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Upgrading your face covering? Here’s what you need to know.

Man properly wearing an N95 high performance face covering

Looking to upgrade your face covering? Smart move.

With the highly transmissible Omicron variant spreading rapidly in Canada and around the world, health experts, including the Public Health Agency of Canada and Public Health Ontario are recommending people upgrade their face covering to protect themselves and others from spreading the virus.1,2

This is good advice given the level of infectiousness we’re seeing with the latest wave of the pandemic.

As a Senior Health and Safety Application Professional at 3M Canada, I have been encouraging the use of high performance face coverings to all my family and friends. This is a simple thing we can do to help slow the spread of the virus.

Loose fitting cloth masks allow the air you breathe in and out to enter and escape around the sides of your face, and above your nose. While this will blunt the volume of aerosols from coming in and out, it may not filter the particles like a well-fitted high-performance face covering.

What is a high-performance face covering?

Many people have been seeking out N95 respirators, which, are designed to help reduce exposure to airborne particulate hazards, including virus and bacteria particles. When fitted and worn properly, N95s help filter particles in the air you breathe.

N95s are NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety) approved, an important safety standard.

We recommend any use of a 3M N95 respirator be accompanied by proper fit testing. N95s are typically used in occupational settings and require fit testing to ensure the make, model and size fits each individual.

The good news is, in the absence of fit testing, wearing an N95 respirator as a high-performance face covering is an excellent upgrade to cloth face coverings most people have been using to protect against COVID-19.

The key is wearing it properly to help ensure the air you’re breathing is being filtered. Here are a few tips to help you optimize your high-performance face covering:

1. Seal the deal

The first and most important step in properly using a high-performance face covering is to get as tight of a seal as you can.

First, mold the nose piece around the contours of your nose to create a formable seal around your nose. A good test for air leakage around the nose is to put on a pair of glasses or sunglasses. If they fog up, the best possible seal has not been made. Reducing foggy glasses is an added side benefit to upping your face covering game.

2. Shear the beard

Next, ensure you have a tight fit below your chin and around the sides of your jaw. For those with luscious beards, I’m sorry, you will not be able to achieve a proper seal over facial hair. It’s simply not possible. So, if you are serious about achieving a proper seal, a clean shave is the way to go.

3. Wear both straps properly

High performance face coverings include two straps. Make sure to use both straps, one positioned on the crown of the head; the lower strap should be positioned below the ears. Ensure the straps aren’t twisted.

4. Comfort is king

Another important factor in achieving the best protection possible is to ensure the face covering is comfortable. If it’s not comfortable, you will have the urge to adjust and fidget with it. Touching your face covering while wearing it could affect the seal.

5. Feel the filtration

Before you venture into a public space, be sure to put your face covering on ahead of time, get your seal tight and resist the urge to touch your face.

When you have achieved a proper fit with a high-performance face covering you will notice the difference. It will feel different to breathe than when wearing a medical or cloth mask. This means your air is being pulled through the filter instead of entering and escaping through all the gaps when the face covering does not have a proper seal around your face.

Where to find high performance face coverings?

In Canada, the public can find N95s at home improvement stores, industrial and safety supply stores, some drug stores and at authorized online retailers.

With the recent onset of the Omicron variant, there is increased demand for N95 respirators.

3M offers a wide range of N95 respirators that meet all NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety) requirements.

In responding to the critical health care needs from the pandemic, last year, 3M Canada began producing N95 respirators in Brockville, Ontario, in addition to supporting N95 demand through our global supply network.

3M Canada is proud to be able to produce N95s for our healthcare heroes and frontline workers.

If you have further questions about our 3M N95 respirators, you can contact our technical line at 1-800-267-4414.

N95s for on the job protection

If you have received an N95 respirator from your employer, talk to your employer to obtain more information about a fit testing program or approach.

We also have more information on our Worker Health and Safety Town Square site.



  1. Public Health Agency of Canada – COVID-19 mask use: Advice for community settings
  2. Public Health Ontario – SARS-CoV-2 Omicron Variant and Community Masking

About the Author

[enBio=Stacy is an Industrial Hygiene Technologist (IHT) who has been with 3M Canada for 19 years. Currently, Stacy is an application development professional for the Personal Safety Division, providing technical support on 3M reusable and filtering facepiece respiratory protection, fit testing/training for respiratory protection business and technical support for the disposable coverall product line. Stacy currently holds the Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP) designation.],[enJob=Senior Health and Safety Application Professional],[frBio=Stacy est une technologue en hygiène industrielle au service de 3M Canada depuis 19 ans. Actuellement, Stacy est une professionnelle du développement d’applications pour la Division de la sécurité personnelle, offrant une assistance technique pour les appareils de protection respiratoire réutilisables et filtrants de 3M, les essais d’ajustement/la formation pour la protection respiratoire et une assistance technique pour la gamme de combinaisons jetables. Stacy détient actuellement le titre de Professionnelle en sécurité agréée au Canada (PSAC).],[frJob=Professionnelle principale des applications de la santé et de la sécurité]

Profile Photo of Stacy Richardson
First batch of Canadian-made respirators.