Millions of counterfeit masks have been seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials since the start of the pandemic, and the number has skyrocketed in 2021.
SEE RELATED STORY: $350,000 worth of fake N95 masks seized at Houston Seaport
Most of the masks were modeled to resemble N95 or KN95 masks, or pretended to come from a certified manufacturer.
Dr. Michael Chang, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with UTHealth, said the N95 mask is certified and tested in the U.S. Meanwhile, the KN95 mask is certified by the Chinese government. Chang said we don't know how well those masks are being tested and cleared before being sold, making them easy to counterfeit.
SEE RELATED: Watch out for fake N-95 masks being sold online
Not only are customers paying more money, but they expect better protection so it becomes an issue if the masks turn out counterfeit.
Here are some red flags you can look for:
- If manufacturers claim they have an FDA certification, this is likely a counterfeit because the FDA will never certify a mask. They can only "approve" or "clear" a mask
- If KN95 manufacturer claims they are certified in the U.S. but don't appear on the NIOSH website
- If the mask loops behind your ears
"Anybody that says they are selling a KN95 mask and it has ear loops and not bands when they go around your head, that's probably not going to work as a KN95. That really tight fit is really important, so ear loop masks are just never going to give you that fit," Chang said.
Chang walked through three of the most common tests found online that promise to show if your mask is legitimate in 10 minutes or less. He told ABC13 whether or not they actually work.
Test No. 1
You will need a lighter for this test.
- Put your face mask on
- Hold and activate a lighter six inches from your mouth
- Try to extinguish the flame by blowing on it
"I actually did this test with my daughter for her science project, and it turns out almost any kind of face covering will block you from blowing out a candle or a lighter that's six inches from your face," Dr. Chang said.
Test No. 2
You will need Sweet N' Low for this test.
- Put your face mask on
- Empty the contents of a pack of Sweet N' Low on a spoon or flat surface
- Try sniffing with the mask on and the mask off, noting any difference
If it's a certified mask, you will be able to catch the fragrance but only faintly.
"It's based on a sound principle because when we do tests in the hospital, we put on the mask, we have to make sure it fits really tightly. Then we try to see if we can taste or smell this chemical," Chang said.
Test No. 3
You will need water for this test.
- Hold your face mask by the elastic bands, with the inside of the mask facing up
- Fill the mask with water
If it's a certified mask, it will cup the water with zero leakage.
"I am pretty sure all of those would hold water for 10 seconds, and so again, none of these suggested tests are going to tell you whether these are like KN95 things. Obviously if it fails any one of these tests, that's clearly not a KN95 mask, but even if it passes all three it doesn't necessarily mean it's performing to KN95 standards," Dr. Chang said.
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