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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recently updated its Covid-related guidance for schools, does not specify which type of mask is the best option for kids. However, regardless of age, KN95 masks provide the most non-medical grade protection, according to Nina Shapiro, MD, director of pediatric ear, nose and throat at the UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital. Since many kids are unvaccinated, “it's extra critical that kids stay protected,” she said.
As kids return to in-person learning across the country, online searches for KN95 face masks for kids have been trending upward drastically. Naturally, parents may be wondering which type of mask offers the highest level of protection against Covid — intensifying these concerns, the number of pediatric Covid cases in the U.S. is rising. But are KN95 face masks right for kids or should they stick to cloth masks? Experts previously told us that kids cloth masks with two or more layers of fabric are effective, and KN95 masks offer similar filtration against particulate matter as N95 masks offer. Sourcing kids KN95 masks, however, can be challenging.
As we previously reported, a recent surge in demand for KN95 masks in general, coupled with supply shortages, has created a challenge for the brands selling them. In fact, popular face mask brand VIDA, for example, has been replacing KN95 orders with M95 face masks, and has confirmed to us that they don’t contact customers about the switch since “the situation is extremely dynamic” — on product pages, VIDA tells customers they “may receive” the M95 replacement and attributes that potential to “global shortages.”
To help you find the right KN95 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 should wear them. We also compiled highly rated KN95 face mask options to consider buying right now.
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 in the FDA’s list of KN95 masks approved under the now-revoked Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) — or, sometimes, both.
Multi-layer design | filters 95 percent (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 percent smaller than its standard KN95 model to fit children’s smaller faces. They’re designed for kids over 4 years old, come in packs ranging from 10 to 10,000 masks and feature an adjustable nose piece.
Five-layer design | filters 95 percent (or more) of particulate | includes adjustable earloops | FDA-registered manufacturer
WellBefore’s kids KN95 masks come individually wrapped 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. Note: The Extra Small size has a four-layer design.
Five-layer design | filters 95 percent (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 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.
Evolvetogether KN95 Masks (out of stock, estimated restock early September)
Six-layer design | filters 95 percent (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 is also launching KN95 masks for younger kids in Santorini and Mount Fuji, coming soon.
Should kids wear KN95 masks?
KN95 masks are the Chinese equivalent of an N95 mask in the U.S. and manufactured to offer 95 percent protection from particulate matter. After seeing a surge in interest for adult-size KN95 masks this year, Shapiro said some manufacturers are now making options in sizes, colors and patterns for kids. But should they wear them?
There is no reason for kids to avoid KN95 masks, according to Adam Ratner, MD, 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 and inspecting the physical mask and its packaging upon arrival, taking note of red flags along the way. 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 Sharon Nachman, MD, 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, and wash them when they get home. But 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, which makes 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. So 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 recommends reviewing testing documentation provided by the brand or manufacturer to confirm that a kids KN95 model offers 95 percent 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 sometimes have less 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.
VIDA and the emergence of M95 face masks
Popular face mask brand VIDA modified its product descriptions for KN95 face masks at some point in August, telling customers at the end of it, “You may receive an M95 mask, which is a USA-made mask that is equivalent in protection to the KN95,” stating this is a result of “global shortages.”
This same disclaimer has appeared next to the brand’s kids face mask since “early August,” according to a VIDA spokesperson, who also confirmed to us that VIDA doesn’t tell customers about the switch and that you may buy the KN95 mask and receive the M95 mask without any notice regarding your order.
“The swap occurs only on an as-needed basis when our supplier is out of stock of the KN95 masks,” VIDA told us in an email. “Because the situation is extremely dynamic, we are unable to contact customers who receive an M95 in advance of their orders being delivered.”
VIDA says that M95 face masks are “functionally the same” on an FAQ page, and noted in an email to us that all masks have undergone “comprehensive tests” — VIDA published these tests on its site. Regardless, medical experts we spoke to said they’ve never heard of the M95 mask — none could confirm to us that they’re interchangeable with KN95 masks. We will continue reporting on this issue and update our coverage as we learn more.
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.