Pepper Sprays are considered to be among the most popular as well as effective self-defense products available on the market today. They are non-lethal, easily used by nearly everyone and can provide fast and effective defense against an assault. However, just as is the case with any tool, it is important to understand the use and limitations of pepper spray when planning its use into your personal and property protection plan.
To understand the use of pepper spray, it would be helpful to have an understanding of the product itself. Originally, defensive sprays were made from manmade chemical irritants. Commonly referred to as CS (orthochlorobenzalmalonitrile), CN (alphachloroacetaphenone) or tear gas, these sprays caused irritation to the mucous membranes. This resulted in tearing of the eyes and stinging pain of the eyes, nose and throat. Unfortunately, they were also considered to be unreliable for general use.
They had several major drawbacks that could result in complete failure. If used on a person high on drugs, drunk, suffering from or experiencing certain types of psychotic behavior or otherwise being unable to react to pain, it was possible that these sprays would have no effect on the assailant at all! They also took up to 30 seconds to take effect. Even a few seconds would seem like forever when involved in an attack. And if you were dealing with one of those people the spray would ultimately have no effect on… well, you’re in trouble!
Additionally, there have been reports of health problems associated with the use of CS and CN. The effects from the use of these sprays take longer to wear off and the residue can last for days. There have been reports of toxic reactions, long-term skin problems and both of these chemicals have been identified as possible carcinogens.
Luckily, Mother Nature provided a solution. OC (Oleoresin Capsicum) has proven to be far more effective than either CS or CN alone and should be the only defensive spray considered for personal self-defense. OC is a natural chemical derived from various hot pepper plants and, as such, is responsible for the now commonly used name of pepper spray. There are a number of products that combine OC with CS or CN that may have some advantages according to their manufacturers but have not been shown to be superior to OC only formulations.
What makes OC so effective is that it is an inflammatory agent rather than an irritant. If you’ve ever eaten a hot pepper or possibly rubbed your eyes after cutting up a pepper for a recipe, you are fully aware of the fire that pepper oil is capable of producing. When a person is sprayed with OC, the effects are powerful and immediate. First, the inflammatory nature of OC causes the assailant’s eyes to violently clamp shut, making it difficult if not impossible to open the eyes. In the meantime, OC works to dilate the capillaries of the eyes causing temporary blindness in the event that the assailant manages to open their eyes.
Since OC also inhibits the respiratory system, the assailant will experience intense, uncontrollable coughing due to the effects OC has on the tissues of the mouth, nose, throat and lungs. These effects are powerful enough that an assailant will often double over and fall to the ground allowing the victim the opportunity to escape. While temporary, these effects are nearly completely debilitating and OC is effective on people immune to chemical irritant sprays as previously mentioned.
OC pepper sprays are available in a variety of products and concentrations. The “hotness” of pepper spray is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHUs) and will generally come in concentrations of 1%, 5%, or 10% solutions. You should be aware that the percentage of OC is not necessarily the full consideration to make when choosing a product. For instance, a product derived from Jalapeno peppers may have a SHU rating of 5000 while a Habanero based product may have a SHU rating of up to 300,000! Obviously, a 10% solution of the Jalapeno based product will still not be as powerful or effective as a 1% Habanero based product! So watch the SHU rating and go from there.
Another consideration to make is the spray pattern of the product you buy. Pepper Sprays are generally produced in steam, mist or fog type sprays. All have pros and cons. In a technical sense, foggers are the most effective. They produce an ultra fine mist that envelopes an assailant and renders them helpless. The fog will hang in the air for several minutes creating a barrier that allows the victim to escape. Foggers are also the most effective products for use in the home because of this barrier creating feature. Foggers are effective against multiple assailants, will work well in breezy conditions and have a range of up to 20 feet.
Mists have a wide spray pattern and can stop an attacker in just a couple of steps. However, they generally have the shortest spray range, most averaging in the 6 to 8 foot range but some having as little as 4 to 6 feet. That’s pretty close! A person will have to take direct and aggressive action when using a mist product for it to be effective against an assailant. Wind conditions can also limit the use of this product. If sprayed into the wind the effective range can be shortened considerably and can even cause the spray to blow back onto the victim. Mists are commonly the small key ring type sprays and those purchasing these products need to know the product must be carried where it can be accessed in an emergency and that they must spray and move away quickly.
A steam spray tends to be the least effective as the OC is not released as effectively as a mist or fog. However, a stream spray has a good range, up to 20 feet. You will need some degree of accuracy to hit the face of an attacker for the stream to be fully effective. Streams are not greatly affected by winds and seldom will come back on you if sprayed into the wind. Variations of stream sprays include foam and gel type sprays. The thick foam or gel makes it easier to see if you’ve hit your target by sticking to the skin and when the attacker tries to wipe the material off their face, the effects are intensified.
All spray types come in a variety of sizes that range from 1/2 oz to 4 oz containers. Most of these will have different carrying options such as key rings, belt clips, and pocket or purse models and are available with hard or soft cases. Larger sizes are available for specific uses such as home defense and crowd control. Popular brands include Mace, Wildfire, and Pepper Shot pepper sprays. Additional products available include hand weights with built-in pepper spray for power walkers and joggers, dog repellant sprays and bear repellant sprays for campers and hikers that may encounter wild threats. Some pepper sprays will include UV dye in their formulation as an aid in the identification of an attacker.
Pepper sprays may be good alternatives to keeping firearms for self-defense and family home security. Many households have firearms and with good reason in today’s world. But for a weapon to be effective, all family members must understand its handling and use and that may be an area of concern. There are hundreds of tragic stories of children who found weapons and killed themselves or someone else. There are accidental shootings when gun owners who do not handle their weapons on a regular basis become victims of simple mistakes while handling their guns. Often times, there are only one or two family members that are proficient in their gun handling skills. This increases the chances that another family member or child may think they have gun handling skills when, in actuality, they do not. Again, increasing the chance of a tragedy in the home.
For some people, when it comes right down to the possibility of having to kill a home intruder, they may not have the fortitude necessary to pull the trigger. This, too, may increase the possibility of a fatal outcome… yours! For those who do not own guns or have limited experience with the weapons they do own, pepper spray is a reliable and effective alternative home defense weapon. If pepper spray is mistakenly used on a family member, friend or curious child, while the experience will be unpleasant, there is little chance of suffering any permanent consequences or death.
In these times of economic uncertainty, any steps you take to protect yourself, your family and your property are important. Pepper sprays are safe, affordable and easy to use products that can play a part in your safety preparedness. And the time to prepare is before, not after, a crime has been committed!
Be aware that some cities and municipalities have restrictions on the use and possession of pepper sprays. If in doubt, check local laws before purchase.