FFP2, surgical or fabric mask: what are the latest recommendations?

With the fifth wave comes the obligation to wear a mask. Already imposed in companies and in closed public places, facial protection has made a comeback for primary schoolchildren, in markets, in ski lifts, as well as outdoors in several departments (Ille-et-Vilaine, Eure, Var…) and town centers (Beauvais, Blois, Montauban, Pau…).

But since the start of the pandemic, doctrines and recommendations have evolved a lot. FFP2, surgical or fabric mask… we have summarized the current state of knowledge on the mask that you can wear at the end of the year, if you are neither a health professional nor a symptomatic person.

The FFP2 mask


FFP2 masks, which were initially reserved for professionals (health, construction, chemical industry, etc.), are now available to the general public in shops and pharmacies. “The most fragile or unvaccinated people can wear an FFP2 type mask as soon as possible”, says the scientific council in his opinion for the holidays.

These devices protect the wearer against inhalation of airborne droplets and particles. A useful protection, at a time when the variants are proving to be more and more contagious. However, be careful not to not put back an FFP mask that has been removed and not to wear it for more than eight hours at a time.


Some could be dangerous. The National Health Security Agency (ANSES) recommends avoiding FFP2 graphene masks, as a precaution: data are lacking on the toxicity of this synthetic material used for its antiviral properties in the manufacture of certain masks.

Bruno Grandbastien, president of the French Hospital Hygiene Society, goes even further and advises against it in all cases for the general public:

“The FFP2 is already difficult to use for professionals trained in this type of mask, which require a face seal test. ”

According to the medical officer of health, these protections “Are generally very badly carried in the population and do not bring much benefit. “

The surgical mask


After having been discouraged by the general public at the very start of the pandemic because of the risk that it would be worn inappropriately (but also for reasons of shortage), the surgical mask has become the most recommended device in the majority of situations in the hospital. daily life.

From April 2020, the magazine Nature establishes that wearing a surgical mask does reduce the risk of transmission of the coronavirus, by limiting the projection of droplets from the person wearing it, and thus protecting those around them. Its success is also linked to its standardized manufacturing process and the fact that it is more easily identifiable than category 1 fabric masks, which are not always well labeled on the market.


If the conditions of use recommended by the health authorities are not respected, it is not guaranteed that the surgical mask is protective, or even harmless. The National Research and Safety Institute (INRS) and the High Council for Public Health (HCSP) recall that a surgical mask is designed for single use, even though studies have been able to show that its filtering capacities remain good after several washes.

In addition to the question of filtration, there is also that of the presence of chemical substances, raised this week by ANSES expertise. This study showed that these dangerous substances inside surgical masks did not exceed health thresholds… under the conditions of use indicated. “The mask must be new, that it is not used for more than four hours, that it is not washed and that it is changed as soon as it becomes soiled or wet”, explains Céline Dubois, coordinator of this expertise. Volatile organic compounds having been observed among the chemicals present in these paper protections, Céline Dubois advises “To open the box of masks and the plastic bag in which they are packaged before wearing them to ventilate the whole”.

The fabric mask


If you have bought an approved fabric mask during the past year, it is very likely that it is a category 1. In this case, it was accompanied by an official logo and the maximum number of washes to respect. It is by far the most ecological and economical solution. “They have been tested by the General Directorate of Armaments, their filtration rate is excellent and some are washable up to 120 times”, defends Bruno Grandbastien.

If you are a skier or hiker, it is even possible to opt for an approved neck strap, such as have just authorized the ski areas of France. This device can replace a surgical mask or a category 1 mask, compulsory in ski lifts.


Please note, some fabric masks are no longer accepted everywhere. “The HCSP recommends to the French, and this is the recommendation that I also make them, not to use any more the artisanal mask which one made at home”, already declared the Minister of Health Olivier Véran, at the start of the year. He also asked to avoid the least filtering industrial fabric masks, called category 2. These two types of protection can no longer be worn. in company Where at school, under the latest protocols in force.

Some healthcare establishments (hospital, dentist, laboratory) or airlines do not even accept fabric masks and require the wearing of single-use surgical masks.

On the other hand, category 1 fabric masks are not always well labeled and therefore identifiable. At the end of a long investigation, the General Directorate for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control warned, December 14, the risk of non-compliance of certain fabric masks, mainly linked to the labeling or instructions for the masks (which may turn out to be false, exaggerated, missing or poorly written, etc.), as well as proof of performance insufficient or false.

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FFP2, surgical or fabric mask: what are the latest recommendations?