Nov 152011


Respro masks air pollutionUpdate May 2014: I no longer consider either mask as first choice for me in China: please read this and this instead.

The air is starting to get a hazy shade of winter, and recently I wrote about air pollution masks and where to buy. But people always ask which ones to buy, if any. Last year I wrote about the Totobobo masks, which had a pretty good research study showing a real-world usage efficiency of over 99% for particles as small as PM0.3 (in the most ideal mask-fitting conditions). But what about Respro? I’m sure you’ve seen the occasional biker passing by while wearing a Darth-Vaderish mask — that’s Respro. Just how good is Respro’s actual efficiency? I finally tracked down their customer service team via emails and got the straight dope, which may interest many of you. The bottom line is that their filters are 99% effective down to PM0.3 in lab tests, and 88% effective in real-world on-the-face tests (Sportsta and Techno). So which one would you choose?

First I’d like to share my email exchange, almost verbatim, with Respro. It’s a bit technical but the science data is important:

Hi Dr Richard,

We have a European Standard that being EN149 FFP1. The tests carried out are done with particles 0.5 micron in aerodynamic diameter. We do not have Niosh testing (American), EN149 FFP1 is equivalent to N95 – FFP3 is equivalent to N99

Our products are primarily used in non-industrial sectors; motorcycle, cycle markets, some like the FB-1 mask are used by fire police and rescue services in the UK. We feel that it is important for our products to conform to industrial standards as a measure of effectiveness when marketing to the general public. Our products conform to technical specifications of European Standards for PPE (personal Protective Equipment) and our Sportsta and FB-1 masks which both carry P1 certification for lsolid and liquid aerosols ie dusts and mists, were CE Certified for use in industrial environments

EN149 is a homologated European standard applicable for the use of facemasks in the workplace for the filtration of dusts and water soluble aqueous mists. The test protocol used is primarily based on the masks ability to filter a given percentage of particulate material by means of seal and filter media.
The size of particle used in the tests are 0.5 microns in aerodynamic diameter. This particular part of the test is called the inward leakage test. Our Sportsta and Techno masks are rated at and average of 88% and conform to FFP1S levels. (my emphasis) This not to say that the cannot perform more or less efficiently.

Clearly fit is a major issue and the reason why we have two sizes and for the Respro Allergy mask we have four sizes…

Traffic pollution is a cocktail of different gases vapours and particulates. There is no valid test for vehicle pollution and its uptakes, however some studies have suggested that wearing a mask reduces the incidence of cardio vascular disorders.

We use industrial standards for comparison:

Our filters are lab tested for uptakes against various chemicals which are listed below.

Our particle filter material is tested to 0.3 microns in size. The results confirm that 99% of all particles passing through the media is trapped. The typically range of particles found in industry which is where the material is normally used is 0.5 microns in aerodynamic diameter. Typical ranges of particulate pollution are from 0.5 to 10+ microns.

Filter Types:

We offer several types of filter all of which are interchangeable within the range of masks providing they are the same size.

1. Sports filter – for sub-micron particle filtration (Respirable dusts

2. City filter – for micron particle filtration (inhaleable dusts PM10) and Organic vapour uptake. (City Mask/ Nightsite mask standard issue)

3. Techno filter – for sub-micron particle filtration (Respirable dusts

4. Allergy Particle – for sub-micron particle filtration (Respirable dusts

5. Allergy Particle/Chemical filter – for sub-micron particle filtration (Respirable dusts

Particulate Types:

Inhalable and Respirable.

Inhalable particulates: are the particles big enough to be trapped within the nasal hairs and the mucous membranes at the back of the throat.
Respirable particulates: are the particles that pass beyond the nasal hairs and the mucous membranes of the throat and pass into the lung sacs and subsequent blood barrier. These particulates can carry carcinogenic chemicals used in petrol (benzene, pyrene, etc) to the blood barrier…

I hope this is of assistance and please feel free to ask any further advice.

Kind regards
Mairead McClean – Team Respro® Customer services

Dear Mairead,

Thanks for the reply, which is very informative! I have a question: you say that “results confirm that 99% of all particles passing through the media is trapped.”, yet you also say that “Sportsta and Techno masks are rated at an average of 88% and conform to FFP1S levels”. Are you saying that technically the filters are 99% efficient down to PM0.5, but in real world testing, the effectiveness is 88%? The difference is mostly due to fitting issues?
Hi Dr Richard.
You are absolutely correct in your conclusion,. The difference is due to ‘inward leakage’ Face masks are not hermetically sealed to the face so they have something called ‘inward leakage’. That is, a certain amount of unfiltered air will pass around the sealing point on the face. Some air will pass through the seal and as the nose is a very sensitive organ it will pick up minute levels ( PPB Parts per billion). Ensuring the mask is correctly fitted will ensure the minimum of inward leakage. This is why we have 4 sizes.
Kind regards
Mairead McClean  – Team Respro® Customer services

Respro Vs Totobobo: Who’s The Winner?

So I think 88% real-world is pretty darn good. But if you reread my Totobobo piece, a randomized controlled cross-over study showed a “median (interquartile range) 135-fold reduction in airborne particle counts” with Totobobo masks in a real-world setting in 22 healthy subjects. So real-world testing clearly shows Totobobo is more effective than Respro. I also much prefer Totobobo due to better pricing and also because it’s much less extreme-looking than the Respro series. But you can all make your own decisions; and Respro actually is more effective than I had thought. In any case, it’s nice to finally get this data!

UPDATE: for more information, please read my N95 Masks Buyer’s Guide as well as my air pollution archives.

  34 Responses to “Respro Vs. Totobobo: Which Mask Works Better For Air Pollution?”

  1. Thank you for providing this information. Where are the Respro masks available?

    • I know that the World Health Stores in Beijing carry them; anywhere else, anyone?

      • Respro masks are also available on
        My husband and child uses totobobo, but we normally have to tape it down around the bridge of our daughter’s nose as there’s too much leakage. I myself use the respro, and attach the straps over the top of my head instead of over the neck. I find that once my mask is on, I can no longer smell the pollution, which is great, but it doesn’t eradicate cigarette smoke smell.

        Dr Richard, what I would like to know is whether there’s a PM reading on cigarette smoke, and whether my still being able to smell it with the mask on means that it’s not effective against the chemicals or just that the ‘smell’ particles are too small to get filtered? I hope I’m making sense? I look forward to your reply!

  2. I personally prefer Respro, it is more comfortable to ware (no plastic friction against the skin) and easier to breath out when doing sport

  3. Thanks a lot for the information!I’ve been living in Beijing for 3 years and after a long period of ‘no enough information’ about air pollution, in these last months I feel really uncomfortable when I go out and I continue to cough. Few weeks ago I bought a Blueair purifier for my apartment and I will have a Totobobo mask soon to just have a walk in Beijing.
    I’m still worried about my health since I feel tickle in my throat sometimes (also in my apartment, maybe for dust) and the antibiotic was not enough.
    Can I ask you an advice? Do I need a visit in hospital? Maybe in United Family Healthcare? In my hometown, Italy, I alreay suffered for bronchitis twice some years ago.
    THANKS in advance and warm regars,

    • Hi Frederica, I was wondering how you got on in Beijing. We are back in Shanghai after a 2 year break and this winter has been terrible. My eyes were watering in the office the other day. Did the bronchitis clear up after you used the purifiers and the mask? I cycle to work every day and use a Respro Techno. Makes a huge difference. Renny

  4. Dr. Richard Saint Cyr.

    Thanks for the informative post. I read on today’s news paper that a “light” smog is causing 200 flight cancellations. (The US Embassy reading is “Hazardous”) I hope the situation will improve soon. We have many customers from Beijing making purchase since yesterday and a customer complained that they “went to bed last night with headaches after a day of truly terrible pollution”.

    I’d like to highlight that Totobobo mask is customizable and it can fit different face size easily, including adult and children (age 5+).

  5. Dr.,

    Can you please tell me how effective are the new nasal filters? Such as this:

    Are the nasal filters that go in the nose an alternative to face mask?

    Thank you very much.

    • My first reaction: wow, that’s a really strange filter! But I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be useful for air pollution. First, apparently it filters PM10 (the size of allergens) but doesn’t mention the much more important PM2.5 or PM0.3 sizes. Also, you’d still be breathing in pollution through the mouth…but otherwise, it seems pretty interesting for allergy sufferers! Has anyone tried this?

      • I have tried the ‘filer your life’ nose filters plus another well known brand and found them to be a complete waste of money. Even if the the filter is sound (which i doubt), the fit was abonimable ! They were completely round and did not conform to the natural shape of my nose at all. As a result, they flare out your nostrils and are extremely uncomfortable to wear, not to mention letting in so much air that it defeats the purpose. I would almost call it a scam the technology is so poor. It’s a shame because the idea is a good one, would be much easier to wear than a mask and far less conspicous … hopefully someone designs a decent one soon as it would help a lot of people suffering from allergies or MCS including myself.

        • I agree that those nose filters aren’t wonderful, I’ve tried one as well. They always provide different sizes, and the fabric itself actually is quite effective. But as you mention, the fit is key.

  6. Dr. I think you would be interested in this post by Welfred, a student intern from US currently in Beijing:

    • It’s a good blog! Too bad about his “Beijing cough”…


      Richard Saint Cyr MD

    • It’s a good blog! Too bad about his “Beijing cough”…


      Richard Saint Cyr MD

      • From a medical point of view, is there such a thing called “Beijing cough”? I heard similar stories about Hong Kong cough – it last very long time and is difficult to cure.

      • From a medical point of view, is there such a thing called “Beijing cough”? I heard similar stories about Hong Kong cough – it last very long time and is difficult to cure.

        • No, there’s no medical disease called that, it’s just a layman way to imply polluted air is irritating and making you cough. That doesn’t mean it isn’t something more serious like asthma or a lung infection.


          Richard Saint Cyr MD

        • No, there’s no medical disease called that, it’s just a layman way to imply polluted air is irritating and making you cough. That doesn’t mean it isn’t something more serious like asthma or a lung infection.


          Richard Saint Cyr MD

  7. […] to go with a knitted cloth mask (don't), 3M N90 disposable mask (reliable, cheap, ugly) or the Respro masks that make you look like Bane from Dark Knight Rises (Expensive, less data on effectiveness). Now […]

  8. […] Tills dess, köp skyddsmasker som fungerar. […]

  9. Thank you for a very informative post. I have been look for ages
    for information about respro filters, so it was great to finally get some
    answers. They can also be purchased at Natooke a bike shop in Wudaoying Hutong Beijing-五道营胡同 close to the Lama temple

  10. […] polluted air in. According to a customer service representative for the company posted on the My Health Beijing website, “Our Sportsta and Techno masks are rated at and average of 88% and conform to FFP1S […]

  11. […] Respro VS Totobobo review: By Dr. Richard St. Cyr (Beijing) By Claire, a London cyclist […]

  12. I used to be a totobobo user. No doubt a generally good product, the totobobo’s weak point is in its elastic straps. Although comfortable in the beginning, it breaks easily after storage and defeats the purpose of a good reusable mask long term. Emails to totobobo suggest that I wash the straps with soap after every use and that I purchase new straps often. I have since replaced the straps with swim goggle straps, and it works better as it’s much more resilient to breakage, though it looks horrible. I’m surprised they have not addressed this weak link in their product after so many years. Hope it’s not due to hubris.

  13. I am moving to Chiang Mai, Thailand in two weeks. Does anyone know where one can buy Totobobo masks there?

  14. Hi Doc,

    Do you know the difference between RZ Respro and RZ Techno masks?


  15. have you heard of these cool looking rz mask. have tested them against the respos?
    will you test them?

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