With changing government guidelines, you might be wondering where are the best places to get medical and antiviral face masks in the UK for you, and your family.
The UK government is now recommending that we wear face masks when in public places that are enclosed. So this might include supermarkets and public buildings. If you’re feeling crafty you can make your own mask quite easily. The government has provided easy instructions online.
However, you might need something more specific such as an N95 mask for antiviral protection, or a reusable mask that will last for several weeks, or months. Over the past month, we’ve purchased a number of face masks for a number of family members and I’ve also worn masks when collecting my parents’ shopping.
My view is that a fabric mask won’t protect ME, but it’s about preventing me from spreading germs to other people, if I have coronavirus and don’t have symptoms. In situations that are more high risk, I’m likely to look for medical grade face masks, or masks with filters that can protect against viruses.
Personally, I’ve avoided buying medical-grade PPE such as N95 masks and N99 masks. That’s because I’m acutely aware of friends who work in care and clinical settings. They should be able to get these items if they need them. That said, if you’re caring for elderly or vulnerable family members you might want to invest in an N95 face mask, and they are certainly available in the UK.
When it comes to which mask to buy, the terminology can be confusing. The N95 and N99 labels you might see on face masks refer to the amount of airborne particles of that are filtered – 95 per cent and 99 per cent respectively. You might also see masks described as pm2.5. This means the mask filters particles as small as 2.5 microns. An N95 mask filters particles of 3 microns, so anything of that level or smaller should provide good protection.
Where to Buy Face Masks in the UK
As of today (12 May) these are places that I’m aware of that currently are taking orders for masks:
Disposable/N95 Face Masks
UKMeds: This website has a range of surgical style disposable masks, along with N95 and N99 masks, which are recommended for clinical settings. The stock varies slightly from day to day, depending on what the company has been able to source. This does mean it offers next-day delivery. I ordered masks for my parents from this site, along with a huge bottle of hand sanitiser, and they were delivered within 24 hours.
Medisave: Another pharmacy website, this one is selling boxes of 100 disposable surgical-style face masks for £49. This might be suitable if you aren’t keen on something you re-wear, as these are intended for single use. They also sell N95 face masks if you need them for a clinical setting (these aren’t recommended for general use, since they are badly needed by those working in care and clinical roles).
Edeline Lee is a designer who is now making masks on a non-profit basis. They’re made from non-woven polypropylene, which is a fluid resistant fabric that is also used to make surgical masks. They’re not certified as N95/N99 but you can buy a three-pack for £40 on her website.
Reusable Face Masks
Urbanx: I’ve had more luck persuading Flea to wear a cycling pollution mask that looks “cooler” than the fabric face masks. These masks are designed to protect cyclists from pollution but will also do the same as a N95 face mask, in filtering germs going in and out. This type of face mask is reusable, and the filter can be replaced. It is fitted with valves to help with breathing, adjustable ear straps and a the supplied filter should last up to 8 weeks, with occasional washing. I also like that this mask is made of Neoprene, which follows the contours of your face for a snug, comfortable fit.
Biovea is currently offering a fast mask with 10 activated charcoal filters for £37. This is a little more expensive than most of the face masks I’ve found, but the inclusion of 10 filters is a great idea, since the risk of buying a mask with 1 or 2 filters is that you can’t get replacements when you need them.
Pure Breathe: This site offers cycling pollution masks, which incorporate a neoprene mask and an N99/PM2.5 grade filter. Masks are available in various designs, costing from £22 up, and you’ll receive one filter per mask. Each filter should last for around 40 hours wear, so you’ll want to stock up on replacements. Do bear in mind there’s currently a 2 week lead time for orders in the UK.
Cambridge Mask Co: This UK face mask company makes a range of reusable masks that are equivalent to N99. This means they offer military-grade filtering. What I like about these masks is that they are wearable for up to 340 hours, meaning that if you’re wearing a mask daily you can get several months use out of the mask without needing to replace a filter. I’ve pre-ordered these for myself, my daughter and my Mum, given that it seems masks might be a long-term thing. That said, products are shipping in pre-order waves. When we ordered in early April, the orders were shipping at the end of May. If you order today, don’t expect to receive your mask before the end of July.
Playmobil: They might not win any fashion awards but these plastic face masks designed by Playmobil are washable, reusable, and simple as anything. Just open up the front of the mask to insert a filter (a piece of tissue will do fine) and you’re all set. They are available in adult and child sizes, and £1 from the sale of each mask goes to charity.
Fabric Face Masks
There are hundreds of makers online who are designing pretty, functional face masks. If you can’t sew and don’t fancy doing DIY, they’re a fantastic option. Remember to look for masks that are made from 100% woven cotton, are machine washable and readily available. Many suppliers also offer charity donations as part of the purchase price. Some also offer masks that include filters inside the liners – which could be useful, but aren’t essential.
Afromasks: these are the masks that I am currently using. These colourful fabrics are made using eco-friendly and sustainable fabrics in lovely designs. At £7.99 they won’t break the bank, and I’m happy to be supporting a small indie maker who can sew a lot better than me. They do come up quite large, though, so if you are petite, I might look elsewhere. They’re not protective of you, but they will certainly reduce the risk of you infecting someone else.
VistaPrint: These reusable fabric masks with changeable filters are currently available for preorder at £17. This price includes a mask with one filter, and a 10% donation to local charities. Currently these items are shipping before the end of the month. My only query with these is how easy it is to find and buy filters, since they’re not designed for extended wear.
Etsy: There are literally hundreds of designs and makers on Etsy. Look for sellers in the UK for faster delivery and bear in mind that masks that are 100% cotton and have a lining will be more effective at preventing you from spreading infection.
Binge Designs: there are some really great face mask designs for kids and teens at Binge Designs. The masks are fabric but come complete with a removable PM2.5 filter. They cost just £8.99 with the profits going to NHS charities. Big thanks to my friend Alex for this recommendation!
Offers on Face Masks
Groupon: If you’re not worried about expensive filters and just want a basic, reusable face mask with the comfort of neoprene, then Groupon is offering 2 cycling pollution style masks for £10.99. Want filters? Groupon also has masks available with 20 disposable filters for under £15.
Contrado is currently offering a four-pack of custom face masks for under £20, with a 6 day lead time. Worth checking out if you’re keen to support our indie makers!
I’ll update this post with recommendations if I spot any other great sites offering face masks in the UK. If you have a recommendation or tip, then please let me know in the comments, or you can also find me on Twitter.