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Surgical Masks vs. P2 Masks

Surgical Masks vs. P2 Masks

, by Aussie Pharma Direct, 9 min reading time

Today, masks are donned not just as a protective measure against health threats, but also for a variety of other reasons, ranging from pollution control to occupational safety. With this expanded use, there's been an influx of options available on the market, from cloth and surgical face masks to P2, N95, and beyond, offering a spectrum of protection levels and functionalities.

Among this wide array of choices, two types frequently come into focus: the surgical face masks commonly seen in medical settings and worn by healthcare professionals, and P2 masks, which have found their way into our everyday errands, workplaces, and commercial spaces. But what's the difference? In this blog, we'll break down the key distinctions between these two types of masks.

What are surgical masks?

Surgical masks are a type of face covering commonly used in medical settings, designed primarily to act as a barrier between the wearer's mouth and nose and the surrounding environment. Their primary purpose is source control, meaning they are designed to capture droplets and splashes from the wearer's coughs, sneezes, or even talking, preventing them from reaching others. This helps to reduce the spread of germs and viruses in situations where the wearer might be sick or unknowingly carrying an infectious disease.Surgical masks are also used to protect the wearer from splashes and sprays of bodily fluids, serving as a barrier against potential infectious materials. 

What are P2 masks?

P2 masks, also known as N95 masks in the US and KN95 masks in China, are specialised respirators designed to filter out airborne particles, including viruses, bacteria, and other microscopic contaminants. Unlike surgical masks, which primarily protect others from the wearer's respiratory emissions, P2 masks are engineered to provide protection for both the wearer and those in close proximity by filtering the air before it is inhaled.

Are P2 masks the same as N95 masks?

P2 masks are the Australian equivalent standard of the N95 mask. Both offer similar levels of protection, but they're certified against different regulations. P2 masks comply with the Australian and New Zealand standard AS/NZS 1716, while N95 masks meet the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) standards.

Read more: What’s the Difference between P2 Mask and N95 Mask?

Key differences between surgical masks and P2 masks

1. Design & material

Surgical masks

The typical surgical mask features a 3-ply design, each layer serving a specific function. The outer layer is made from a non-absorbent material like polypropylene, which repels water and bodily fluids. This layer protects the wearer from being directly exposed to liquid splashes or sprays. The middle layer acts as the filter, capturing bacteria and viral particles; this is usually made from a melt-blown material that is highly effective at filtering out microbes. The inner layer is made from an absorbent material like cotton, which is intended to absorb moisture such as saliva and respiratory secretions from the wearer, enhancing comfort and wearability.

P2 masks

P2 masks feature a more complex design compared to surgical masks, with a focus on creating a tight seal against the wearer's face to prevent air leakage. They typically consist of multiple layers of specialised materials, including an outer layer that repels liquid and particles, a filtration layer composed of electrostatically charged fibers to capture airborne particles, and an inner layer for comfort.

For example, brands like the AMD P2 masks leverage nano-fibre technology in their filtration layer. This nano-fibre material consists of extremely fine fibers that are much thinner than traditional materials. The use of nano-fibre enhances the mask's ability to trap tiny particles, thanks to the increased surface area and the electrostatic interactions facilitated by the fibres. This makes the mask particularly effective at capturing particles smaller than 0.3 microns, including viruses and fine dust particles, which are challenging to filter out with other materials.

The hallmark of P2 masks is their tight-fitting design, achieved through features like adjustable nose clips and elastic ear loops or straps. This close fit ensures minimal air leakage around the edges of the mask, maximising filtration efficiency and protecting the wearer from inhaling harmful airborne particles.

2. Efficacy

Surgical masks

Surgical masks are effective in blocking large particles and droplets, significantly reducing the risk of transmitting infectious agents through respiratory emissions. They are designed to filter out particles larger than 3 microns with a high degree of efficiency, making them suitable for most medical environments where this level of protection is sufficient.

However, it's important to note the limitations of surgical masks against smaller particles. While they can capture many microbes and droplets, they are not designed to seal tightly against the face. This lack of a tight fit allows for potential air leakage around the edges of the mask, reducing its efficacy against airborne particles smaller than 3 microns, such as those found in aerosols.

P2 masks

Standard P2 masks are renowned for their high filtration efficiency, capable of filtering out at least 94% of airborne particles with a diameter of 0.3 microns or larger. This includes a wide range of respiratory hazards, such as dust, pollen, bacteria, and viruses. The electrostatically charged filtration layer enhances particle capture by attracting and trapping airborne contaminants, preventing them from reaching the wearer's respiratory system.

P2 masks are most effective when used in environments with high levels of airborne pollutants or infectious agents, such as healthcare settings, construction sites, or areas with poor air quality. They provide reliable protection against both droplet and airborne transmissions, making them indispensable for frontline workers and individuals at risk of exposure to respiratory hazards.

While the standard P2 mask already offers excellent protection with its 94% filtration efficiency, there is another type of P2 mask that offers even greater protection. High-performing P2 masks with nano-fibers, such as the AMD P2 masks, have a Particle Filtration Efficiency (PFE) of 99.66%, which is significantly higher than the minimum 94% required for standard P2 masks. This increased efficiency ensures the same level of protection as N95 masks, making them an excellent choice for those seeking superior respiratory protection.

3. Reusability

Surgical masks

Surgical masks are primarily designed for single-use applications in medical settings. While some may attempt to extend their lifespan by reusing them, it's important to note that surgical masks are not intended for repeated use. The absorbent inner layer of surgical masks can quickly become saturated with moisture from the wearer's breath, rendering them less effective over time. Additionally, the outer layer may become contaminated with pathogens or bodily fluids, posing a risk of cross-contamination if reused. Therefore, healthcare guidelines typically recommend discarding surgical masks after each use to maintain optimal hygiene and protection levels.

P2 masks

P2 masks are generally recommended for single use due to their intended function as respiratory protection against airborne particles. These masks are usually TGA-approved and considered medical devices, which means they should never be reused under any circumstances.

4. Comfort and ease of use

Surgical masks

Surgical masks are generally lightweight and easy to wear, making them comfortable for extended periods, particularly in medical settings where healthcare workers may need to wear them throughout their shifts. They typically feature soft, elastic ear loops or ties that allow for a secure yet comfortable fit around the ears or head. The pleated design of surgical masks provides ample coverage of the nose, mouth, and chin, ensuring sufficient protection while allowing for ease of breathing and speech.

P2 masks

P2 masks, on the other hand, can vary in comfort and ease of use depending on factors such as fit, design, and materials. While some P2 masks may offer a similar level of comfort to surgical masks, others, particularly those with a rigid shell or adjustable straps, may require more effort to achieve a proper fit. However, advancements in P2 mask design, such as adjustable nose clips and padded nose foam, aim to enhance comfort and improve the overall user experience.

Especially for P2 masks that are made with nano-fibre technology, the material is generally lightweight and breathable, enhancing comfort during prolonged wear. The use of nano-fibre technology allows for a finer filtration layer while maintaining breathability, reducing the feeling of suffocation often associated with tightly fitting masks.

How to choose the right mask

When selecting a mask, it's crucial to consider the environment in which you'll be wearing it. Different situations may require varying levels of protection. For example:

  • In crowded settings such as public transportation, shopping centers, or events, where physical distancing may be challenging, opting for a mask with a higher filtration efficiency like a P2 mask may provide added peace of mind.
  • In areas with poor air quality due to pollution or wildfires, wearing a mask with effective filtration capabilities, such as a P2 mask, can help reduce exposure to harmful airborne particles.
  • Individuals with underlying health conditions or compromised immune systems may need enhanced protection in all environments to minimise the risk of infection. In such cases, choosing a mask with a high filtration efficiency and a secure fit, like a P2 mask, is advisable.


In conclusion, choosing the right mask involves considering factors such as the specific environment in which you'll be wearing it, as well as comfort and practicality. Whether you opt for a surgical mask or a P2 mask depends on your individual needs, the level of protection required, and personal preferences. Remember, surgical masks must comply with Australian Standards (AS: 4381:2015), and P2 masks must comply with Australian/New Zealand Standards (AS/NZS 1716:2012) and/or equivalent international standards.

By weighing these considerations carefully, you can select a mask that provides both effective protection and comfort, ensuring your safety in various situations.

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