9 Facts & Tips about Pepper Spray

Many of us opt to carry canisters of pepper spray about with us for self-defense. But what is the stuff made of & what happens to us if sprayed with it? We answer a few questions here & advise you on what to consider when buying your pepper spray devices. 

1. What is it made of?

Source: Ryan Bushby http://to.ly/v5hS

Source: Ryan Bushby

The active ingredient in pepper spray (also known as OC spray to some) is capsaicin. This is an active component of chilli peppers (Capsicum). Capsaicin is treated until it becomes a resin-like substance & then, using an emulsifier, suspended in water & placed into a pressurised aerosol container for spraying – the effect should be about 20 times stronger than very strong chilli fruits. To get an idea of how much capsaicin a pepper spray container contains, weapons used in defense against bears in the United States have 1% Capsaicin & Related Capsaicinoids (CRC).

2. What does it do?

Source: United States Navy  http://to.ly/v5i1

Source: United States Navy

This deterrent is a powerful irritant & causes temporary blindness, difficulty breathing, swelling & burning of the area around the eyes, burning sensation on skin and intense coughing. The effects can last quite long as well – from fifteen to forty-five minutes or longer. These effects are not permanent, however, and full recovery can be expected if the person is not regularly exposed to the substance.

3. What is the difference between tear gas (or ‘Mace’) and pepper spray?

According to medical news website, www.medicalnewstoday.com:

“Mace is a tear gas, an irritant, while pepper spray is an inflammatory agent. Mace causes the eyes to tear up and stings the skin. Pepper spray causes temporary blindness and temporary breathing difficulties (virtually always non-life-threatening).

Pepper spray will work against somebody who is drunk or under the influence of drugs, Mace might not.

N.B. “Mace” is a brand name. Some “Mace” products may be pepper sprays.”

4. Is pepper spray legal in South Africa?

yesYes, pepper spray is legal in South Africa. Please bear in mind that this is not the case in many other countries, so don’t try to take it out of the country.

5. How to use pepper spray

  • Source: United States Navy http://to.ly/v5iP

    Source: United States Navy http://to.ly/v5iP

    ONLY use pepper spray as a form of self-defense.

  • Spray directly at the face of your attacker and, if possible, try to get them in the eyes.
  • Spray for a few seconds until the attacker appears incapacitated & run away as quickly as possible & get help.
  • Ensure that you do not catch yourself in the spray, as this will affect your ability to get away. It may be difficult, but try to stay calm & concentrate on what you are doing.
  • Remember: pepper spray may not fully incapacitate your assailant – if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, particularly hysterical, or accustomed/prepared for the spray, they may still be able to make a grab for you. But it will provide you with a form of defense against a potential attacker.

6. Different types of pepper spray

Pepper Spray Canisters - Fog & Jet.

Pepper Spray Canisters – Fog & Jet. You can purchase these from Thorne. http://www.thornesa.co.za

Pepper spray canisters come in varied sizes & the standard variety we get (the one easily tied to your keychain or put in your bag) is a 50ml mini-can which can easily be concealed in your bag or hand.

Or you can try a paintball-type gun which is not convenient, but can be very damaging to an assailant. This variety requires extensive training about use & safety procedures.

There are multiple spray types too:

Stream/Jet: This lets out a thin stream of liquid which you should aim at your attacker’s eyes, moving in a side-to-side motion in order to do as much damage to him as possible.

Fog/mist: this let’s out a wider-angled spray in mist format & will cover a greater area of the face, but slightly less distance than the stream/jet variety. Move this one up & down when spraying your attacker’s face. Note: this type is not as effective in windy climates.

Foam/gel: this variety has not yet proven to be as common in South Africa – the spray is in a gel/foam format & sellers claim that it is less affected by windy weather conditions.

7. How often should I check that my can is working?

128px-Nuvola_apps_date.svgThe liquid inside your pepper spray will last a long time. However, the device used to propel it, being made of plastic, may degrade. It is advised that you replace your spray every year at least, and that you check it every 3 months or so to see that it’s working properly. Your device will have an expiry date – but generally this is a guideline & it may work for a long while after. Check it regularly & you should be fine! When you do check it, do so in an open area with no persons/animals around & no wind. So throw out those old spray cans you’ve been keeping on your keychain for the last 5 years!

8. Important notes on using pepper spray:

  • It is used as one of many methods of defense. Do not assume that it will be an ultimate defense against attack & don’t allow its presence to cause you to let your guard down.

  • Learn as much as you can about your pepper spray. Whichever brand you purchase. As advised by one manufacturer, you should get to know the contours of your spray bottle with your eyes closed. Practice at home – don’t put it off, as emergencies happen when you least expect them to.
  • Pepper spray cannot defend you against guns. We do not advise the use of pepper spray against an assailant armed with a gun.
  • Use your thumb to spray, not your index finger. This will help you grip the can better & help prevent the attacker from grabbing the can. If needed, you can also punch the attacker with your fist in that position.
  • Don’t assume that having pepper spray in your handbag will help protect you.
    Source: Nonnidelnorte http://to.ly/v5jG

    Source: Nonnidelnorte http://to.ly/v5jG

    You need to be able to access it immediately. Ensure you know where it is at all times, and keep it in your hand, in armed position when you are out on a walk or feeling vulnerable.

  • There is no ideal defense against attack. Pepper spray, tasers, self-defense techniques, handguns – they are all vulnerable to various flaws & the elements of the situation. Studies have shown that people rarely act in ways they expect themselves to in situations which take them by surprise.
  • Keep your spray out of reach of children. Treat it in the same way you would any weapon.
  • This shouldn’t have to be said, but I’ll say it anyway: pepper spray is not a toy. Don’t spray it for fun or on somebody you don’t like. Though it’s not designed to be lethal, those with respiratory problems can be seriously hurt/killed by being exposed to pepper spray.

9. Buying Pepper Spray

CashregisterIt is advised to buy your spray through a trusted seller. Purchasing those affordable sprays through international sites unknown sellers (e.g. on Bid or Buy) can see you sitting with an ineffective product. When it comes to safety, it’s best to purchase a quality item which has been tested & sold through a reputable source. South Africans have found products such as KO Pepper Spray, Liquid Bullet & Sabre Red to be among the trusted variety.


Here’s a video on how to use pepper sprays best:


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