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What Is Pepper Spray and How To Use It

Jan 23, 2020 8:30:00 AM

Pepper spray is one of the most popular, reliant, less-lethal self defense weapons on the market. If you’ve ever been told that you shouldn’t go outside by yourself at night, or to be “careful” on that blind date, chances are you’ve heard about pepper spray.

Pepper spray is popular for several reasons. Not only is it easy to conceal, convenient to carry, and fairly easy to deploy, it’s proven to be effective in slowing down an attacker. Not every can of pepper spray is equally as potent, or effective, however, on average, pepper spray will affect an attacker for up to 30 minutes.

How pepper spray works

You might wonder, what is pepper spray made out of? What exactly makes it so effective in warding off attackers?

Pepper spray contains an active ingredient called capsicum which is derived from chili peppers. Capsicum is different from Oleoresin capsicum (OC) which is a waxy substance also derived from chili peppers. Capsicum is the active ingredient that causes the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes to inflame, rendering it difficult for an attacker to breathe and causing temporary blindness.

It’s possible to have a high OC content while having a low capsicum content, so when you’re purchasing a pepper spray, you want to look for a high capsicum concentration, not a high OC concentration. Most pepper sprays have a capsaicin content of less than 2 percent; bear spray is like 2 percent and above.

To make it sprayable, it’s emulsified with another agent (sometimes water, but usually propylene glycol) and pressurized. Pepper spray also contains gas to help propel the pepper spray out of the can.

Capsicum takes effect quickly, and unlike some other chemical inflammatories that rely on a pain response, pepper spray will still affect someone who’s on drugs, intoxicated, or mentally ill.

Scoville heat units (SHU)

Scoville heat units (SHU) tells you how intense the pepper spray is. Rubbing a ghost pepper in your eye is 3 million SHU, so can you imagine what the effect would be if it were 4 or 5 million SHU? Well, the hottest pepper spray produces 5.3 million SHU, so imagine an attacker attempting business as usual once they get sprayed with that in the eyes! So when you’re shopping for pepper spray, try to get the highest SHU possible.

Delivery systems

Pepper spray can be delivered in these three forms:

  • ● Mist
  • ● Stream
  • ● Foam/gel

Is one better than the other? It depends on your situation. Mist covers more ground, so you don’t have to aim as accurately in order to spray your attacker. However, it can be easily deterred by wind. If the wind is blowing 10mph or above, chances are the spray won’t hit your attacker at all, and maybe even blow back in your direction.

Stream delivery is at it sounds—the pepper spray comes out in a thin stream. Therefore, it does require a more accurate aim. However, because the pepper spray is less dispersed in the air, it’ll be a more concentrated hit if you do hit your target. Stream delivery is currently the most popular pepper spray.

Foam or gel spray takes the longest to effect your attacker, and you have to be within 6-8 feet to hit your attacker with this delivery method. However, foam or gel spray won’t be dispersed by the atmosphere as easily, so you could use this effectively outdoors if you’re close enough to your attacker.

How you should deploy pepper spray

Some peppers sprays have manual safeties, while others simply need to be pressed. Regardless of the type of pepper spray you use, you’ll want to grip it with your whole hand, and use your thumb to deploy. Don’t use your index finger to deploy the pepper spray; your index finger will cause you to spray down, and you always want to aim for the eyes.

Carry how you want - but be consistent

Pepper spray carried on keyring

Pepper spray comes in a variety of size containers. From keychain pepper spray to pocket pepper spray to large 4oz cans of pepper spray that are great for home use, you can choose the method that works best for you. However, some jurisdictions regulate the size of the canister that can be carried.

However you choose to carry, just like any other self defense weapon, make sure that you store your weapon in one consistent spot every time. The last thing you want to be doing is digging through your purse or your glovebox to try and find your pepper spray.

Size of can and reach

Typically a larger can of pepper spray will offer a further reach, helping you reach your attacker from a greater distance and effectively prevent them from getting closer. The product description will tell you how far the reach is. However, do keep in mind that unless you’re inside, the elements can greatly impact this reach, and in that case, you want to er on the side of caution and spray from 6-8 feet, even if the pepper spray claims that it has a reach of 15-18 feet. This is especially true if you’re using the mist delivery methods. Larger cans of pepper spray can be great for home use; holding more ounces and offering a further reach, you can buy enough time for the police to arrive.

Note: pepper spray does expire. If you want to know how long your pepper spray will last, at the time of purchase note the expiration date. The last thing you want is for your pepper spray not to work because it’s expired on you!

Be assertive

Before you deploy your pepper spray, though you’ll be terrified, take a confident, powerful stance, and speak with authority. “Stay back.” Criminals like to prey on the weak, and you want to demonstrate that you’re prepared and confident in your self defense method. Confidence is a powerful technique to ward off an attacker in itself.

Always test your pepper spray

It doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes you can get a faulty canister, so you want to go out and test your pepper spray. Practice taking your confidence stance, speak with authority, and deploying on target. This can be an easy set up in your backyard.

When it comes to less than lethal self defense, pepper spray is hands down one of your best options.

About The Author

Born in Arizona, Paisley Saris graduated in 2019 from North Idaho College, and will continue her education at Gonzaga University in the fall. She lives in North Idaho with her Husband and two step kids. She’s a passionate advocate for the 2nd amendment, and on her off days she enjoys the outdoors and spending time at the range.

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