What is the difference between medical and non-medical surgical face masks?

Kandymask Difference between medical and non medical surgical masks

This is one of the questions we get most at KandyMask especially in North America.   When I started KandyMask our sales were primarily for the Asian market to help protect against pollution and now things have shifted to a global need.

People have been wearing face masks for the last 15 years in Asia so they are much more educated on what works and what doesn’t.  With the arrival of the pandemic, I think it will take a few years for the North American consumer market to catch up as they have not armed themselves with the right knowledge yet.   But like every technology the market will realize the difference in the following years and players will come and go.

Even though we personally wouldn’t wear a medical or non-medical surgical face mask to protect ourselves against particulates. We think it's important to explain the difference as these are readily available on the market and being worn today.

Medical Surgical Style Face Masks

  • The primary intention is to protect others from the user's droplets which happen from breathing or coughing.  
  • Healthcare workers also use it so they don’t breathe bacteria on to patients or into wounds when they are performing surgery.
  • This is why you are often given this type of face mask when you enter a hospital so you don’t contaminate others.
  • It is loose-fitting mask above the nose and mouth 
  • Not intended to protect yourself against infectious disease.
  • Medical-surgical face masks require government approval and then need to have a liquid barrier that protects against blood or fluid splatter.
  • Doesn’t offer any type of microscopic particulate protection for the user.
  • Disposable, one time use
  • Used in a healthcare setting

This type of face mask can make medical claims as long as it has passed the U.S mandatory standard found below.

  • Synthetic Blood ASTM F1682/F 1862M
  • Particle efficiency (PFE) ASTM F299
  • Differential efficiency (Delta P) EN 14683
  • Bacterial efficiency test (BFE): ASTM F2101
  • Flammability test 16 CFR 1610 
  • Regulated by the FDA and NIOSH approved

Non-Medical Surgical Style Face Masks

  • Protect others from your own droplets
  • It is Loose fitting around the nose and chin
  • Can’t claim to prevent disease or infection
  • Does not protect from blood spatter or other types of fluid
  • Should have a flammability warning on the packaging.
  • Can’t claim against particle filtration
  • Usually disposable and one-time use
  • Use by the general public

Our Preference

We personally prefer the medical N95 respirator or a reusable form-fitting face mask that has passed particulate filtration testing over a surgical style mask.     The main reason is that the surgical masks are not form-fitting which creates leakage around the edge of the mask so we don’t feel it adequately protects the user from inhaling small particles That said it does protect others from your own droplets.

We highly recommend you visit the FDA website to gather information regarding the emergency use of face masks.


Disclaimer:   This is not medical advice and the information provided is based on our own research and opinions.   Please consult your doctor for the solution that fits your own situation.

KandyMask is a new generation functional designer face mask backed by science.


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