Is your face mask authentic? Face masks have become a hot commodity as people search for protection against the deadly Covid-19 virus. The sale of fake face masks continues to endanger efforts to stem the spread of the outbreak. Even worse, some hospitals and first respondents in some states have reported having been sold faulty face masks. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is said to have shut down manufacturers who didn’t meet the safety standards required. So how can you spot a fake face mask? Here’s how to test if your face mask is fake.

FDA Logo on the Packaging

Don’t fall for vendors using the FDA logo on their packaging. FDA doesn’t allow any manufacturer to put its logo on the boxes. So if you’re buying a face mask and you see an FDA logo, then you’re probably buying a non-authorized mask. This is one of the easiest ways to spot a fake mask from a distance.

Note that some companies are even using FDA registration, claiming to be a certificate of approval. Be careful though since a company might be registered with the FDA, but they aren’t approved to produce face masks.


There are a variety of face masks in the market, from surgical to N95 to cloth masks. Therefore, it can be hard to tell a real one from a fake one. So, whenever you happen to buy a face mask, here is what you should check for:

  • Surgical: Must have three layers for virus protection. The three layers consist of a translucent top, white middle, and colored part (green, blue, or white). The outer layer should be waterproof. 3 ply surgical mask: It sounds so obvious, but check keenly that the word “surgical” appears on the packaging. Some manufacturers may also mark the outer packaging with a product registration number.
  • N95: These types of masks are usually labeled as N95 or KN95 and produced according to a high standard of protection. When buying an N95 mask, check for National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) label. Fake N95 masks have the NIOSH label missing or misspelled like ‘NISH.’
  • Cloth masks: Cloth masks are meant for ordinary day to day cleaning and do not provide adequate filtration of particles and microorganisms. But legitimate cloth masks should be made of a double layer of fabric with a filter layer in the middle for greater protection.

Quality of the Mask

Another way to distinguish between a fake and real face mask is the quality. A good quality face mask should provide 95% filtration. Some face masks have loose ear bands. The elastic bands should be tight enough and adjustable to offer a good seal. These masks are designed to have a close facial fit for all face sizes. If worn wrongly, an N95 mask can exceed the level of protection provided by a surgical face mask. Remember to go for comfortable-to-wear face masks than tight headband N95 that can cause marks on your face with prolonged use.

Pricing and Packaging

Expensive doesn’t necessarily mean quality, but sometimes it’s worth it. When it comes to face masks, don’t fall for seemingly cheap products. Buy a standard priced face mask of high quality. Additionally, before paying for the product, check the labeling and description to determine whether or not it is approved.

Why Masks with Valves Are an Issue?

Some cities have banned masks with small air valves. The CDC also advises that such masks should not be used in the medical field. The reason is that the valve filters the air inhaled by the wearer but not the exhaled air that could infect others if the wearer is sick. These masks are said to open when you exhale and close when you inhale.

Final Thoughts

In case you happen to buy or import counterfeit N95 masks, you should report to NIOSH via PPEConcerns@cdc.gov. For other masks, you should report to the Better Business Bureau. Masks are a necessity during this coronavirus period, especially when interacting with others. Spotting a fake face mask is the key to ensuring your safety and that of others. Apart from the tips above, you can do a test called the smell test. It involves putting on the mask, getting a fragrance food/object, and trying to smell the item. For a certified and legitimate mask, you should be able to smell the food/object, but only very faintly. A fake or poor quality mask allows you to smell it fully. The reasoning behind this test is that an N95 mask filters 95 percent of particles (0.3-micron particles). Therefore, it’s hard to smell anything when wearing it.

All images by Shutterstock


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