A Closer Look: Pepper Spray & Self Defense

Types of Chemical Sprays

Self-defense chemical sprays or tear gas, come is three general categories of active ingredients: CN, CS, and OC.

CN, which is an abbreviation for chloroacetophenone was used by the military and police departments in the 60s and 70s, but is not used much anymore. This product is not really a gas, but rather crystals suspended in liquid and placed under pressure to create a vapor. Tear gas products such as MACE have proven to be less effective against violent attackers, especially those under the influence of narcotics and alcohol. Additionally, these tear gas products have a fairly slow reaction time of three to thirty seconds.

CS is short for orthochlorobenzalmalononitrile. It is a micro-pulverized irritant. It irritates the mucous membrane of the nose, throat, eyes, and the skin in high concentrations. It works better than CN, but is not readily available to the public. Both of these chemicals sprays can be toxic and cause serious vomiting, and choking. CN and CS are not all that effective against dogs because they lack lactimal glands.

OC is short for oleoresin capsicum, which is extracted from chili peppers and is commonly called Pepper Spray. This product is the most widely sold today and the spray of choice for police since 1977. Pepper spray is generally regarded to be the most distressing to experience, but it must be sprayed directly in the eyes or inhaled to be most effective. The product is an oily liquid that is not very soluble in water. The strongest concentrations are 15% active ingredients and rated at least two-million scoville heat units. The high scoville heat rating is more important than the percentage of ingredients. Direct facial contact and inhalation of the spray will induce coughing, choking, and nausea, as well as dilation of the eye capillaries resulting in temporary blindness. The mucous membranes will swell causing breathing difficulties and causing the assailant to be temporarily incapacitated. Skin contact will cause a burning sensation, which is further aggravated by rubbing the area. A one second burst can affect an attacker for up to 45 minutes without causing permanent damage.

Why Use Pepper Spray?

My response to inquiries are always, “Who would be using the pepper spray and why?” Most of the replies are the expected ones, like “For self-protection when out in public,” or “I work late at night and I’m scared to walk to my car,” or “I have an ex-something who is stalking me and I want to defend myself.” In these examples, the intended uses vary from general to specific use.

In my experience, the majority of persons who inquire about carrying a self-defense device don’t have a specific need or purpose in mind. Their basis for wanting such a device stems from a general fear of assault. These persons will carry the canister for a week or two until the novelty wears off and then it will find its way to the bottom of a purse, a glove compartment, or dresser drawer. Many casual users end up accidentally spraying themselves or their pets or when their children get into it they discard it.

Persons wanting to carry tear gas should take a training course before purchasing it. Most legitimate instructors will sell the product that best meets your needs. Tear gas ideally should be carried in the same place every day. A belt holster or loose outer coat pocket is best. A purse or key chain is a poor location because the canister is not always accessible. If you must walk into a dark parking lot or some isolated place you should have the tear gas canister in your hand and finger on the trigger. Surprise assaults happen very quickly and usually without warning. If the canister is not in your hand you simply won’t have time to retrieve it. The effective range of most spray canisters is approximately 3-10 feet depending whether the canister emits a mist or stream. In my experience, when a person properly carries pepper spray they become hyper-vigilant. Most people soon realize they will never need the spray because of their heightened awareness of their surroundings. When alert, it is difficult for an assailant to surprise you. It is better to think of alternatives to avoid a confrontation in the first place like relocating your car, changing your work schedule, or setting up a buddy system when walking in secluded urban areas.

When to Use Pepper Spray

Tear gases are for personal self-defense only to fight off an attacker. It is not to be used offensively to protect property or on someone you merely dislike. When used by surprise, pepper spray is an excellent distraction, allowing you time to get away. Contrary to media advertising, pepper spray does not guarantee stopping power or cause paralysis. An assailant can still grab you, punch you, stab you, or shoot you and will definitely be angrier after being sprayed. Also, tear gas may not be as effective on the insane, drug addicts, intoxicated, or hysterical persons.

Pepper spray should be directed at the assailants face at close range either in a stream, spray, or mist and never sprayed wildly at a crowd in congested areas. Most pepper spray victims instinctively fall immediately to their knees and start rubbing their eyes (which makes it worse). The pain has been described as two red-hot pieces of steel being pushed into your eyes and a blow-torch applied to your face. Be aware that pepper spray has a blinding effect…so make sure your victim does not accidentally fall down stairs, walk into the street, or operate a motor vehicle. Pepper spray causes the eyes to shut very quickly and you sometimes have to use your fingers to pry them open. Be wary of spray backsplash or blown-back from the wind. Try to avoid contact with the assailant as the oily spray can transfer to you and cause you distress. Once you use the spray, get out of there and call the police. If pepper spray gets on you, rinse the affected area repeatedly with cold water. Tearless baby shampoo sometimes works to cut the oily resin from your face and hair. Wash your hands several times with soap and water and wash your clothes separately from other items.

Liability Issues

Using pepper spray irresponsibly can incur criminal or civil liability. Spraying an innocent victim in the face can be a crime. Much like a punch in the face, it would be charged as assault or battery in most jurisdictions. The justification for using chemical sprays must either be self-defense from personal injury or an arrest situation, and the force must be reasonable under the circumstances. For example, you can’t lawfully spray someone in the face for using obscene language or because you are simply afraid because of their appearance.

Remember these important tips:

  • Examine your reasons for wanting pepper spray
  • Take a training course from a professional before buying
  • Use pepper spray for self-defense or during an arrest
  • Don’t let children get access to pepper spray
  • Don’t ever use tear gas it in a moving vehicle
  • Try to avoid isolated or dangerous areas
  • Tear gas canister must be readily accessible
  • Use only in dire emergency to aid in escape.
  • Spray directly into the assailants face
  • Avoid contact with the person sprayed
  • Run away and call the police
  • Rinse your eyes repeatedly with cold water, if affected
  • Use tearless baby shampoo to cut the oil resin
  • Be aware of blow back, spray down wind