LifestyleWellbeing & Fitness

PPE: all you need to know and how to buy it

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, personal protective equipment (PPE) – and often the lack of it – has been a hot topic. PPE, such as gloves, aprons and masks, help to protect you and people around you from being infected with Covid-19.

Read on to find out exactly what PPE means, the types of PPE, the guidelines around PPE, and the range of PPE you can buy on the Disability Horizons Shop.

LAST UPDATE: 14th July 2020

Buy personal protective equipment on the Disability Horizons Shop, including face masks, plastic gloves, aprons and face shields.

PPE meaning

PPE stands for personal protective equipment. It aims to protect people’s health and safety while at work, travelling or receiving personal care, as well as limiting the spread of viruses, including Covid-19.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, PPE is predominantly being used by doctors, nurses, paramedics, carers and other healthcare workers.

But with the outbreak continuing and the easing of lockdown restrictions, more people are being asked to wear PPE.

This includes working professionals, such as opticians, hairdressers and retail staff, and is particularly the case if they are in close contact with clients and customers.

It is also the case for members of the public in certain settings, such as on public transport or when shopping – read on below for information on new rules on wearing PPE.

Please note that although many of the forms of PPE can reduce the risk of infection for the wearer, or them passing it on to others, they won’t remove it entirely. They also don’t replace good hygiene and social distancing where possible.

Types of PPE

There are a number of types of PPE and how and when they should be used differs depending on the type of task being done and where the person is.

Face masks and coverings

There are a few different types of face masks and coverings – medical or surgical face masks, filter masks or respirators, and general face masks or coverings.

Medical or surgical face masks


Disposable surgical face mask

Medical or surgical face masks are designed for health workers to help protect them and their patients from viruses, including Covid-19.

They do this by creating a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and any virus particles, such as from droplets or splashes when completing medical or personal care tasks.

They also help to limit the spread of droplets expelled from the wearer when they cough, sneeze or even talk.

Medical masks, which are disposable and should only be used once, are made from at least three layers of material. These might include an absorbent layer on the inside, a middle layer that filters and a top layer that is water-proof.

The different levels of thicknesses (often labelled as type 1, 2 and 2R) offer varying levels of protection – the higher the better.

Some offer more filtration from bacteria and only type 2R masks are truly fluid-resistant. But keep in mind that this can also impact on how easy they are to breathe through.

Whatever the type, surgical masks are not intended to stop aerosols (very small droplets) from getting to the wearer’s mouth and nose or passing from them to someone else.

They also don’t fit as tightly around the nose and mouth as filter or respirator face masks do.

Watch this how-to video from the World Health Organisation to ensure a face mask is put on correctly.

Filter or respirator face masks

These types of masks offer additional protection by filtering out tiny particles in the air as well as stopping larger droplets getting to or from the wearer.

Because of this, they are recommended for certain higher-risk medical settings and procedures where Covid-19 might be present – more on this below in our PPE regulations and recommendations section.

There are fabric versions, like the one seen below, half masks and full masks (often called respirators). The latter two are designed solely for hospital workers when dealing with Covid-19 cases, so we’ll talk here about the fabric ones.

Filter masks, which are also called filtration masks, are either made of filtering materials or have a filtration system or valve built-in.

Valved models usually make it’s easier for the wearer to breathe out. However, they only protect the wearer as they filter what the wearer breaths in, not what they exhale.

Filter masks should fit tightly around the wearer’s nose and chin. If they don’t, it’s likely to be less effective. Ideally, a ‘fit-test’ would be done before wearing one to check it is snug on the wearer’s face.

However, many of the fabric versions have tight elastic straps, which are sometimes adjustable. These help the mask to fit tightly when looped around the ears. They can also be moulded around the chin and nose when it in place.

KN95 filter mask

Like medical masks, there are also different levels of performance, often labelled FFP2, FFP3, P3, N95, N99 or N100.

The names essentially relate to where they’re made and which standards they meet, and some are equivalent to others.

But across both, the higher numbers mean better filtration and minimal leakage. For example, FFP2 masks are very similar to N95 ones with a minimum of 94% and 95% filtration consecutively.

You can find out more in this comprehensive article on the differences between N95 vs FFP3 and FFP2 masks.

Fabric filter masks are officially disposable. However, there has been differing advice on whether they can be reused in certain cases or specific ways.

In April, articles from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons (SAGES) said that they can be used for ‘extended use’ or ‘mask rotation’.

Extended use is where the same mask is worn when in close contact with different people or patients with the same respiratory disease in the same place.

Mask rotation involves using one mask for a task or contact with someone, then leaving it at least 72 hours – and ideally exposing it to high heat or UV light – before using it again, allowing any virus particles to die off. Buying multiple masks means one can be used while others are ‘quarantined.’

The masks would still have a time-limit though, only being used five times in total. It’s also worth keeping in mind that this advice is aimed at hospitals, and recent calls by nurses have been made to stop this practice.

If you find wearing a face mask difficult, particularly with regards to breathing easily and your glasses steaming up, try a face mask bracket insert.

The 3D design of the sturdy yet lightweight bracket keeps the mask fabric away from the nose and mouth to make your mask more comfortable, and allow easier breathing. Head to the Disability Horizons Shop to buy one now.

Face shields and eye protection

Plastic face shields either cover the entire face, like in the image below, or the top part of the face. The latter are called visors.

Man wearing a face shield

Both types usually have a thick band of plastic that goes around the top of the wearer’s head to hold it in place, and have padded foam at the front to make it more comfortable.

Eye protection, also called goggles, protect the wearers’ eyes only.

As full-face shields cover the entire face, they offer the most protection against splashes and droplets, even more than face masks. They are, therefore, recommended for most hospital settings when there are possible or confirmed cases of Covid-19.

However, they don’t filter out the smaller particles as they don’t fit tightly around the face, but they can be paired with a face mask of any kind.

All three types should ideally be resistant to fogging up.

You can buy face shields on the Disability Horizons Shop.

General face masks or coverings

Generals face masks or coverings, which are usually reusable, are made of fabric and have elasticated sides that fit around the wearer’s ears.

Because of what they are made of, they are also called fabric or cloth coverings. They are often available in a range of colours and patterns, like the ones below, so are possibly the most ‘fashionable’ type of PPE.

These masks aim to minimise the transmission of viruses by limiting the spread of droplets created by the wearer. But, unlike surgical or filter masks, they don’t protect the wearer.

In addition, like surgical masks, some work better than others. For example, ones with three layers of absorbent, filtering and water-resistant fabric, will be more effective than those made of just one piece of fabric.

General masks are intended for non-medical activities, such as shopping or travelling on public transport. In some circumstances, wearing one is a requirement – visit our dedicated article on face mask rules to find when and where it’s mandatory to wear one in different parts of the UK.

The Government has advised that the general public doesn’t wear surgical or filter masks so that supplies can be kept for healthcare settings and workers.

However, it has recommended that carers/personal assistants (PAs) wear PPE, including surgical face masks, in certain situations. Our section on PPE regulations and recommendations explains more.

The Government also has advice on how to make a face covering using old clothing. A scarf, bandana or even a hoover bag can also be used. The important thing is that it fits as snuggly as possible around your nose and mouth.

This video from the World Health Organisation shows how a cloth face mask or covering should be put on.


Gloves are usually single-use and are sometimes labelled as ‘surgical’ or ‘examination’ for medical purposes, or ‘laboratory’.

Surgical gloves are made of strong materials, such as polyisoprene, polychloroprene, nitrile, latex or neoprene. They must be sterile and should reach up the arm well above the wrist.

Examination gloves are usually made of nitrile, vinyl or latex and also go above the wrist, but don’t need to be sterile.

These gloves are considered medical devices to be used by doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals.

Surgical gloves are used when carrying out medical examinations and during surgical procedures, while examination gloves are generally used when coming into contact with bodily fluids or a contaminated environment.

Both come in varying sizes and lengths up the arm, as well as thicknesses. Some are also powder-coated on the inside to help get them on and off, although newer versions have been made easy to remove without the use of powder.

You can also get plastic gloves not called ‘surgical’, ‘examination’ or even ‘medical’ that aren’t intended to be sterile or reach further above the wrist. These are more suited to tasks that don’t involve contact with a person.

Buy packs of 100 or 250 gloves on the Disability Horizons Shop.


PPE white plastic apron

Like gloves, plastic aprons are also typically single and used for medical procedures and personal care.

They are a universal size as they can be tightened to fit around the wearer. There are different thicknesses of aprons available.

The NHS standard apron is 16 Micron thick, but there are thicker options with 25 Micron thickness.

Buy 25 Micron thick aprons on the Disability Horizons Shop.

Head down to our section on PPE regulations and recommendations to find out exactly what circumstances you should use each item of PPE for.

Make sure you also take a look at the Government guidance on how to safely dispose of PPE and face masks.

Full PPE

Full PPE is simply where you wear all elements of personal protective equipment. This includes gloves, an apron, a mask and eye protection.

Full PPE is usually required when working with possible or confirmed cases of coronavirus or with extremely vulnerable people – see more on this below.

Hand sanitisers

Hand sanitisers are useful for when you’re out in public and don’t have access to soap and water.

It is important to use one before and after:

  • touching door handles
  • pressing lift buttons
  • typing on a card machine or ATM
  • picking up products in shops
  • collecting parcels
  • any other task that involves using your hands.

Hand sanitisers should have at least 60% alcohol content to deactivate the virus. You should use it like you would a soap, spreading it all over your hands for at least 20 seconds.

You can buy 70% alcohol hand sanitiser from the Disability Horizons Shop.

PPE regulations for health workers and care staff

Woman wearing a cloth face mask

PPE equipment is predominantly intended for healthcare workers, both in hospital and certain community settings, and in many cases is essential.

Widely reported shortages mean the Government has advised that members of the public don’t wear PPE aside from fabric face masks or coverings, which are mandatory in some situations – see our guide to face mask rules for more.

But, if you use a PA or carer, whether you’re in the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ category and/or are shielding or are simply at a higher risk if you get Covid-19, PPE can help to minimise the risk of infection.

According to UK Government guidelines, surgical masks (Type 1 and 2, not the Type 2R fluid-repellent ones) are recommended when carrying out personal care for someone in the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable group’ in hospital or in their home.

If in a home setting, this is also the case if a member of the household is within the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ group undergoing shielding.

From the 15th June, all hospital staff in England were told to wear surgical masks in all areas of a hospital as well, aside from occasions when more stringent PPE is required.

Type 2R surgical masks are intended for health care staff to wear to protect patients and themselves during medical or surgical procedures in hospitals.

It also recommends that they are worn by healthcare professionals in certain settings when giving direct care where there is a possible or confirmed case of Covid-19. This includes:

  • when in a communal area where social distancing isn’t possible
  • when someone in the home where care is being given is a possible or confirmed case
  • in a care homes/facility
  • during home births.

Face shields and eye protection are recommended for almost all hospital settings where there are possible or confirmed Covid-19 cases.

They are also recommended when giving direct care to possible or confirmed Covid-19 cases outside of a hospital. This includes:

  • when in a communal area where social distancing isn’t possible
  • when someone in the home where care is being given is a possible or confirmed case
  • in a care homes/facility
  • during home births.

Filter masks are recommended to be worn alongside a face shield or eye protection when:

  • performing aerosol-generating tasks, such as some dental procedures, on possible or confirmed Covid-19 cases, in whatever setting
  • in ‘higher risk acute’ hospital settings, such as operating theatres, when there is possible or confirmed Covid-19 cases.

Disposable aprons and gloves are recommended for almost all of the above setting and scenarios, except for when there is no direct care and people are able to maintain social distancing or two metres.

Of course, these are all overarching recommendations, so it’s up to you what level of protection you feel is right for your specific situation.

Lastly, it’s worth keeping in mind that different councils may have different rules.

You can find out more on the Government website by using its PPE recommendation tables for outpatient and community care, hospital staff and ambulance and pharmacy workers.

Make sure you also take a look at the Government guidance on how to safely dispose of PPE and face masks.

Visit our dedicated article on face mask rules to find out more about when it is mandatory to wear a face mask in different parts of the UK.

We’ve also created face mask exemption lanyards and badges for people to wear who fit into one of these categories. Head to the Disability Horizons Shop to buy one now.

PPE on the Disability Horizons Shop

For those of you in care home settings or have personal assistance care for you, the Disability Horizons shop has a range of Personal Protective Equipment. This includes:

We also have a range of Covid-19 social distancing signs you can display to let others know they need to keep their distance.

To browse and purchase PPE and any of our other stylish disability-related products, visit the Disability Horizons Shop.

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