Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its face mask guidance earlier this year to say respirators — among them N95 and KN95 face masks — offer more protection than cloth masks, it did not specify which type of face covering is the best option for kids. And although most schools across the country no longer require students or teachers to wear face coverings in classrooms, parents may be considering sending their kids to school in masks and wondering which ones to buy for the most protection.
If you’re thinking about purchasing a KN95 mask for your child, you may find that shopping for them can be complicated. According to the CDC, respirators like KN95s are designed to be used by adults, and though some brands offer smaller models that may fit children, these masks have not been tested for broad use in kids.
To help you find the best KN95 masks for kids — and learn more about them in general — we spoke to medical experts about how to shop for the masks, as well as whether kids need to wear them. We also compiled highly rated KN95 face mask options to consider buying right now based on CDC guidelines and expert guidance.
KN95 masks for kids
To recommend kids KN95 masks, we independently confirmed expert-guided qualifications with the brands listed below, like filtration efficacy. We also vetted manufacturers to make sure they’re registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or formerly featured on the FDA’s list of KN95 masks approved under the now-revoked Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) — or, sometimes, both.
Multi-layer design | filters 95% (or more) of particulate | includes earloops | manufacturer formerly featured on FDA’s EUA list
As stated on its package, Powecom’s kids KN95 masks are about 15% smaller than their standard KN95 model to fit children’s smaller faces. They’re designed for kids ages 4 and up and feature an adjustable nose piece. You can purchase packs ranging from 10 to 10,00 masks.
Five-layer design | filters 95% (or more) of particulate | includes adjustable earloops | FDA-registered manufacturer
WellBefore’s kids KN95 masks come in three sizes, depending on the age of your child: Regular, Small and Extra Small. You can purchase a minimum of 10 masks, and the pack comes with five white masks and five blue masks, all individually wrapped. Note: The Extra Small size has a four-layer design.
Five-layer design | filters 95% (or more) of particulate | includes earloops | FDA-registered manufacturer
Available in packs of 10, these kids KN95 masks are designed to fit smaller faces, specifically children ages 3 and up. They’re available in multiple colors like Turquoise, Baby Pink and Dark Blue. Masks feature an adjustable nose bridge and come individually wrapped.
Six-layer design | filters 95% (or more) of particulate | includes earloops | FDA-registered manufacturer
Designed for those age 12 and older, Evolvetogether’s KN95 masks are available in packs of five and come individually wrapped in biodegradable pouches. The KN95 masks feature an adjustable nose bridge and come in five colors: Rio de Janeiro (black), Marrakech (gray), Copenhagen (khaki), Santorini (navy) and Mount Fuji (white). Evolvetogether also offers KN95 masks that it says is appropriate for kids ages 3 to 8 in five colors: Santorini, Rio de Janeiro, Mount Fuji, Copenhagen and Kos (pink).
Should kids wear KN95 masks?
KN95 masks are the Chinese equivalent of N95 masks in the U.S. and are manufactured to offer 95% protection from particulate matter. After seeing a surge in interest for adult-size KN95 masks during the pandemic, some manufacturers are now making options in sizes, colors and patterns for kids, said Dr. Nina Shapiro, director of pediatric ear, nose and throat at the UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital. But should they wear them?
There is no reason for kids to avoid KN95 masks, according to Dr. Adam Ratner, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at NYU Langone Health’s Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital. But he also does not think kids necessarily need to wear them. Overall, the deciding factor policing the best type of mask for kids comes down to fit, said Ratner, a professor of pediatrics and microbiology.
“If it’s a little kid, they shouldn't be using an adult-size mask that’s hanging off their face,” Ratner said — since KN95 began proliferating, many brands have designed and released smaller KN95 face masks, specifically to help avoid fit issues for kids. “If the mask doesn't fit, you’re at higher risk of kids not wearing it or wearing it incorrectly.”
How to buy kids KN95 masks
Because it’s hard (and as experts told us, sometimes impossible) to spot a counterfeit KN95 mask just by looking at it, shopping for them is a multi-step process to confirm you’re getting the real thing. Experts recommend vetting the manufacturer, confirming filtration efficacy beyond just taking a brand’s word for it by requesting to review testing documentation. You should also inspect the physical mask and its packaging upon arrival, taking note of red flags along the way, experts said. And especially when it comes to kids KN95 masks, making sure the face covering fits properly is essential.
While deciding whether or not you want to buy a KN95 mask for your child, there is a drawback you should be aware of, said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital: Young kids are mouth breathers, which can lead to masks getting wet, especially if worn for an extended period of time. Since “a wet mask is not an efficient mask,” Nachman recommended parents send kids to school with multiple masks in a Ziploc bag so they can swap them out at lunch, for example, or, if they wear a reusable mask, wash them when they get home. If kids wear KN95 masks to school, which are disposable, they may go through multiples in one day, Nachman said.
Here are some factors to consider while shopping for a kids KN95 mask.
Like Ratner, Shapiro said to be aware of fit. “There's a lot of size and shape variability in children's faces, and if a mask is too big — where it hits right below the eyes or has gaps at the cheeks or chin — it defeats the purpose protection-wise. It also makes it less likely that the child will keep it on,” she said.
Unlike many cloth reusable masks, which are often designed with built-in adjustable ear loops and are sometimes available in multiple sizes, KN95 masks are usually one size fits all, said Nachman. Because of this, it’s hard to guarantee whether KN95 masks will fit kids, even if they’re designed to be smaller than KN95 masks made for adults. She said it may be helpful to purchase a few different versions to try at home before going out in public. To improve a mask’s fit, the CDC suggests using a mask fitter or brace to prevent gaps around the edges. You can also add cord locks to the ear loops on KN95 masks to make them adjustable.
Quality of brand, quality of manufacturer
Since KN95 masks are manufactured according to a Chinese standard, they’re not regulated by a governing body in the U.S. Thus, it’s hard to distinguish between a real and counterfeit KN95 mask, and you can’t tell by simply looking at them.
“There is no official list of approved child-sized KN95s,” noted Anne Miller, executive director of Project N95, a nonprofit that helps people source personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical supplies. Sourcing them is tricky.
“We suggest sourcing from manufacturers with demonstrated quality in other mask categories,” Miller said. To do so, you can follow the same guidance experts gave us about adult KN95 face masks: Confirm manufacturers using the FDA’s list of EUA-authorized KN95 models or the FDA’s Establishment Registration & Device Listing database.
Performance and design
Miller recommended reviewing testing documentation provided by the brand or manufacturer to confirm that a kids KN95 model offers 95% protection from particulate matter. If such testing documentation is not available online, you can request to review it. Masks should be multilayered, too — adult KN95 masks often have five layers, but kids masks sometimes have fewer layers due to the smaller size of the mask. And while it’s hard to tell if a KN95 mask is a counterfeit just by looking at it, it should not be physically damaged in any way upon arrival.
UPDATE (Aug. 27, 3:21 p.m.): A previous version of this article included the VIDA KN95 face mask. We’ve removed it from the list because the brand is shipping M95 face masks for some orders of KN95 face masks given "global shortages," according to its site.