INSPEC International B.V. in the Netherlands. Now, we know that INSPEC was the body that certified the Stealth Mask N95. However, we now need to confirm that they are authorised to certify PPE, particularly respiratory protection devices. So, we are looking for Regulation 2016/425 for PPE.
Luckily, after finding notified body 2849 (INSPEC International), we can click on their database entry to see what legislations the body can provide conformity assessments on. Here, we can see that the legislation is present. Next, we want to click on HTML or PDF to confirm that the notified body can assess conformity on respiratory protection products.
As the image above shows, they do! This is a good sign as it means that the mask has been tested by a notified body capable of assessing conformity in the right products. However, this number can quite easily be faked, and that’s why verifying FFP1, FFP2, and FFP3 devices is a two-step process.
Unfortunately, many bodies will not have a database with all certified products. If this is the case, you will likely have to email the body to check validity. This is the case for INSPEC, where users can email the notified body to confirm the validity of a product.
For bodies with a database, this can be searched using the product name and model number (if applicable). This will allow you to verify the authenticity of a mask quickly. Alternatively, many mask manufacturers will display conformity assessments on their websites. Often, these will include a QR code to verify. Just ensure that the certificate shown is from a notified body that can approve PPE!
Korean MFDS Certification Approval
Not many people outside of Korea know, but it’s possible to check the validity of any KF-rated device. Unfortunately, the website isn’t very accessible for anyone outside of South Korea due to the difficulty of finding the URL on Google and the fact that the website is in Korean. However, as someone who has lived in Korea for all of my adult life, I have a few tips to share that should allow anyone to confirm their KF-rated masks are officially certified.
The first thing you will need to do is visit the Korean MFDS database. This database is exceptionally tough to find without knowing Korean, so I highly recommend bookmarking it if you want to access it regularly.
Once we are on the website, a second problem quickly becomes apparent. Namely, item names, model names, and company names are all in Korean – you can’t search this database using English names. Trust me; I’ve tried!
If there is an item code on the packaging (it will be written like a date), try that first as it is most likely to get results. However, if you can’t get any results from the item code or can’t see an item code, it’s time to search for the item/company.
In the example above, I was trying to confirm the authenticity of Good Manner KF94 masks, which made my list of the best disposable masks. I searched the Korean item name and found a range of products, as you can see. I used Naver (Korea’s biggest search engine) to find the Korean name. Enter the English name, and hopefully, the same product will be returned with its Korean name!
This returned a lot of results in the shopping section. Thankfully, the first result was the mask that I was looking for! I copied the text for the item and put it in Papapago, a Korean to English translator. that is FAR more capable than Google Translate.
From here, I was able to find the brand/product name. In this case, that was the first word ‘New Clean Well’ (it’s the first word in Korean). With this name, you can stick it back in the Korean MFDS item name field and look for the name that matches. Try the name in the ‘company name’ field if this doesn’t work.
From here, you should be able to click the device in question and view its certificate. While the certification will all be in Korean, the important thing here is to know that the device does, in fact, have Korean MFDS approval.
I understand that this method is far from ideal. I also understand that it’s far more difficult for anyone who can’t read Korean. However, it’s, unfortunately, the only way to currently verify the approval status of KF94 masks. If you have any difficulty verifying the authenticity of a device, please comment below and I will help where I can!
AS/NZS Certification Approval
AS/NZS 1716 is thankfully a relatively easy standard to confirm the validity of. While it’s not as straightforward as NIOSH, it’s certainly easier than confirming the validity of the other certifications on this list!
To begin, head to the Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand (JAS-ANZ) website. From here, head to ‘accredited bodies’ for easier navigation, you can click here. Similar to the EU system, there are accredited bodies in Australia and New Zealand that must carry out compliance testing. JAS-ANZ is the website where we can find the bodies capable of assessing conformity with AS/NZ 1716.
On the JAS-ANZ website, go to advanced search and enter 1716 under the ‘standard’ field. This can be seen in the image below. This returns only five bodies at the time of writing – these are the only bodies currently accredited to certify P1, P2 and P3 respirators.
Similarly to verifying European EN certified devices, verifying AS/NZS is a two-step process. Now that we have identified the bodies that can assess conformity to AS/NZS 1716, we need to find out if any of them certified the device in question. To do this, we need to find the certification number of the device in question.
The image above shows the license number at the bottom – SMK40948. In this case, we need to search the accredited bodies mentioned above to see if one of them certified the Protector mask shown above.
Currently, Bureauveritas does not appear to have a database. If you would like to check their certifications, email is likely the best way to get in contact. I put SMK40948 through all of the above databases, and I got a match on SAI Global’s website.
Clicking on the licence number brings up further details of the product and what it was certified. The image showing this is included below. As you can see, multiple devices were registered under the same licence number. However, the most important detail here is that the licence number is legitimate and applies to the product in question.
China Standardization KN95 Certification Approval
GB2626:2019 masks are the most problematic devices to check the authenticity of as there is no independent certification or assurance of the quality of each device. Further, devices can be declared KN95 complaint by the manufacturer – this is especially troublesome as there is no assessment of previous or future products. This means that even respirators with the correct markings, as listed above, can have performance and quality below what the standard requires.
Since thousands of different facilities can provide GB2626:2019 certificates, it’s essential to know what to look for. Luckily, there is only one thing that we are looking for – CNAS accredited testing laboratories. CNAS stands for China National Accreditation Service, and some testing laboratories are certified to test for KN95 conformity. For example, the below image shows the top of a KN95 certification from a CNAS accredited laboratory (top right).
To find the certificate, visit the manufacturer’s website. Hopefully, it will be listed somewhere easy to find. However, these certificates will sometimes be buried in the help section of a website or the technical reports section. If you can’t find a certificate, try contacting the manufacturer – most will provide them on request.
When looking through the certificate, ensure that it is from a CNAS accredited laboratory as per the stamp in the document’s top right. Secondly, look through the document to ensure that the images and tested masks are the same as the masks that you are purchasing. Finally, look for a QR code (generally at the end of the document) that you can scan to access the certification approval page on the accredited laboratory’s website.
Above is an image from the AirPop Active‘s TTTS lab test. This test is by a CNAS accredited laboratory and has QR codes at the end of the document to verify authenticity. This is an example of the kind of certification you will want to look for.
If a mask company provides a certificate from a non-CNAS accredited laboratory, it’s better to avoid the mask altogether. You have no idea about the device’s quality or performance, and without testing equipment, you will never know if it’s protecting you or not.