Pepper Spray as a Self-Defense Option

Pepper-Spray-PreparedFor those who are prohibited from having a gun, or who can’t countenance using a gun to defend themselves against violence, pepper spray is an alternative that is worth considering.  Unfortunately, most major disasters are followed by a dramatic increase in the number and severity of crimes of violence, so self-defense is an important aspect of all disaster preparation.

If a gun is not an option for you, consider obtaining a pepper spray device to use as a tool for self-defense.  Though pepper spray is not legal for civilian use everywhere, it is legal in many places.  In most regions, you don’t need a license or special training, either.

It’s a simple and inexpensive solution.  A $15 can of pepper spray can literally save your life, or keep you from being seriously injured or violently abused.

PeppersprayWhat is commonly referred to as “pepper spray” is a small hand-held aerosol device which dispenses a liquid or gel formulation of the chemical Oleoresin Capsicum (OC).  OC is derived from hot chili pepper vegetables, thus the nickname, pepper spray.

When used against a normal, reasonably healthy assailant, Oleoresin Capsicum, aka pepper spray, is non-lethal and non-injurious.  It is a chemical agent designed for use in self-defense situations where physical violence is eminent.

When sprayed into the eyes of an attacker, pepper spray can have a debilitating effect for 15-45-minutes.  Yet, it does not cause permanent injury or physical damage to a healthy adult, nor does it require medical attention for them to fully recover.  The effect simply wears off, or the chemical can be washed off to obtain relief.

When used on a human attacker, pepper spray is designed to produce a burning sensation to the skin, coughing, and copious tearing and swelling of the skin around the eyes.  This can limit the aggressor’s ability to see his or her intended victim, making it possible for the victim to escape.  Also, since these effects often take the fight out of a violent attacker, the aggressor is motivated to disengage from the attack and often flees the area.

On the downside, pepper spray works somewhat like an allergic reaction, so effects vary.  Unfortunately, results are inconsistent, but since it is somewhat debilitating 85% of the time, it’s still worth having.  It’s certainly a lot better than being defenseless.

Just as some people can better tolerate spicy foods, the reaction to pepper spray can be very different from one person to the next.  If you opt for pepper spray, keep in mind that results can vary greatly, causing some people to be completely debilitated, whereas others will not be affected at all.

Assailants who are hopped-up on drugs, intoxicated with alcohol, or mentally ill, tend to have little or no reaction to pepper spray.  Nevertheless, pepper spray is still worth having, particularly if a firearm isn’t an option.

Mace-Gel-Pepper-SprayThree things to look for when selecting a pepper-spray product:  

1. Select a model that shoots a stream of the OC chemical at least 10-12 feet in distance.

2. The contents of the device should include 10% Oleoresin Capsicum (aka / “OC”, or “OC spray”), as this is the optimal strength for use against humans.  This is the formula-strength that police officers usually carry, and it is the same  strength usually used for riot control.

A more accurate measurement of effectiveness is Scoville Heat Units (SKU), but this measurement is typically only found on the label of pepper spray dispensers marketed to law enforcement agencies.  If this is the measurement you encounter, then 150,000 SKU should be considered the minimum level of potency.

The most accurate measurement of pepper spray effectiveness is obtained by using the High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) method, but this is rarely encountered.  If you do find this measurement, select a product that has an HPLC Capsaicinoid rating of 0.7% or higher.

3. The dispensing container needs to hold enough of the liquid to make it possible to deliver a minimum of seven 1-second bursts of OC spray per assailant.

A formula of 10% Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) is optimal for people, and it can be useful against aggressive dogs, too, whereas 50% formulation of OC is used against large mammals such as bear.  Any formulation which contains less than 10% Oleoresin Capsicum is not adequate for self-defense use.

Pepper spray is worth owning, but it is important to understand that it is not reliably effective against all human attackers, nor will it stop all vicious dogs.  It is a useful product, but it is not perfect; it doesn’t always work as advertised.  Nevertheless, it is the best non-lethal choice for most civilians.

Mace-pepper-sprayThere is some confusion between “pepper spray” and the terms, “Mace” and “teargas.”  Mace is a brand name for a company that sells self-defense products, and teargas is a different chemical (usually labeled as CN teargas or CS teargas).  To add to the confusion, some pepper-spray dispensers also contain CN or CS teargas. (Of the two types of teargas, CS is more powerful.)  The reason that teargas is sometimes included in a pepper spray formulations is that some people don’t react to pepper spray, but they still might react to teargas.  However, most experts agree that teargas is not necessary since OC is more universally effective.

Available in various types of dispensers, ranging from devices which fit onto a key ring, to those which are incorporated into a cell phone case (usually inadequate), to various shapes and sizes of small canisters, there is a multitude of sizes and formulations of pepper spray.  Most devices utilize a water-like liquid or oil as a carrier for the Oleoresin Capsicum, but gel is becoming increasingly popular as it sticks to the face and skin.

Pepper-spray-shot-into-eyesHow to Use  Pepper Spray

Pepper spray is designed to be shot directly into the eyes of your assailant at a distance of at least 3-feet, but not further than what is indicated as the maximum range on the dispenser’s label.  If you are inside this effective range zone, be sure to aim for the eyes.

Don’t stop delivering bursts of the spray until the assailant’s eyes are completely doused, or the attacker has run away.  If an assailant has swollen-shut eyes they will not be able to chase you, and they will not be able to continue with their acts of violent aggression.  This is the objective of pepper spray.

Once a person is hit in the face with pepper spray, it usually takes 2-5 seconds for them to react.  Nevertheless, don’t wait to see if it’s working.  Keep delivering bursts of the spray into their eyes until the threat has totally stopped.  Or, just keep spraying a solid stream of pepper spray into your assailant’s eyes until they stop their aggression and are fully debilitated.

An assailant who is wearing eyeglasses or sun glasses will take longer to react.  Eyeglasses, and the brims of caps, will often reduce the quantity of OC chemical that is reaching the assailant’s eyes.  So, keep spraying until the aggression has completely stopped.

Some pepper-spray formulas include a dye which marks your assailant, making it easier for the police to identify them.  This is a nice touch, but it’s not an essential feature.  More important is to select a device model that is easy to carry, and easy to use.  Unlike a lot of spray bottles which need to be looked at, to determine which direction it sprays, a quality pepper-spray dispenser will be tactile, so you are instantly able to grab the device and point it in the proper direction, just by feel.

Kimber-PepperBlaster-IISide Effects of Use

If you ever use pepper spray or teargas, expect to get some on yourself, especially if the wind is blowing toward you.

When you get hit by even a little mist of OC spray or teargas, it can make you cough uncontrollably.  And, it can make you to feel like you’re having a heart attack, so keep in mind that it’s actually harmless for those who are reasonably healthy.  Remind yourself that you’ll be okay, and you can still run or fight if the circumstance demands it.

OC spray, as well as tear gas, will actually not incapacitate you unless you get enough in your eyes to make them swell shut.  Even then, you can usually see enough to get out of the area.  So even if you are affected, don’t delay, get out of the danger zone as soon as possible.  This is additionally important as you may be further exposed to more OC, as the gas vapors if you linger in the area.

After using pepper spray, don’t touch your face with your hands, and don’t rub your eyes with a finger, as this can introduce OC residue into your eyes or skin.  Any sweaty area of skin, like your neck and underarms, will be particularly susceptible to a burning sensation.

When convenient, remove and wash your clothing as they will likely have become contaminated.  When possible, wash your hands with soap and water shortly after using pepper spray, and again after removing your clothing.

* Be sure to read the cautions and usage directions on the label of the device you purchase.  Absent other instructions, the below remedy is considered to be universal.

pepper-spray-splash-waterTreatment for Exposure to Pepper Spray or Teargas

If you become exposed to OC or teargas, the best treatment is simply to force yourself to breath normally, and flush your skin with cool, fresh water from a drinking fountain or garden hose.  You can use regular soap to remove the pepper spray from skin, but do not use regular soap on your face, at least not initially.   Just use plenty of fresh water, and blink repeatedly as this will produce a squeegee-like effect that will gently push the OC or teargas out of your eyes.

If you have access to baby shampoo, combine it with the water to speed the recovery process for your eyes and face.  You can use this mixture to splash on your face, or put the baby shampoo and water mixture into a clean spray bottle that is capable of gently misting your face.  Use the gentle spray from the bottle to mist your face, making the natural tears and blinking process more effective.

Do not use other types of soaps  around your eyes it can introduce additional burning and irritation to the eyes, whereas baby shampoo does not irritate eyes and its detergent action can help remove the oily OC compound.

Either way, the irritation will pass in 15-45 minutes, so the discomfort is only temporary.  Breathe normally, and force yourself to relax as this will help the discomfort pass more quickly.


Keeping additional devices in the door-pocket of your car, and your pocket or purse, may also be a good idea, but for most people it’s best to use the exact same device so that you don’t become confused in an emergency situation.

Since pepper spray is a weapon, it is important keep these devices out of the hands of children and unauthorized individuals.  If kids do get into it, they’ll probably only make that mistake once as it’s pretty unpleasant, but it is nevertheless your responsibility to keep these weapons out of the hands of children and other unauthorized users.

It’s a good idea to replace your pepper spray dispenser every four years.  With all of the models listed below — except the Kimber Pepper Blaster II, once you get your unit, test it using two quick 1-second bursts shot at a head-high target that is 10-feet distant from you.  (Just so you know how it works.)

Important Legal Considerations

As odd as it may seem, pepper spray is not legal everywhere, so be sure that you understand your local laws before you possess or use pepper spray.

In most jurisdictions where pepper spray is legal, you still must be an adult to possess these self-defense tools.

If you ever use pepper spray—even if your assailant runs away and no harm came to you, be sure to immediately call the police.  You need to immediately report the incident, and express to the 9-1-1 dispatcher that you were in fear of your life or physical safety.  This is important as criminals have been known to report the incident themselves—claiming that they were the victim of an assault!  To minimize the possibility of unnecessary hassle and legal problems, be the first one to call the police.

Caution:  Some people advocate using ‘wasp spray’ as a weapon, claiming that it is more effective than pepper spray.  This is ill-advised as it may cause blindness and life threatening injuries.  It may also result in criminal prosecution and huge civil liabilities for anyone who intentionally uses it as a weapon.  A court may determine that using wasp spray as a weapon is on par with the use of chemical warfare materials.

ASP-Pepper_SprayWhere to Purchase

It’s probably best to purchase pepper-spray devices online, as the selection and price is generally better than what you will find at a sporting goods or running-products store.  Moreover, oftentimes the models found in a local store will contain less than the optimal 10% of the Oleoresin Capsicum chemical, so be sure to carefully read the label.  It is very important to select a pepper spray device that uses 10% OC.

Illustrated by the photos and in the below links, are four distinctively different pepper spray models which meet the above criteria.  Each has its merits, and selection should be made based on personal preference, the number of times it might be needed, and how you plan to carry the device.

Remember, you will need to select a device which contains more of the chemical if you want to be able to protect yourself (or others) from multiple attackers, or for use in more than one altercation.  Needing it more than once may be likely in the aftermath of a disaster, particularly if you are traveling in a post-disaster environment.

The below models are single-use devices.  For protection against multiple assailants, or more than one violent encounter, select a larger model which contains a larger quantity of the chemical.  The below devices are considered the smallest personal-use devices which are still viable for self-defense.


Examples of Popular Pepper Spray Products:

ASP Street Defender OC Pepper Spray



Kimber Pepper Blaster II


Online Vendor:

Mace Pepper Gel


Online Vendor:

Sabre Red


Online Vendor:


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