No one wants to mask their children. We get that. However, the unfortunate reality is that children are some of the most impacted by airborne threats such as air pollution and viruses. While we can often control the air quality indoors through ventilation and filtration, we can’t control pollutants outdoors.
When outdoors, the best way to protect the youngest members of our families is to encourage them to wear a mask. We like to look at masks as band-aids - necessary first-aid to protect our children from the hidden threats of air pollution and diseases. While we don't want to make our children wear masks, they empower us to protect our child’s well-being when needed.
When it comes to air pollution, it’s imperative to ensure we are protecting our children’s lungs as early as possible - the impacts of air pollution early in life can have life-long effects that are preventable with masks.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of issues regarding children and masks. The first of these issues is that masks simply aren't designed for children. More often than not, 'children's' masks are merely smaller versions of adult masks.
This creates an issue as it’s near impossible to get children to wear uncomfortable masks, and the reality is that most masks are uncomfortable because they aren’t made with children in mind. At AirPop, we knew we had to focus on children from the get-go to create a mask that is truly intended for them.
On top of the fact that masks simply aren’t designed for children, choosing the correct mask for children is a vastly different process from picking masks for ourselves. Not only do the requirements of a good mask change, but we need to change our priorities.
Choosing a mask as an adult is already a difficult process with many factors to consider. Once learning how we can choose the best mask, we often want to apply these criteria to the masks that we are purchasing for our children. However, we need to change how we approach children's masks to give our children the best mask experience possible.
While designing the AirPop Kids KN95 Mask, we discovered what it takes to find the best mask for your children. In this article, we want to discuss our findings.
Why Choosing a Children’s Mask Is Hard
You may wonder why choosing a mask for a child requires a different approach. Well, the primary difference is that our priorities must change. We’ve discussed the three pillars of masks in many of our articles. However, if you're unfamiliar with them, they are filtration, fit and comfort. We discuss these pillars in more detail in our article about factors to consider before purchasing a mask.
A good mask must provide a good experience in each of these areas and excellent masks often excel in one or two areas. When it comes to adults, we generally weigh these focuses in the order of filtration, fit and finally, comfort. Also, as adults, we tend to value a mask's protective capabilities over comfort. If a mask is performant, we can often overlook its discomfort due to the knowledge that we are protecting our respiratory systems.
When it comes to children, the opposite is true. It’s nearly impossible to get a child to wear an uncomfortable mask, and even if they are willing to wear it, the experience is not at all pleasant for them. Creating bad experiences with masks while children are young often results in these memories being ingrained for a long time to come.
Due to this, we need to change our order of priorities when choosing the right mask for children. As opposed to prioritising filtration, fit and then comfort, we need to prioritise comfort first and foremost. While it’s essential to ensure that a mask provides good protection, any mask is better than no mask. This quote from the Washington Post sums up the issue:
The best mask is a mask your child will tolerate.
After comfort, fit takes second place in terms of importance. Children tend to be much more active than adults, and it’s hard to find a mask that can maintain a seal throughout a busy and active day. You’ll want to find the most securely fitting mask that remains comfortable for your child.
Of course, a high level of filtration is still essential. However, with so many masks boasting > 95% filtration, this becomes somewhat less of an issue. As long as you are choosing among these high-efficacy masks, they all offer a good level of protection.
With all of that being said, we want to take a deeper look into the factors that need to be considered when choosing a mask for your children. Although we’ve already briefly touched on some of these aspects, they are important to emphasise.
How to Choose the Best Mask for Your Child
Focus on Comfort
Comfort is an important pillar for all masks, whether for children or not. However, as adults, we can typically endure the discomfort by having the peace of mind that we are protecting ourselves. With children, this couldn’t be further from the truth. No child wants to wear an uncomfortable mask, and being forced to wear an uncomfortable mask as a child can turn children against masks in the future. For this reason, it’s crucial to emphasise comfort equally to fit and filtration with children’s masks.
Fit and filtration are essential in ensuring that your child is protected. However, in the end, any mask is better than no mask. While a comfortable high-filtration mask is the best choice for children, a comfortable low-filtration mask is better than not wearing a mask at all.
With comfort in mind, we created the AirPop Kid’s KN95 Mask. While fit and filtration are still exceptional (with > 97% filtration and a fantastic fit), we emphasised comfort when designing the mask. We knew that for children to want to wear the Kid’s KN95, it had to be a pleasant experience.
Our focus on comfort led to the AirPop Kids KN95 Mask winning the Parent Tested Parent Approved award. If you would like to read reviews from other parents, you can head to the PTPA page here.
When it comes to creating a comfortable mask for children, there is one more element that we need to consider. This leads us to our next point.
Breathability Is Key
For the same reasons that make comfort crucial, breathability must be exceptional on children's masks. Typical respirators such as N95s and KN95s aren’t exactly breathable, and as an active child, a mask with low breathability can significantly hinder day-to-day life. When searching for a mask for your children, try to find one with < 10mm H2O breathing resistance. AirPop’s masks are even lower, at only 7mm!
Without diving into the technicalities, the lower the measurement, the lower the pressure drop. This means that masks with lower readings are more breathable. For perspective, N95 respirators are only required to have > 35mm H2O and > 25mm H2O for inhalation and exhalation, respectively. Therefore, any mask with a measurement lower than 10mm H2O will be very breathable for your children.
It’s important to note that breathability will vary based on the flow rate at which the lab tested a mask. For example, a mask tested at a flow rate of 30L/min will have a lower pressure drop and, therefore, better breathability than a mask tested at a flow rate of 85L/min. This is important to factor in because breathability results aren’t always directly comparable.
Considering that while children inhale more regularly than adults, they inhale less air, we don’t need to worry about breathing resistance in masks at high flow rates. Rather, pay attention to the breathability of masks at lower flow rates since this is closer to what your child will be experiencing when wearing the mask.
Filtration Shouldn’t be Overlooked
Although comfort and breathability are more important than ever on children’s masks, filtration should never be overlooked. After all, the entire point of a mask is to protect our children’s lungs, and protection is the factor of filtration and fit.
For protection against airborne pollutants, you’ll want to be looking for a mask with > 95% filtration against fine and ultrafine particles. While we can find many masks above this filtration efficacy, keep in mind that breathability generally decreases as filtration increases - a balance between the two is ideal.
Thankfully, filtration is easy to research before purchasing a mask. Typically, masks will either advertise their filtration percentage or their certification - for children, you will only find KN and KF certified masks. The number in these certifications indicates filtration, so a KN95 filters > 95% of particles whereas KF94 filters > 94% of particles.
Outside of these two certifications, you will also find many manufacturers advertising filtration percentages that were found through lab testing. Many masks will undergo lab testing, but not get certified as the certification process can be long and expensive.
When looking for the filtration efficacy of a mask, ensure that the company has third-party lab test results. These findings are not affiliated with the company selling the masks and are more trustworthy for this reason.
Certifications are Important
While filtration alone is important, certifications bring a level of trust that third-party lab tests don’t. You’ve probably already heard about standards such as N95, KN95, and KF94, and hopefully, you are already familiar with these terms. If you aren’t, make sure to check out our N95 vs KN95 vs KF94 article.
When it comes to masks for children, understanding certifications is actually a much easier task. This is because only a few standards actually test children’s masks. For example, NIOSH does not test masks for children; therefore, you should never purchase a children’s mask claiming to be N95 - these masks don’t exist.
FFP2-rated masks can be found in children’s sizes, but these are still not designed for children. In mid-2021, Germany planned to introduce FFP2 masks designed for children. However, after these plans were made public, we heard little about the progress of this initiative.
On the other hand, KF94 and KN95 kids masks are designed and tested to be worn by children. While in reality, FFP2 and N95 masks in children’s sizes may perform equally as well, having a mask that is designed and tested for children can bring extra peace of mind.
When purchasing one of these two types of masks, you will need to be aware of counterfeit and fake products. KF94 masks are generally safe, as the Korean government closely regulates the standard. With KN95 masks for children, you’ll want to ensure that a CNAS accredited laboratory has tested the masks and that you can verify the authenticity of the results. You can find the AirPop Kid KN95 Mask results here.
Fit Ensures Protection
The second contributing factor to protection is fit - if a mask is ill-fitting, air can simply bypass the mask altogether. This means that if your child is wearing a poorly fitted mask, they receive only partial protection. However, it’s hard to assess the fit of a mask before allowing your child to try it. For this reason, we recommend always buying single masks or low quantities and testing them before investing in a more significant number of masks.
The biggest issue regarding mask fit and children is that children tend to be far more active than adults. With constant movement come challenges for the fit and seal of a mask - each movement can cause the mask to become dislodged and, in turn, compromise the seal integrity.
Our AirPop Kid KN95 Masks include a memory foam nosepiece for a great fit.
For this reason, you’ll want to ensure that the mask fits your child even when they are moving. While it can be hard to judge the fit without fit-testing equipment, we can check the edges of the mask for airflow. It’s also worth asking your child if they feel like any air is escaping.
A second issue that is often overlooked is that as adults, we often stick to a mask for years. This usually doesn’t work for children because they are continually growing and changing. To ensure the best protection for your children, make sure you are fit-testing the devices annually or more regularly.
The shape of a mask directly impacts how it performs in regards to both fit and filtration. With adult masks, you will find a range of shapes, from cup-style masks to boat-shaped designs. However, when it comes to children's masks, there are only two options.
These options are flat fold (also called bi-fold) and boat-shaped (often called KF94-style) masks. There are thousands of masks in each style, and we recommend trying both types of masks with your child as every child will have different preferences.
As a rule of thumb, flat fold masks tend to provide a more snug fit, whereas boat-shaped masks often provide better breathability due to the larger air chamber within the mask. Boat-shaped masks also tend to sit further off your child’s face, making talking easier.
AirPop’s Kid KN95 mask utilises a flat fold design with a memory foam nose piece. This ensures that the mask seals around your child’s nose but also doubles as a way to create a small chamber for air inside the mask. This provides many benefits of a boat-shaped mask, despite following a flat fold design.
Whichever route you and your child decide on, it’s worth trying both designs. Some children prefer the extra breathability offered by boat-shaped masks, whereas others prefer the more compact nature and fit of flat fold masks.
Find Readily Available Masks
With all masks, but especially children’s masks, you’ll want to ensure that they are readily available and that you always have some on hand. With children’s active lifestyles, it’s too easy to damage, rip, or otherwise compromise a mask. Due to this, it’s essential to ensure that your child always has a spare mask on hand.
If you’re purchasing masks locally, it’s worth ensuring that you can continue buying the same masks in the future when needed. If purchasing online, purchase in a way that ensures you’ll always have some spare masks at home.
There’s no worse feeling than finally finding a mask that your child likes and then not being able to obtain replacements for that mask. No one wants to go through this whole process again! For that reason, it’s always important to have a plan for obtaining more masks in the future.
Children are some of the most at-risk members of society. Whether we are talking about air pollution, airborne viruses, or other threats, we need to ensure that we focus on their health and protect them as best we can. Unfortunately, that means having masks on hand and using them when needed.
However, we often approach masks for children in the same way we approach masks for ourselves. While this makes sense logically, it’s not the best way to handle the issue. After years of producing masks, we’ve learnt that masks for children shouldn’t be dealt with in the same way. We hope this list can help you protect your children now and in the future.
If you want to learn more after reading this article, please feel free to head over to our knowledge section. This section contains information all about air pollution, masks, allergens, and more.