Surgical mask

A surgical mask, also known as a face mask, is intended to be worn by health professionals during healthcare procedures.[1][2] It is designed to prevent infections in patients and treating personnel by catching bacteria shed in liquid droplets and aerosols from the wearer's mouth and nose.[3][4][5] They are not designed to protect the wearer from breathing in airborne bacteria or viruses whose particles are smaller. With respect to some infections like influenza they appear as effective as respirators, such as N95 or FFP masks;[6] though the latter provide better protection in laboratory experiments due to their material, shape and tight seal.[7][8]

Surgical mask
Surgical face mask.jpg
A surgical mask
Other namesProcedure mask, medical mask, isolation mask, laser mask, fluid-resistant masks, face mask

Surgical masks vary by quality and levels of protection. Despite their name, not all surgical masks are appropriate to be used during surgery. Surgical masks may be labeled as surgical, isolation, dental, or medical procedure masks.[9] Chinese health officials distinguish between medical (non-surgical) and surgical masks.[10]

Surgical masks are made of a nonwoven fabric created using a melt blowing process. They came into use in the 1960s and largely replaced cloth facemasks in developed countries.[citation needed] The use of surgical masks during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a subject of debate,[11] as shortages of surgical masks is a central issue.[12][13] Surgical masks are popularly worn by the general public all year round in East Asian countries like China, Japan and South Korea to reduce the chance of spreading airborne diseases to others, and to prevent the breathing in of airborne dust particles created by air pollution.[14] Additionally, surgical masks have become a fashion statement, particularly in contemporary East Asian culture bolstered by its popularity in Japanese and Korean pop culture which have a big impact on East Asian youth culture.[15][16]


Health care workersEdit

A medical professional wearing a surgical mask during an operation

A surgical mask is intended to be worn by health professionals during surgery and certain health care procedures[17] to catch microorganisms shed in liquid droplets and aerosols from the wearer's mouth and nose.[18]

Evidence supports the effectiveness of surgical masks in reducing the risk of infection among other healthcare workers and in the community.[19] However, a Cochrane review found that there is no clear evidence that disposable face masks worn by members of the surgical team would reduce the risk of wound infections after clean surgical procedures.[20]

For healthcare workers, safety guidelines recommend the wearing of a face-fit tested N95 or FFP3 respirator mask instead of a surgical mask in the vicinity of pandemic-flu patients, to reduce the exposure of the wearer to potentially infectious aerosols and airborne liquid droplets.[21][22][23]

General publicEdit

People wearing surgical masks during the COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong.

In community and home settings, the use of facemasks and respirators generally are not recommended, with other measures preferred such as avoiding close contact, maintaining good hand hygiene,[18]and wearing cloth face coverings.[24]

Surgical masks are popularly worn by the general public all year round in East Asian countries like China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan to reduce the chance of spreading airborne diseases to others, and to prevent the breathing in of airborne dust particles created by air pollution.[14]

In Japan and Taiwan, it is common to see these masks worn during the flu season, as a show of consideration for others and social responsibility.[25][26][27] Surgical masks provide some protection against the spread of diseases, and improvised masks provide about half as much protection.[28]

More recently, due to the rising issue of smog in South and Southeast Asia, surgical masks and air filtering face masks are now frequently used in major cities in India, Nepal and Thailand when air quality deteriorates to toxic levels.[29][30][31] Additionally, face masks are used in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore during the Southeast Asian haze season.[32][33] Air filtering surgical-style masks are quite popular across Asia and as a result, many companies have released masks that not only prevent the breathing in of airborne dust particles but are also fashionable.[34][35]

Additionally, surgical masks have become a fashion statement, particularly in contemporary East Asian culture bolstered by its popularity in Japanese and Korean pop culture which have a big impact on East Asian youth culture.[15][16]

Surgical masks may also be worn to conceal identity. In the United States banks, convenience stores, etc. have banned their use as a result of criminals repeatedly doing so. In the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests, some protestors wore surgical masks amongst other types of mask to avoid recognition, and the government tried to ban such use.[36]


Surgical masks retain some of the respiratory droplets released from the wearer through talking, coughing, or sneezing. Thus they reduce the spread of pathogens.[37]
Shadowgraph videos of the outer airflow during a sneeze, comparing an unmasked sneeze with several different method of covering one's mouth and nose[38]

A surgical mask is a loose-fitting, disposable device that creates a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and potential contaminants in the immediate environment. If worn properly, a surgical mask is meant to help block large-particle droplets, splashes, sprays, or splatter that may contain viruses and bacteria, keeping it from reaching the wearer's mouth and nose.[39] Surgical masks are effective barriers for retaining large droplets released from the mouth and nose by the wearer in public.[37] Surgical masks help reduce exposure of the wearer's saliva and respiratory secretions to others[39] that could otherwise travel up to 26 feet.[40] Surgical mask also remind wearers not to touch their mouth or nose, which could otherwise transfer viruses and bacteria after having touched a contaminated surface.[38]

A surgical mask, by design, does not filter or block very small particles in the air that may be transmitted by coughs, sneezes, or certain medical procedures. Surgical masks also do not provide complete protection from germs and other contaminants because of the loose fit between the surface of the face mask and the face.[39]

A surgical mask is not to be confused with a respirator and is not certified as such. Surgical masks are not designed to protect the wearer from inhaling airborne bacteria or virus particles and are less effective than respirators, which are designed for this purpose.[37] Collection efficiency of surgical mask filters can range from less than 10% to nearly 90% for different manufacturers’ masks when measured using the test parameters for NIOSH certification. However, a study found that even for surgical masks with "good" filters, 80–100% of subjects failed an OSHA-accepted qualitative fit test, and a quantitative test showed 12–25% leakage.[41]

Modern surgical masks are made from paper or other non-woven material and should be discarded after each use.[18]

Physical formEdit

The design of the surgical masks depends on the mode; usually, the masks are three-ply (three layers). This three-ply material is made up of a melt-blown polymer, most commonly polypropylene, placed between non-woven fabric.[42] The melt-blown material acts as the filter that stops microbes from entering or exiting the mask.[42] Pleats are commonly used to allow the user to expand the mask such that it covers the area from the nose to the chin. The masks are secured to the head with ear loops, head ties, or elastic straps.[43]

Physical properties and qualityEdit

Physical properties of surgical masks
Parameter Typical unit
Pressure differential, ∆P cm of H2O / cm²
Filtration and exposure %
Liquid penetration resistance mbar
Air permeability ml/s⋅cm² at 100 Pa
Water vapor permeability g/24 hr⋅cm²
Water repellency grade

Performance of surgical masks is evaluated based on such parameters as filtration (mask capture of exhaled aerosols), exposure (transfer of aerosols from outside), mask airflow resistance (pressure difference during breathing, ΔP, also known as breathability),[44] liquid penetration resistance, air and water vapor permeability, water repellency (for outer and inner surfaces).[45]

Filtration and exposure is typically measured in bacterial filtration efficiency (BFE) and particulate filtration efficiency (PFE).[46]


Taiwan instituted a mask rationing system during the COVID-19 pandemic. With population of 24 million, Taiwan has been producing more than 13 million medical masks per day since March 2020.

Modern surgical masks began to be used in the 1960s. Their adoption caused cloth facemasks, which had been used since the late 19th century, to completely fall out of use in the developed world.[47][48] However, cloth masks and surgical masks both continued to be used in developing countries.[49]

COVID-19 pandemicEdit

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some jurisdictions banned the practice of selling surgical masks to other nations due to a limited supply; however, Taiwan made refinements to those rules by permitting them to be mailed to first and second-degree relatives.[50]


Single-use medical masks (YY/T 0969) produced by BYD Electronic.

In the United States, surgical masks are cleared for marketing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. As of 2009, manufacturers of surgical masks must demonstrate that their product is at least as good as a mask already on the market to obtain "clearance" for marketing. Manufacturers may choose from filter tests using a biological organism aerosol, or an aerosol of 0.1 µm latex spheres.[41]

In the European Economic Area (EEA), surgical masks have to be certified through the CE marking process in order to be commercialized. CE marking of surgical masks involves the respect of many obligations indicated in the Medical Device Regulation (Council Regulation 2017/745 of 5 April 2017 concerning medical devices, OJ No L 117/1 of 2017-05-05).

Surgical masks for use in the US and the EEA conform to ASTM F2100 and EN 14683 respectively. In both standards, a mask must have a Bacterial Filtration Efficiency (BFE) of more than 95%, simulated with particles of size 3.0 μm.[51]

In China, two types of masks are common: surgical masks that conform to YY 0469 standard (BFE ≥ 95%, PFE ≥ 30%, splash resistance) and single-use medical masks that conform to YY/T 0969 standard (BFE ≥ 95%).[46][52] Daily protective masks conforming to GB/T 32610 standard[53] is yet another type of masks that can have similar appearance to surgical masks.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Smith, Jeffrey D.; MacDougall, Colin C.; Johnstone, Jennie; Copes, Ray A.; Schwartz, Brian; Garber, Gary E. (17 May 2016). "Effectiveness of N95 respirators versus surgical masks in protecting health care workers from acute respiratory infection: a systematic review and meta-analysis". CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association Journal. 188 (8): 567–574. doi:10.1503/cmaj.150835. ISSN 0820-3946. PMC 4868605. PMID 26952529.
  2. ^ "Advice on the use of masks the community, during home care and in health care settings in the context of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak" (PDF). Retrieved 2020-02-04.
  3. ^ "Transmission-Based Precautions". U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2016-01-07. Retrieved 2020-03-31.
  4. ^ "Prevention of hospital-acquired infections" (PDF). World Health Organization (WHO). p. 45. Archived (PDF) from the original on 26 March 2020.
  5. ^ "Clinical Educators Guide: Australian Guidelines for the Prevention and Control of Infection in Healthcare". Australian National Health and Medical Research Council. December 2019. p. 20. Retrieved 2020-03-30.
  6. ^ Long, Y; Hu, T; Liu, L; Chen, R; Guo, Q; Yang, L; Cheng, Y; Huang, J; Du, L (13 March 2020). "Effectiveness of N95 respirators versus surgical masks against influenza: A systematic review and meta-analysis". Journal of Evidence-based Medicine. doi:10.1111/jebm.12381. PMC 7228345. PMID 32167245.
  7. ^ "N95 Respirators and Surgical Masks - Blogs - CDC". CDC Blogs. 2009-10-14. Retrieved 2020-04-29.
  8. ^ Smith, JD; MacDougall, CC; Johnstone, J; Copes, RA; Schwartz, B; Garber, GE (17 May 2016). "Effectiveness of N95 respirators versus surgical masks in protecting health care workers from acute respiratory infection: a systematic review and meta-analysis". CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association Journal (Journal de l'Association Medicale Canadienne). 188 (8): 567–574. doi:10.1503/cmaj.150835. PMC 4868605. PMID 26952529.
  9. ^ "N95 Respirators and Surgical Masks (Face Masks)". FDA. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  10. ^ "For different groups of people: how to choose masks". National Health Commission of the People's Republic of China. 7 February 2020. Archived from the original on 5 April 2020. Retrieved 22 March 2020.
  11. ^ Ting V (4 April 2020). "To mask or not to mask: WHO makes U-turn while US, Singapore abandon pandemic advice and tell citizens to start wearing masks". South China Morning Post.
  12. ^ "Not Enough Face Masks Are Made In America To Deal With Coronavirus". 2020-03-05. Retrieved 2020-04-10.
  13. ^ "Chinese mask makers use loopholes to speed up regulatory approval". Financial Times. 2020-04-01. Retrieved 2020-04-10.
  14. ^ a b Yang, Jeff. "A quick history of why Asians wear surgical masks in public". Quartz. Retrieved 2020-03-28.
  15. ^ a b Dazed (2015-12-24). "How surgical masks became a fashion statement". Dazed. Retrieved 2020-03-28.
  16. ^ a b How K-Pop Revived Black Sickness Masks In Japan | Kotaku Australia
  17. ^ Procedure mask.
  18. ^ a b c "Interim Recommendations for Facemask and Respirator Use to Reduce Novel Influenza A (H1N1) Virus Transmission". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. May 27, 2009. Unless otherwise specified, the term "facemasks" refers to disposable facemasks cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use as medical devices. This includes facemasks labeled as surgical, dental, medical procedure, isolation, or laser masks... Facemasks should be used once and then thrown away in the trash.
  19. ^ MacIntyre, CR; Chughtai, AA (9 April 2015). "Facemasks for the prevention of infection in healthcare and community settings". BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.). 350: h694. doi:10.1136/bmj.h694. PMID 25858901.
  20. ^ Vincent, Marina; Edwards, Peggy (26 April 2016). "Disposable surgical face masks for preventing surgical wound infection in clean surgery" (PDF). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 4: CD002929. doi:10.1002/14651858.cd002929.pub3. PMC 7138271. PMID 27115326.
  21. ^ "Interim guidance on planning for the use of surgical masks and respirators in health care settings during an influenza pandemic" (PDF). U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. October 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-04.
  22. ^ "Working with highly pathogenic avian influenza virus". UK Health and Safety Executive. Retrieved August 2, 2014.
  23. ^ "N95 Factsheet". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Archived from the original on November 11, 2009.
  24. ^ CDC (2020-02-11). "Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 2020-07-05.
  25. ^ Juliet Hindell (May 30, 1999). "Japan's war on germs and smells". BBC Online.
  26. ^ Negrin, Matt (2009-04-26). "For allergy and flu season, the Japanese turn to surgical masks". Winnipeg Free Press. Retrieved 2017-09-29.
  27. ^ "CJCU Student Handbook" (PDF). 2016. Retrieved 4 April 2020. In Taiwan, it is considered courteous to wear a face mask if you have a cold and cough and plan to be in close proximity with others
  28. ^ Davies, Anna; Thompson, Katy-Anne; Giri, Karthika; Kafatos, George; Walker, Jimmy; Bennett, Allan (August 2013). "Testing the Efficacy of Homemade Masks: Would They Protect in an Influenza Pandemic?". Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness. 7 (4): 413–418. doi:10.1017/dmp.2013.43. ISSN 1935-7893. PMC 7108646. PMID 24229526.
  29. ^ "Why are face masks selling out in Bangkok?". BBC News. Retrieved 2020-03-28.
  30. ^ Punit, Maria Thomas, Itika Sharma. "Delhi's rich and beautiful are breathing clean air stylishly, with help from the Nevada desert". Quartz India. Retrieved 2020-03-28.
  31. ^ "Keeping Kathmandu Out". Retrieved 2020-03-28.
  32. ^ "How to choose the right mask to protect yourself from the haze". AsiaOne. Retrieved 2020-03-28.
  33. ^ Holliday, Katie (2013-06-20). "Face Masks, Anyone? Singapore Struggles With Haze". Retrieved 2020-03-28.
  34. ^ Delhi residents brave the smog in style
  35. ^ Hongkongers could benefit from new air pollution mask that’s six times more effective than rivals
  36. ^ Hong Kong protesters defy face mask ban — with humor | News | DW | 18.10.2019
  37. ^ a b c "Respiratory Protection Against Airborne Infectious Agents for Health Care Workers: Do surgical masks protect workers?" (OSH Answers Fact Sheets). Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. 2017-02-28. Retrieved 2017-02-28.
  38. ^ a b Tang, Julian W.; Nicolle, Andre D. G.; Pantelic, Jovan; Jiang, Mingxiu; Sekhr, Chandra; Cheong, David K. W.; Tham, Kwok Wai (2011-06-22). "Qualitative Real-Time Schlieren and Shadowgraph Imaging of Human Exhaled Airflows: An Aid to Aerosol Infection Control". PLOS ONE. 6 (6): e21392. Bibcode:2011PLoSO...621392T. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0021392. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 3120871. PMID 21731730.
  39. ^ a b c "N95 Respirators and Surgical Masks (Face Masks)". U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 2020-03-11. Retrieved 2020-03-28.   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  40. ^ Padilla, Ramon; Zarracina, Javier (2020-04-03). "Coronavirus might spread much farther than 6 feet in the air. CDC says wear a mask in public". Retrieved 2020-04-04.
  41. ^ a b Brosseau, Lisa; Ann, Roland Berry (2009-10-14). "N95 Respirators and Surgical Masks". NIOSH Science Blog. Retrieved 2020-03-28.   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  42. ^ a b "How Surgical Masks are Made, Tested and Used". ThomasNet. Retrieved 2020-04-05.
  43. ^ Reusability of Facemasks During an Influenza Pandemic: Facing the Flu. The National Academies Press. 2006-03-17. doi:10.17226/11637. ISBN 978-0-309-10182-0. Retrieved 2020-04-05.
  44. ^ Skaria, S.; Smaldone, G. (2014). "Respiratory Source Control Using Surgical Masks With Nanofiber Media". Annals of Occupational Hygiene. 6 (58): 771–781.
  45. ^ Wong, Chung; Guo, Hu; Guan, Yao; Song, Newton; Newton, E. (2006). "In Vivo Protective Performance of N95 Respirator and Surgical Facemask". American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 12 (49): 1056–10065. doi:10.1002/ajim.20395. PMID 17096360.
  46. ^ a b 中华人民共和国医药行业标准:YY 0469–2011 医用外科口罩(Surgical mask) (in Chinese)
  47. ^ Reusability of Facemasks During an Influenza Pandemic: Facing the Flu. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. 2006-07-24. pp. 6, 36–38. doi:10.17226/11637. ISBN 978-0-309-10182-0.
  48. ^ Chughtai, Abrar Ahmad; Seale, Holly; MacIntyre, Chandini Raina (2013-06-19). "Use of cloth masks in the practice of infection control – evidence and policy gaps". International Journal of Infection Control. 9 (3). doi:10.3396/IJIC.v9i3.020.13. ISSN 1996-9783.
  49. ^ MacIntyre, C. R.; Chughtai, A. A. (2015-04-09). "Facemasks for the prevention of infection in healthcare and community settings" (PDF). BMJ. 350 (apr09 1): h694. doi:10.1136/bmj.h694. ISSN 1756-1833. PMID 25858901.
  50. ^ News, Taiwan. "Taiwan citizens allowed to mail masks to over..." Taiwan News. Retrieved 8 May 2020.
  51. ^ Robertson, Paddy (15 March 2020). "Comparison of Mask Standards, Ratings, and Filtration Effectiveness". Smart Air Filters.
  52. ^ 中华人民共和国医药行业标准:YY/T 0969–2013 一次性使用医用口罩(Single-use medical face mask) (in Chinese)
  53. ^ GB/T 32610–2016 Technical specification of daily protective mask

External linksEdit