In the U.S., the term “medical” doesn’t necessarily designate anything -- as it’s not regulated by the FDA or other governing body. In China, where most medical equipment is manufactured, the government puts strict regulations on “medical” and “non-medical” on many different things, including masks.
What the FDA does regulate in masks mostly comes down to “will this mask protect you from arterial spray?” Everything comes down to blood penetration protection, considering these masks are typically made with surgeons in mind. Is the mask going to prevent blood from entering a surgeon's mouth? Will the mask prevent any germs from the surgeon entering the patient’s body?
Keep in mind that if you see the terms “non-medical” or “does not provide liquid barrier protection” that these masks haven’t been tested or regulated by the FDA. Check out the video for more information on surgical masks as well as fun facts about the average speed of arterial spray.
Surgical masks vs medical masks: What's the difference?
Between surgical and medical, there’s no difference. In the United States, at least, “medical” doesn’t mean anything. There’s no regulated term for “medical mask.” There is, however such a thing as “non-medical masks.” These terms, surprisingly, come from China. The Chinese government does regulate these terms.
So here’s what the FDA cares about. “Does the mask protect you from arterial spray?” It’s really about blood penetration. That’s all they care about. That’s really all the FDA cares about. They want to know, “is that going to stop blood from going in a surgeons mouth?” And “is that going to stop anything coming out the surgeons mouth?”
When masks are being imported from China, on the customs declaration, that’s what the FDA is looking for.