For healthcare providers usually the best mask will depend on the use. There’s generally two main uses, for the operating room, or outside the operating room. Regardless, if you want protection in or outside the operating room you should look for respirators or face masks with an ASTM Rating. For non-health care providers and civilians, the best mask will be a face mask or face covering for daily use, or a respirator when in areas of high contamination or exposed risk.

A face mask is a loose-fitting mask that covers the nose and mouth area. They have two ear loops that stretch around the ears to hold the mask in place. Face masks are designed to be used as one-way protection only, only capturing large particles or droplets from the wearer and preventing them from being spread to the environment

A respirator is a tight-fitting mask that creates a facial seal. Each respirator, when used properly, will create a facial seal that will provide two-way protection, filtering the air entering and exiting the wearer at a level of efficiency designated by the respirator or filter/cartridge (half-face and full-face).

ASTM International tests products to improve quality and safety. It defines more than 12,500 international standards across a wide variety of services and industries, including barrier protection standards for medical masks. There are the three levels of ASTM barrier protection.

Level 1:

low barrier protection for general use for low-risk, nonsurgical procedures and exams that do not involve aerosols, sprays and fluids. An ear loop mask is a level 1 mask. ASTM level 1 masks are the general standard for both surgical and procedural use.

Level 2:

moderate barrier protection for low-to-moderate levels of aerosols, sprays and fluids.

Level 3:

maximum barrier protection for any situation that has the potential for exposure to heavy levels of aerosols, sprays and fluids. We recommend this level as a best practice for supporting Operating Room Procedures. 

There are many kinds of face masks and respirators available which we can provide here at Alpha Pro Med. According to 3M these are some of the styles and key differences available

Respirators and surgical masks are widely used in healthcare settings. Both types of personal protective equipment (PPE) can be used for infection control; however, only respirators can be used for respiratory protection against airborne chemical hazards. Because both, respirators and surgical masks, are used in healthcare settings, it is important that employers and workers understand the differences between them. A respirator is designed to protect the wearer from inhaling airborne contaminants such as dusts, fumes, vapors, and infectious agents associated with inhaling small and large particle droplets; guidance on appropriate selection and use is covered by OSHA’s respiratory protection and PPE standards.4-5 In comparison, a surgical mask only provides barrier protection against large-particle droplets and does not effectively filter inhaled small particles, fumes, or vapors.6-7 A surgical mask is primarily used to protect patients and healthcare workers from people who may have a respiratory infection or to protect sterilized or disinfected medical devices and supplies.

For More Information on Face Mask and Respirators:

https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/pdfs/UnderstandDifferenceInfographic-508.pdf