Personal Protective Equipment

Personal Protective Equipment
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The COVID-19 pandemic may have brought the phrase “personal protective equipment (PPE)” into widespread use. Whether you’re trying to protect yourself or someone else, understanding the different types of PPE is essential.

Face Masks

There are two distinct types of masks, and which one is most appropriate for you depends on your purpose for wearing it. Medical masks, or surgical masks (the type of disposable mask most people are now familiar with), primarily protect you from droplets or splashes of liquid and filter out large particles. However, they do not fit tightly or form a seal and offer little to no protection against airborne pathogens.

Respirator masks (such as the “N95” masks discussed so often) are more effective overall; they fit the contours of the wearer’s face and filter out both large and small particles while also protecting them from droplets. In addition, respirator masks filter out at least 95% of airborne pathogens. Respirator masks include the N95, KN95, and FFP2.

Face Shields

Some infections spread through contact with the mucous membranes in the eyes. Disposable face shields, consisting of a clear plastic full-face visor attached to a headband, protect your eyes from droplets and splashes that contaminate them with infectious microorganisms. Some types of face masks may also have a built-in clear plastic face shield that extends upward from the top of the mask and protects the eyes.


Disposable gloves protect both the wearer and anyone they may touch. They protect the person wearing them from any microorganisms their hands may come in contact with and others from any pathogens that may be present on the wearer’s hands. Gloves come in various sizes, and it’s important to choose gloves that fit snugly but not tightly.

Gloves are often made of latex, though nitrile is also common. If you have a latex allergy, ensure that the gloves you choose are nitrile or clearly state that they are latex-free. Powder dusting the inside of the gloves makes them easier to put on and take off, and keeps hands dry, which may be helpful if you will be wearing gloves for long periods or in hot conditions. If you want to avoid powder, look for a brand labeled powder-free.


Like gloves, gowns can protect both the wearer and those around them. Gowns offer four different levels of protection, suitable for different situations.

  • Level 1 is for basic care, isolation, or as cover for visitors to the particularly vulnerable.
  • Level 2 is appropriate for low-risk situations, such as when drawing blood.
  • Level 3 is for moderate-risk scenarios such as inserting IVs or arterial blood draws.
  • Level 4 is the highest level of protection, appropriate in cases of the infectious but non-airborne disease.
Protective gowns are on-size-fits-most