Woman in car wearing face mask
Photo: Johner

Face masks - choosing the right type

If you are going to wear a face mask, it is important to choose the right type. Below you will find an overview of the most common types of face protection on the market and what they protect against.

Medical equipment

Health professionals wear equipment that ensures they do not infect patients and do not become infected by patients. Face masks and protective equipment in this category are defined as medical equipment. These products must be CE marked and manufactured to applicable standards. They must also provide information about the degree of protection they provide, i.e. Type I, Type II or Type IIR:

Type I: Should only be worn by patients or other people to reduce the risk of spreading infections. Type I face masks are not designed for use by health professionals in an operating room or in other medical surroundings subject to similar requirements.

Type II: Surgical mask.

Type IIR: Same requirements as for Type II, but the face mask is also splash resistant.

Information about the safe and proper use of surgical masks must be in Norwegian (labelling and user instructions). Surgical face masks are intended for one-time use.

The Norwegian Medicines Agency is the supervisory authority for surgical masks.

Personal protective equipment

Protective equipment categorised as personal protective equipment is designed to protect against risks that can threaten the health or safety of the user. Respiratory protection such as dust masks or masks that provide protection against fumes from chemicals are examples of protective masks categorised as personal protective equipment.

The requirements for personal protective equipment are specified in special regulations and harmonised standards for the individual product types. For example, a dust mask must provide a certain level of protection against solid particles while a mask intended to protect against chemical fumes must prevent gas getting through.

All protective masks categorised as personal protective equipment must be CE marked. The standard the mask is manufactured to meet must be stated and it must come with written user information in Norwegian.

DSB is the supervisory authority for personal protective equipment while the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority is the supervisory authority for professional use.

Non-medical face masks/cloth face coverings

There are other types of product on the market that are neither medical equipment nor personal protective equipment. Examples of these include masks made of paper or face coverings made of cloth. These products are intended for private use only.

Non-medical face masks/cloth face coverings can be factory produced or homemade and may be made for one-time use or be reusable (washable). The degree of protection provided by such masks is unknown, although they can reduce the dispersion of droplets (from the person wearing the face covering).

In order to be sold on the Norwegian market, products like this must satisfy the requirements of the Product Control Act. This means that manufacturers and importers must evaluate the safety of the product. They also have to provide you, the consumer, with clear and readily accessible information that enables you to assess the safety of the product. For non-medical face masks/cloth face coverings this means, in practice, that they must be accompanied by a clear warning that the product will not protect you against any risk and that the product is meant for private use only.

They can state that such products reduce the dispersion of droplets, although the information that accompanies the product cannot refer to personal protective equipment or medical equipment. The products must not bear any markings that could be construed as indicating any form of protection class. Such masks must not be CE marked either.

The European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) has produced guidelines for the production of non-medical cloth face coverings. This is not a standard; they are production guidelines – i.e. an aid for manufacturers describing how they can satisfy the requirements of the Product Control Act.

If a face covering has been manufactured in accordance with the CEN guidelines, the manufacturer can mark the product with CWA 17553:2020. 

Protection against coronavirus

Good hand hygiene, cough etiquette and maintaining distance are the most important infection control measures for preventing infection with Covid-19.

The most important measure is making sure people can maintain a distance of at least 1 metre. Where this is not possible, wearing a face mask can reduce the risk of infection but it is no substitute for maintaining social distancing. Wearing a face mask is not recommended for children under secondary school age. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health says that children aged 2 or younger should not wear a face mask.

For more information, visit The Norwegian Institute of Public Health website.