7 Signs You Bought a Fake N95 Mask, According to the CDC

The shortage of N95s has made navigating the legitimate mask options out there even more difficult.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) recommendation to wear face masks is quickly becoming a legal requirement in many parts of the U.S. And with demand surging for products, many are turning to online retailers who've been dealing with inventory shortages of certified N95 masks for months. According to the CDC, this has unfortunately created a stream of counterfeit masks that have begun to flood the market.

A true N95 mask is certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which is the agency responsible for the approval of all respiratory protective equipment. So if you want to avoid purchasing and wearing faulty personal protective equipment (PPE), here are the seven signs you've bought a fake N95 mask, according to the CDC. And for more on keeping yourself protected from coronavirus, check out Face Masks Protect You More From COVID Than You Thought, Doctors Say.

It has ear loops instead of headbands.

young man putting on ear loops of mask

While homemade and surgical face masks may have the convenience of ear loops, all NIOSH-certified face masks are secured using bands that go over your head. If your purported N95 loops around your ears, it's not a real N95 at all. And for more up-to-date information, sign up for our daily newsletter.

There are no markings on the respirator.

pile of respirator and surgical face masks

Check the small plastic respirator on the front of your so-called N95 mask. If it doesn't have any kind of markings on it, including letters or numbers, there's a chance it's fake. And for more masks to be wary of, check out If Your Mask Is Made of This, You Might as Well Not Wear One, Study Finds.

There's no approval number to be found.

senior man wearing mask with respirator in front of office building

NIOSH issues each N95 producer with a unique approval number. And while some counterfeiters have been known to steal and use the numbers, not having one at all on either the headband or plastic respirator vent is another good sign you're dealing with an unapproved mask.

There's decor or add-ons.

two gray fake n95 masks on yellow background

Who doesn't want to add a little flair to their face mask? Unfortunately, if you bought your N95 with tassels, fabric, jewels, or sequences already attached, it's a huge red flag that it's not a legitimate piece of PPE.

The product claims it's approved to use on children.

child wearing mask with respirator

According to the CDC's warnings, "NIOSH does not approve any type of respiratory protection for children." So if the packaging or product has anything on it claiming that it's safe for kids, you know the mask is anything but. And for more on who shouldn't wear masks, check out These Are the Only People Who Shouldn't Wear Face Masks, Says the CDC.

There are no NIOSH markings.

PPE safety supplies on a wood table, 3M 8511 N95 mask
Kim Nelson / Alamy Stock Photo

While not all products have one, many approved N95s carry a NIOSH emblem on the respirator or fabric. Not having one anywhere could be a sign that you've bought a counterfeit piece. And for more on how long you should be wearing the right mask, check out Here's How Long You'll Have to Wear a Face Mask, Experts Say.

NIOSH is spelled incorrectly.

closeup of respirator on NIOSH certified dusk N95 mask
Lyroky / Alamy Stock Photo

Just like with counterfeit clothing, accessories, jewelry, or cash, a misspelling of a word can be a good sign that it's not legitimate. So if the name of the agency whose job it is to certify the mask you just bought is spelled incorrectly, it's safe to assume it's not an above-board piece of equipment.

Best Life is constantly monitoring the latest news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed. Here are the answers to your most burning questions, the ways you can stay safe and healthy, the facts you need to know, the risks you should avoid, the myths you need to ignore,and the symptoms to be aware of. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.
Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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