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How Does Pepper Spray Work

Updated on February 27, 2013
Pepper spray is a great self-defense product for women who prefer to have a ranged weapon in order to avoid physical contact.
Pepper spray is a great self-defense product for women who prefer to have a ranged weapon in order to avoid physical contact.

What is Pepper Spray Anyway?

Pepper spray is something that you have no doubt heard of before as it is the most popular commercial self-defense product in the USA. You may also know of it as OC spray (from "Oleoresin Capsicum"), OC gas or, less commonly used, capsicum spray. Either way, you should know that pepper spray is a very powerful chemical compound that irritates the eyes as well various surrounding tissues. Depending on the formula it will have different effects and it can also be used to defend on-self not just from humans, but from animals such as dogs and even bears!

Of course, pepper spray isn't just used by civilians who are looking for a self-defense weapon. It is used by police forces around the world and is often employed during riots and protests as a means of non-violent crowd control.

Is Pepper Spray Lethal?

If pepper spray was a highly toxic or dangerous substance do you think it would really cost less than $20 and be used a a non-violent defensive agent? The obvious answer is obviously no and you don't have to worry about your pepper spray leaving any long-lasting side-effects on the person it is used against.

However, cases have been recorded that people have died due to excessive force as well as the use of pepper spray. These cases are also related with police brutality and not with civilians who used this device to defend themselves.

But a word of advice, if you are planning on using pepper spray to have some sort of fun with your friends then I strongly advise against it! A powerful OC pepper formula causes a lot of pain and can strike true terror into a person, making it hard for them to relax and breath. The video bellow shows just how painful this experience can be.

Effects of Pepper Spray

Here are all the major effects that pepper spray causes once it is used against a person. You can identify many of these symptoms in the video above as well.

The effects:

  • Continual pain
  • Blindness
  • Burning sensation on the skin
  • Upper body spasms
  • Difficulty while breathing or speaking
  • Loss of orientation

As you can see, it is quite an experience, one that you would gladly want to avoid.

How to Use Pepper Spray?

Pepper spray isn't very difficult to use, although it is a good idea to empty a couple of canisters on a practice dummy just to get a good feeling of how you should grip it and how far its range goes. If you enroll in street safety courses or self-defense training courses you might also have a chance to learn how to use a pepper spray canister properly.

If is very important that you learn how to have a firm, determined grip of the device and that you eliminate all fear from your mind while using it. You need to aim straight for the attackers eyes and spray the OC pepper at them. A lot of pepper spray chemicals nowadays have a special ability to turn into a vapor if they land on the skin instead of the eyes and then this vapor is inhaled by the attacker which will still cause all the effects mentioned above.


However, before buying any pepper spray, I strongly advise that you consult your local laws and policies to make sure everything is legal.

Further reading

  • Basic Self-defense for Women - a brilliant hub page that covers a lot of important details with a lot of in-depth analysis and explanations.

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