Kontakta oss gärna om det är något du vill komplettera med, både vad gäller bilder och text!



Respirators vs Surgical Masks

by Bob Giblett

Respirator or Surgical Mask?

The main difference between a respirator and a surgical mask is the intended use. Respirators are designed to help reduce the wearer’s respiratory exposure to airborne contaminants such as particles that are small enough to be inhaled - particles less than 100 microns (µm) in size. This includes airborne particles that may contain biological material, e.g. mold, Bacillus anthracis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the virus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS: COVID-19 included), Avian Flu, Ebola Virus etc. or even PM2.5 / PM10.

Surgical masks on the other hand do not have either adequate filtering or fitting attributes to provide respiratory protection for the wearer. They are designed to help prevent contamination of the work environment or sterile field from large particles generated by the wearer (e.g. spit, mucous). Surgical masks may also be used to help reduce the risk of splashes or sprays of blood, body fluids, secretions and excretions from reaching the wearer’s mouth and nose.

Different Respirator standards

In the USA, respiratory protection masks are made to either the N95 or N99 standard. In the EU, they approximate equivalent to these standards are:

·     - EN 149: 2001 FFP2 (94% filter performance)
 - EN 149: 2001 FFP3 (949% filter performance)
(FFP means Fitted Facepiece)

The standard of mask recommended for Nail Technicians is N95
or EN 149: 2009 FFP2.

N99 and EN 149: 2009 FFP3 masks are used in intensive care wards. The additional filtering makes these more difficult to breath through and they are significantly more expensive. Other countries have different standard names. For example, KN95 is the standard used in China.

Two weeks ago, the Chinese government confiscated 89 Million masks that failed to meet the KN95 standard. Fake masks have been ordered and rejected by Spain, Holland, USA and the UK. Therefore, unless you have the expertise to buy from a trusted source or access to a test laboratory, KN95 respirators are best avoided.

There are also reports of organised crime companies that have been created to sell fake masks and respirators, or taking advance payment without delivering product.

Products sold on eBay, Amazon, AliExpress or newly formed companies in the UK or other EU countries, should be treated with suspicion.

Product labelling

FFP respirators are considered Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Here is the notice that should appear on every respirator:

• Manufacturer's name
• Mask
• CE number of the certification body + EN 149: 2009 + the mask class (FFP1, FFP2 or FFP3) + acronym (NR, R, V)
• The marking must comply with Directive 89/686 / EEC[4] on PPE. If any of these entries are missing, the mask will be considered non-compliant.

Where to buy genuine surgical masks and respirators?

Ideally, these should be manufactured in the UK/EU or USA, or manufactured elsewhere by companies whose head office is in one of these countries (i.e. 3M has a factory in the Philippines).

FFP2 masks are sold by DIY stores, builder merchants and other specialist trade shops. There are also specialised medical suppliers.

FFP2 with or without valve?

Respirators are available in several styles; standard or a folded type that needs to be opened prior to fitting. You also have the choice of respirators with or without a valve. The valve type are more expensive, but make inhalation and exhalation easier.

What about Clients?

A surgical mask or cloth mask is acceptable for salon clients in those countries that have now opened their nail salons. Research in the USA suggests that even a cloth mask can reduce the spread of aerosol sized droplets from breath, sneezing or coughing by up
to 95%.

Why have prices massively increased?

Factories that produce genuine surgical masks and respirators are swamped by demand with orders from governments around the World. Governments are even out-bidding each other, which has helped to increase prices.

Worst still, there is a global shortage of the particular plastic used to make respirators. Called “meltblown” this is a non-woven material that acts as the filter. Increasing production to meet the demand is not easy. Running the production line continuously is one solution, but this has little impact on the overall demand. Installing a new product line normally takes many months, but companies supplying this production equipment are overwhelmed with delivery times of up to two years. In February, China banned all exports of meltblown to protect their local respirator factories.

All of this has seen the price of meltblown reportedly increase from $2000 per ton to over $45,000 per ton. In addition to this, the cost to air freight has also massively increased, from $4 per kilogram from China to Europe, to over $18 / kg. The reason for this is the more than 90% reduction in passenger flights – most of these also carry air freight.

Lower prices are possible in the future

Earlier this month the German government issued licences to 50 companies allowing them to manufacture respirators. Germany is also the only country in Europe that has factories producing meltblown. The government has guaranteed respirator prices for 2 years and is aiming to produce 9 Billion respirators per year. This can have the effect of reducing prices in the market.

In some countries, surgical masks are now being given to the public free or sold at a controlled price through Chemists and supermarkets. We are also seeing some supermarkets and online fashion webshops in Germany that are now selling cloth masks at low prices or with interesting fashion designs.

Respirator fitting, removal and disposal

Leaning how to wear a respirator or surgical mask is very important to avoid leakage and increasing the risk of infection. It is equally important that you remove the respirator or mask correctly to avoid transferring external contamination to your face or hands. You can find tutorials online.

FFP2 respirators should ideally be replaced after each client, but that will be prohibitively expensive for most salons. The problem for Nail Technicians is that it is impossible to know if their last client was infected and not displaying symptoms yet or asymptomatic. Which means that you don’t know if the mask has become contaminated. Hopefully the government will provide advice on when these should be replaced.



Iryna and Bob Giblett are co-owners of IKON.IQ Nails Ltd, a German/Swedish manufacturer of award-winning hypoallergenic professional nail products that deliver a competition-level performance.

Iryna is a Chemist/Biologist who has worked as a scientist in a government health laboratory, but since discovering her passion for nail art in 1996, became one of Ukraine’s first Educators, international competition champions and international judges. She is responsible for IKON.IQ’s product development and education systems. An Engineer by background, Bob manages IKON.IQ marketing and has published articles concerning nail salon safety and helping Nail Techs reduce their allergy risk.