Even as mask mandates are starting to rise across the country, many people still need high-quality masks for air travel, shopping, and doctor visits. One of the best options is KF94 from South Korea.
KF94 stands for “Korean filter” and “94% filtration”. The KF94 was developed in South Korea for public use, and unlike the N95, which is the approved respirator-type mask in the United States, the KF94 is available in adult and child sizes. In Korea, the price of masks ranges from 529 won to 1,244 won (about 50 cents to $1); most online sellers in the US charge around $1 per mask. Like other respirator-type masks, a KF94 can be worn for approximately 40 hours in total, in any combination of short or long increments, as long as it stays clean and continues to fit snugly against the face.
A more breathable mask
Many users say the KF94 is more comfortable and easier to speak and breathe than other respirator type masks because its design creates more space between the mask and the mouth. The mask, which has ear loops, arrives flat in a single package and unfolds to reveal additional flaps, including one with a moldable nose bridge, which provides full coverage from the top of the nose to below the chin , without space.
Yoon S. Byun, a photographer and filmmaker in Portland, Maine, recently purchased KF94s for his children, who are 4 and 6, after reading about them in The New York Times. (Mr. Byun is a freelancer for The Times.)
“Our kids are pretty good at keeping the masks on, but it took them about a day to get used to the two flaps, and every morning we pinch the nose part before going to school so they get used to it. conform to their face,” Mr. Byun said. “Previously, our youngest son would go through at least two cloth masks a day because they got soaked, but he can wear them all day because they don’t press against his mouth. Both seem to like them and say they are easy to breathe.
Tighter regulatory controls
Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said one of the benefits of KF94 is that Korea imposes strict controls on mask production and approval.
In order for a mask to be certified by South Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, mask manufacturers must submit an application containing product development details, laboratory test data, and evidence of safety and efficacy of the product. The ministry inspects several thousand masks a month to ensure they meet government standards, according to a written statement from an MFDS representative.
Although some counterfeit KF94s have appeared in recent months, overall there seems to be less counterfeits in the supply chain compared to N95s or KN95s, the respirator type masks approved in China. “It’s a much, much stricter regulatory regime,” Dr. Jha said.
Penalties for selling an unapproved or substandard mask are severe, including fines, suspension of product sales, and up to five years in prison. In recent months, the ministry has been involved in several high-profile crackdowns against the illegal production and distribution of masks. In April 2021, the agency sued four people for selling 11.4 million fake masks. And in December, the ministry uncovered 16 companies in Busan, South Korea’s second-largest city, that were making and selling fake masks.
How to Spot a Counterfeit KF94
Despite the agency’s efforts, some counterfeit masks have still found their way to online stores, including Amazon, so it’s important to look out for a few key features to ensure you’re getting a real KF94.
Although the MFDS has a portal to check if a mask has been approved, it is only useful if you can read Korean. When we used the English version of the site, the search function did not work. Recently, we used the Korean database to research 17 different KF94 mask brands sold on Amazon. Eleven of the marks were legitimate, five were counterfeits, and the status of one was unclear.
Legit masks we found on Amazon include those made by KN Flax, LifeSys AST Keep, Happy Life/Good Day, Instalashes, Yolo Studio, AnyGuard, Happy Day, Happy Life Kids, FlexMon, Petseeker, and Puremate. But since counterfeiters can copy brand names, you still need to do some homework and check other indicators that the mask meets KF94 standards before buying it.
Aaron Collins, an engineer who regularly tests masks and has made a name for himself on YouTube as a “mask nerd”, recommends buying KF94s from Korean beauty importers like Be Healthy or KMact. Mr Collins also created a spreadsheet showing all the KF94s and other brands of masks he has tested. Look in the “filtration efficiency” column to see how the mask performed.
The MFDS offers additional guidance for finding a certified KF94. Here’s what to look for.
Made in Korea. The mask must clearly state on its website and packaging that the product is made in Korea. Any mask that claims to be “KF94 style” or is made in China or another country is not a real KF94. Don’t buy it.
Flat, glossy, single-use packaging. KF94s come in single-use, envelope-style flat packs with a notch at the top for tearing. The wrapper should have a glossy finish and a lightly textured border. Recently, a family member ordered masks from Amazon that claimed to be made in Korea, but when they arrived there were 10 per package, telling us right away that they weren’t legit. We returned them and ordered Happy Day masks, which met all the requirements.
Specific language in the corner of the packet. For masks printed in Korean, the package should have “의약외품” or the word “quasi-drugs” in one of the corners of the package. But this may not be found on some KF94 masks printed in English. For example, the Happy Life masks sold on Amazon do not include the lettering on its packaging in English, but have it on the packaging in Korean.
MFDS certification on site. Most legitimate mask manufacturers will provide proof of MFDS certification on their website or if you ask. For example, we emailed Lifesys AST Keep Masks, and the company responded with a copy of their certificate within a day.
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