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Understanding the Most Used Non-Firearm Self-Defense Tool – Pepper Spray

Pepper spray is a lachrymatory agent similar to tear gas that causes intense pain and stimulation of the lacrimal gland which causes the eyes to tear up. This crying effect coupled with the intense heat and pain often causes temporary blindness and disorientation. In addition to the painful effect on the eyes, pepper spray also tends to affect the nose, throat, and any exposed skin, causing increased mucus production, burning sensation, gasping, and sometimes difficulty breathing. The effects of quality pepper spray can easily last up to 45 minutes or more, leaving plenty of time to remove yourself from danger and summon help. This creates a “not so great” situation for the attacker and allows the intended victim to escape the situation, get proper law enforcement assistance, and not become a statistic.

The effect of the spray (or gel) is dependent on the strength of the formula. Most civilian pepper spray and gel formulas contain anywhere between 2% and 10% OC (oleoresin capsicum). Without getting overly technical on OC, the five major capsaicinoids responsible for producing heat, measuring that heat in Scoville Heat Units (SHUs), etc. Understand that generally speaking, the higher the OC level and the higher the SHU, the more “potent” the product tends to be. (There’s more to it than that, but I’ll spare you the nerdy science lesson.) There are tons of great pepper spray brands on the market, but three companies that continue to produce high-quality and high-potency products are Sabre, Mace, and Fox Labs. Let’s talk for a second about sprays vs gels.

Pepper spray deploys in a light stream or mist and has a wider dispersal pattern, less effective range, and is more susceptible to wind and other environmental factors. The benefit of a spray is that it requires less precision to affect the person you are trying to spray. One major downside is self-contamination (accidentally getting some on you) if you are not careful about how you deploy it. Pepper gel is a more focused stream and because of its sticky gel-like consistency, it tends to stay on the target easier and longer. The downside to the gel is that there is more of a precision aiming component involved. The upside is you don’t risk having your pepper spray blow back into your face!

Pepper gel is typically considered safer for the untrained user, due to the decreased chance of self-contamination and the greater range of use. Pepper spray typically has a maximum range of about 10 feet. Gels tend to be slightly farther with a 12-18ft range depending on the specific container. Either way, that’s still close! You need to think on your feet, act fast, and move off the axis of attack during or immediately after you deploy the product against the attacker.
Still, there are some great perks to carrying pepper spray or gel. First, it is legal in all 50 states. Second, it comes in a small and light container that can be strapped to a belt, carried in your hand, or hung on a keychain. Most smaller-sized containers cost less than $20 and can last unused for multiple years. When coupled with a good dose of situational awareness and proper preparation, pepper spray or gel can be a very effective self-defense tool. Stay safe out there!
P.S. In our Unarmed Self-Defense course, you’ll learn about several non-firearms self-defense tools, how to employ them all properly, and how to use NO TOOLS (just your mind and body) to quickly and effectively defend yourself against a variety of violent encounters. Hope to see you in a course soon!