7 Best Pepper Sprays On The Market Today [With Video Reviews]

LEGAL INFORMATION

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Video

How is pepper spray different from mace?

While today “Mace” refers more to a brand name than one particular product, “mace” in general refers to a range of chemical agents used to incapacitate attackers. The original mace was a substance similar to tear gas. However, it was taken off the market because it did not work on people under the influence of some drugs.

How Strong is Pepper Spray?

Pepper spray containing OC is effective against all attackers–even those who might not feel typical levels of pain, like those under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It’s also effective against wild animals.The severity of the spray depends on where it’s sprayed, the amount that’s used, and the strength of the spray. Spraying directly on the face is the most effective, however, spraying anywhere else on the body or in the vicinity of the attacker will still cause them to feel some of the effects.


The strength of pepper spray is measured on the same scale that’s used to measure the heat level of peppers, Scoville heat units (SHU). The higher the heat unit, the higher the level of capsaicin.

Typical pepper spray is rated between 500,000 and 5,000,000 SHU. A jalapeno is only about 8,000 SHU.Just remember, the strength of the pepper spray ingredients isn’t an indication of its effectiveness. The level of OC doesn’t correlate to the spray’s intensity. All you need is a spray that’s effective enough to disable an attacker and allow you to escape or take control of the situation.

What is Pepper Spray Made Of?

The main active ingredient in pepper spray is oleoresin capsicum (OC), which is an oil found in many types of hot chili peppers. It contains a compound called capsaicin, which provides the burning sensation.

It’s odorless and colorless, but extremely powerful. Just one milligram of pure capsaicin is enough to cause blisters when it comes in contact with bare skin.

The OC is mixed with other inert ingredients to reduce some of the more harmful side effects–and help it comply with local and state laws.

The spray itself is dispensed from an aerosol canister. It’s mixed with a water or oil-based solution and a propellant. The whole solution is pressurized inside the canister, which allows you to spray the solution as far as you need to. There are a few different spray patterns you can buy:

  • Stream: A narrow stream of liquid is expelled from the canister, allowing for a strong concentration of the solution, but more difficulty aiming
  • Mist: A finer mist of the liquid is sprayed, which covers a larger area and makes it easier to hit the attacker’s face
  • Fog: A very fine fog is sprayed from the canister, similar to the mist option but with a very wide range of spray

Effects of the spray last between 20 and 90 minutes, blinding and incapacitating an attacker long enough for you to get away. They can be fired multiple times in succession and have a range of 8 to 20 feet, depending on the type that you choose.

While canisters can be very small–sometimes even disguised as flashlights or lipstick tubes–the effects can be serious. Next, let’s get into the specifics of how pepper spray works.

Is pepper spray legal?

Check your state and local laws, but OC is legal in all 50 states. However, there are a few state restrictions to be aware of. Pepper spray vendors typically do not ship to Alaska, Washington DC, Hawaii, Massachusetts, or New York due to restrictions in those areas. Here are some other restrictions to be aware of:

  • California: Containers cannot contain more than 2.5 ounces of defense spray.
  • Michigan: Spray cannot have more than 18% capsaicin content.
  • New York: Spray cannot have more than 0.67% capsaicin content.
  • New Jersey: Spray cannot have more than three-quarters of one-ounce of active ingredient.
  • Virginia: Negligent discharges of noxious gasses, even accidental ones, can be a felony.
  • Wisconsin: OC can have a maximum concentration of 10%, with a maximum total weight of 15-60 grams. Canisters cannot be camouflaged to look like another object like lipstick or a pen, and must have a safety mechanism. Also, formulations with CN and CS are not allowed.

And while this isn’t true in every state, pepper spray is generally restricted to those 18 years of age or older.

It is your responsibility to be aware of the applicable laws in your area. One of your best resources is your local gun store. The employees are usually well-versed not only in the local self-defense laws, but also in how they are enforced.

Be aware that using pepper spray, even in self-defense, could expose you to civil or criminal legal action. A good rule of thumb when deciding to use a weapon against someone is to ask yourself if it’s worth going to prison over? That said, the consequences of using pepper spray are much less severe than a firearm.

The Scoville Scale

If you like spicy foods, then you might be familiar with the Scoville scale, which measures the heat index of various peppers based on heat units. The higher the heat unit number, the hotter the pepper is. Here is an example:

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If you are thinking of a pepper spray for self-defense, use a more fiery pepper, such as the habanero or hotter. Cayenne could work as an irritant, but probably not enough to stop the person for very long. So, you would have to be quick in your getaway. The stronger the pepper, the longer it should incapacitate the assailant. And, to add yet another layer to slowing the attacker down, add some black pepper to stimulate coughing.

However, please keep in mind that a pepper spray will have the same effect on an innocent person as it does an assailant. So, be careful where you store the spray, as well as how it’s handled.

For getting rid of the garden nibblers, something as low on the Scoville Scale as the jalapeno could work. You can also combine peppers to make your own strength.

I’m going to make a batch with a mix of cayenne and habanero. I don’t want the heat to be too high, because I will use it primarily to protect the plants. However, with a little bit of added habanero, I will add a little to a smaller spritzer that I can carry for self-protection.

The Full Story

A lacrimator is a substance that causes tear production. The term also refers to a group of nonlethal chemicals used to temporarily disable without killing by causing intense irritation of the eyes, skin, and lungs.

Lacrimators (tear gases) have a long history of use. Tear gases used during World War I included chlorine and mustard gas, which caused tissue injury and death. These and other chemical warfare agents were banned for use in war by the 1925 Geneva Protocol.

More modern times saw the development of several different chemical lacrimators used by law enforcement for crowd control as well as used by individuals for personal protection. The most well-known are pepper spray and Mace. Pepper spray contains capsaicin. Mace contains the chemical chloroacetophenone and should not be confused with the spice mace, which comes from the same plant as nutmeg. Mace products have generally been replaced by pepper spray in the US, so this article will focus on pepper spray.

Pepper spray is typically dispersed into the air as an aerosol or small particles in a liquid spray. Pepper spray products come in various sizes including hand-held containers intended to be sprayed at a single person or animal (e.g., bear spray) as well as canisters that can be thrown or shot into an area, such as those used by law enforcement.

Capsaicin, the main ingredient in pepper spray, is found in edible pepper plants such as jalapeños and green chile. If you have cut up a jalapeño and then touched your nose or eye, you are very familiar with the irritating properties of capsaicin! It is also used in topical formulations to treat minor pain.

Pepper spray causes irritation of the eyes, skin, and mucus membranes. Eye exposures can result in pain, redness, watery eyes, difficulty opening the eyes, and sensitivity to light. Skin exposures can cause pain, redness, swelling, and itching. Inhalation exposures can cause coughing, difficulty breathing, nasal and throat irritation, and runny nose. These effects are usually mild and temporary, lasting minutes to hours. However, more severe injury is possible including corneal abrasions, wheezing, and skin blisters. People with lung conditions, such as asthma or COPD, can have more severe breathing effects when pepper spray is inhaled.

Poison Control receives many calls about unintentional exposures to pepper spray. Curious children have sprayed themselves or others, teenagers have misused these products (often in a school), and confused adults have mistaken the products for breath spray. Use by law enforcement for crowd control can result in many people exposed to pepper spray at the same time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published recommendations for how to protect yourself and what to do if exposed to tear gas. These include leaving the area where the tear gas was released and getting to fresh air. Emergency coordinators might advise people to evacuate an area or “shelter in place” inside a building to avoid being exposed to the chemical. If the spray was used indoors, open doors and windows to air out the area right away. If exposed, you should remove your clothing and rapidly wash your entire body with large amounts of soap and water. Clothing that would usually be pulled over the head should be cut off the body instead. Eyes should be irrigated for 10-15 minutes with room-temperature water. Contact lenses should be removed and discarded. Eye glasses should be removed and washed with soap and water. Jewelry should be removed and washed with soap and water or discarded. Contaminated clothing should be placed inside a plastic bag. Avoid touching contaminated clothing by using rubber gloves, tongs, or sticks to place the clothing in the bag. The bag should be sealed and placed inside another plastic bag. The CDC recommends that you then contact your local health department for instructions on the appropriate disposal of the bagged clothing in your area.

Nasal irritation and runny nose should improve after nasal irrigation with a saline solution. Throat irritation should improve after drinking cool fluids. A cough or minor respiratory irritation can improve with a steam treatment, such as a steamy shower. Anyone with serious effects such as wheezing, difficulty breathing, chest pain, or persistent eye pain should seek immediate medical evaluation.

If you suspect someone has been exposed to pepper spray or tear gas, have them get fresh air immediately, start decontamination procedures, and then check the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool for further guidance or call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.

Karen D. Dominguez, PharmD Certified Specialist in Poison Information

Can pepper spray seriously hurt someone?

While pepper spray typically has no lasting effects, there have been cases of severe injuries and even death associated with it. Typically these incidents involve people who have asthma or another respiratory problem or people on illegal drugs. It can also be lethal if the person being sprayed is already restrained in a way that blocks breathing. So, like with many deterrents, there are risks associated with it.

CONS OF USING PEPPER SPRAY FOR SELF DEFENSE

A Non-Lethal Weapon

While “non-lethal” made the list of pros for pepper spray, it’s also one of the main “cons”.

In some situations, pepper spray may not be enough to stop the most vicious attacker. Especially if they are on drugs that numb their senses or are extremely intoxicated.

If a situation gets out of hand, a perpetrator with firepower is no match for someone with pepper spray.

Reloading (one time shot)

Unlike a handgun, reloading isn’t an option with pepper spray.

Most sprays have a short duration, which means knowing exactly when to use them!

Availability

While pepper spray is becoming more common, it’s still not as easy to find in every sporting good store.

Unlike common handguns and ammo rounds – like the 9mm – which can be found dang near anywhere.

Effectiveness

Not all people will respond to pepper spray – nor will all animals.

With people, this can be due to mental illness, drug abuse, or training.

Plus, face shields, gas masks, and sunglasses can reduce direct contact with the eyes. Lowering its overall effectiveness in stopping a threat.

This Really Happened

Case 1. An 8-year-old boy unintentionally sprayed himself in the face with pepper spray. He was wearing glasses at the time, so a minimal amount got into his eyes. His skin was red and irritated but felt better after washing with soap and water. Although he was not complaining of eye irritation, instructions for irrigating his eyes were provided should it become necessary. During a follow-up call, the boy’s mother said the boy’s eyes were a little pink but not painful, his skin was red but without blisters, and his voice was a little hoarse. These effects were expected to resolve.

Case 2.

HOW TO MAKE PEPPER SPRAY

Yes, you CAN make your own pepper spray. But it’s highly unlikely you’ll make it as powerful or as good at delivery as commercial brands.

But if you still want to pursue making your own – read our step-by-step article.

Where to Buy Pepper Spray – Recap

It’s a scary world out there and lots of thugs and brutes mug innocent people in broad daylight. Criminals, like any other predators, choose their victims carefully, and they target the weak and defenseless, the elderly and young.

For these reasons, it’s of utmost importance that we provide protection to our loved ones.

There are many less-than-lethal weapon options, from tasers to batons, but pepper spray is by far the best option. Police officers commonly use it to make arrests or control riots.

The best self defense pepper spray can effectively stun a hostile target from a safe distance, usually around 10 feet (3 m), just like the best stun guns can. In order to incapacitate a target using a taser, for example, you’d need to be much closer than that.

The person on the receiving end is rendered unable to see or stand up, let alone attack anyone, for an average of 20 to 90 minutes, depending on the strength of the agent.

Effects include the following:

  • Temporary blindness
  • Severe burning irritation on the skin
  • Involuntary upper body spasms
  • Runny nose
  • Respiration problems
  • Heavy coughing

Now that you know what it does let’s take a look at the top products.

Where can you buy pepper spray?

Some states require you to purchase pepper spray over the counter at regulated stores. But for most others, you can purchase pepper spray at many retailers, including big box stores like Wal-Mart and Kmart. Many people purchase online too (and it can be a lot cheaper), but again online buying may not be legal in your state. Read the fine print on any purchase on sites like Amazon.com to know if the retailer will ship pepper spray to your location.

Pepper spray is serious stuff. Hotter than any one pepper on the Scoville scale, and a serious deterrent. It can offer a lot of security and protection, but, again, know your local laws prior to buying. As long as you’ve done your homework, you’ll feel all the more secure for having a tiny bottle with you as you go about your day.

You were pepper-sprayed: now what?

Most of the time, pepper spray is not used to control a crowd, but to deter or incapacitate a person in a one-on-one situation. The weapon’s sole purpose is to stop an attacker by inducing an almost-immediate burning sensation on their skin and in their eyes, nose, and mouth.

It’s similar to how you may feel when you’re chopping onions—your eyes immediately become irritated and you start to tear up. If you’ve been unfortunate enough to actually touch your eyes after slicing up a hot pepper, you’ve probably experienced another common pepper spray reaction—a blepharospasm.

That’s when your eyes shut tight and you have no control over your eyelids, so you can’t open them up. This is an automatic bodily response that aims to protect your eyes from whatever is irritating them, but it’s a bit counterintuitive—your eyes produce tears to wash away the irritant, so not being able to blink makes it harder to flush out. And that’s not the only problem.

“You can’t keep your eyes open, which often causes disorientation and agitation,” says Rohini Haar, an emergency physician and a research fellow at the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

Wearing tight swimming goggles or even big ski goggles may help protect your eyes, but recent videos from the protests against police brutality show law enforcement getting really close to demonstrators. Some officers have even pulled down protective equipment such as face masks or glasses before they spray. If this happens to you, goggles may not help, but they might redirect some of the spray or give you an extra second to duck.

Even if the spray doesn’t go directly into your nose and mouth, the agitation will make you breathe harder. This will make you inhale the spray, spreading the irritation and burning sensation into your airways and lungs. You will start to cough and your nose and mouth will produce extra saliva and mucus as your body tries to get rid of the OC. This might trigger a suffocating feeling that can lead to panic.

“The whole point is to get people to disperse,” says Harr. “But getting pepper sprayed has never caused people to calmly and safely disperse.”

Because OC spray is an oil, it’s hard to wash off and its effects last longer. The best way to eliminate it is to wash the area thoroughly with soap and water. Baby shampoo is a less-irritating alternative, says Harr. Milk has also been reported to help with symptoms, but there’s no scientific evidence to back this up. Also, oil repels milk, so dumping dairy on your face won’t help get OC spray off your skin.

If you ever get sprayed, first find help from somebody who can be your eyes and then immediately move somewhere safe where you can wash your face. Afterward, stay in an open space and wait it out—the air will help you recover. Psychologically speaking, having a particular goal or task in mind has been proven to help people fight through the effects of pepper spray despite the discomfort. Just keep thinking about the next step you need to take—to find water or get to a quieter place—and focus on that.

Sadly, once your skin, eyes, and airways are irritated, there’s not much you can do about it. Soap, fresh air, and even commercially available pepper spray relief will help prevent further contamination but won’t soothe your pain. Ingesting pepper spray affects your body differently, but you’ve still got to wait out the effects.

Rohini says she’s had to treat pepper spray victims in the ER. Those who were sprayed directly in the mouth experienced severe gastrointestinal distress, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain that lasted hours—sometimes days. Unfortunately, there’s not much doctors can do to stop the source of those problems, she says.

“I could give you something for your nausea and something for your pain, and some fluids,” she says. “But it’s just to treat your symptoms. You can’t fix that irritation.”

It might be hard not to scream while you’re being pepper-sprayed, but you should try to keep your mouth closed as much as you can to prevent ingestion. The less OC there is in your digestive system, the better.

No matter where the spray hits you, seek medical attention if any symptoms last for more than 45 minutes or if you find the situation is unbearable even before that time.

Can I use bear spray against people?

It’s not recommended. Bear spray is formulated to be somewhat weaker than pepper spray, so while it may work against an attacker, it might also just piss them off. Pepper spray is cheap!

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