Pepper Spray has been purchased as a popular chemical personal protection device since the early-mid 1990’s. Before deciding on purchasing pepper spray or any other defense spray, there are pros and cons that should be considered. Learn the advantages and disadvantages of any personal protection item before relying on it for personal safety and self-protection. Any safety device or weapon is a tool and limited by the abilities of the user and the conditions confronted.
Pepper Spray Products and Mace Products are available for personal protection. It is important to understand the capabilities of pepper spray, Mace, or any other self defense product before attempting to use it for personal protection.
Awareness and physical fighting skills will enhance all methods used in personal protection and self defense. You should not rely solely on a weapon or personal protection device (pepper spray or Mace) against rape aggression or other violent criminal for self defense. Check with your local and state law enforcement agency to identify any restrictions before you make a pepper spray or other defensive spray purchase. There are pros and cons of any Quick Fix Items.
- Pepper spray should be kept away from children.
- Manufacturers place a shelf life on each pepper spray canister due to pressure linkage found to dissipate within canisters.
- Pepper spray canisters should be shaken regularly to maintain the chemical mixture and effectiveness.
- Do not expose a pepper spray canister to extreme heat or cold such leaving and storing it in a vehicle.
- An assailant must be within range of the pepper spray canister.
- Average pepper spray canisters range vary from a four feet to 15 feet. Maximum effectiveness is within 10 feet, but effective range is dependent on type of pepper spray canister delivery method and canister pressure.
- The pepper spray canister must function and also be aimed properly requiring time and accuracy when under the stress of an attack.
- If you use pepper spray on someone you may also be affected. If you have respiratory reactions, pepper spray is probably not a good match for your personal protection consideration.
- Ask yourself, how you would be effected by pepper spray; would it incapacitate you?
Pepper Spray History
Pepper spray is scientifically known as Oleoresin Capsicum (OC), is overwhelmingly replacing mace but its origins date back to ancient military history. The Chinese burned oil and red pepper in a stinkpot irritant and used it against enemy soldiers in 311 BC. In 673 AD, it was given the name “Greek fire,” when Greeks burned sulfur, quick lime, and pepper. It was first used on catapults in 1200 AD and was also used in the American Civil War. In 1973, OC was originally manufactured for personal protection against dogs. It was not until the 1990’s that law enforcement began to replace their Mace canisters with OC referred to as pepper spary, which simultaneously became popular for personal safety since the early and mid 1990’s.
In the 70’s women were encouraged to view hair spray and a potential deterrent against assault. Then additional chemical self-protection products came out on the market to include Mace, Witness Chemical Identifier, and then Pepper Spray gained immediate popularity as a defensive chemical agent.
In 1993 Richard Isaccs counted over 100 chemical defense sprays sold on the market, each with varying degrees of potency and effectiveness. Even though they are legal in most states, you should check with your local and state law enforcement agency to identify any restrictions before you make a purchase. Pepper spray has remained a popular personal protection or quick fix device.
Effects of Pepper Spray
The effects of OC in pepper spray involve severe irritation to the respiration, eyes, and skin. Often those contaminated will experience constriction of the trachea may create a feeling of panic and a involuntary coughing sensations, “I can’t breathe.” Some people experience temporary loss of strength and coordination. Often the sinus membranes begin to produce more mucus as the upper respiratory system becomes inflamed. Breathing is impaired by the constriction and swelling of the trachea, which reduces the intake of oxygen and causes excessive and uncontrollable coughing, gagging, and gasping for air.
Most people will experience severe involuntary twitching or involuntary closure of the eyes. OC is an inflammatory agent that causes dilation in the capillaries and swelling in the eyes from the burning effects; the eyes burn and blur with tears to clean the chemical agent from the eyes.
Some people experience an intense burning sensation on the skin that is more painful if skin pores are opened by previous or current sweating. Exposed skin may become discolored ranging from slight orange to bright red. OC does not persist in clothing like CS does. The effects can last from 30 to 45 minutes after being removed to an uncontaminated area of fresh air.
Not everyone is effected, and overall chemical agents affect everyone differently.
In the mid 1990’s a police officer was killed because he was led to believe, by those same manufacturers, that pepper spray would work on everyone. A violent criminal who had just walked out of his house after beating his wife confronted the officer who was walking up to the house in order to answer the call he was dispatched.
The officer sprayed the criminal with his canister of pepper spray numerous times. The officer was mentally distracted and surprised when the pepper spray was not working.
After all, he was told it would work. He relied on what he was told instead of using another option. The criminal grabbed hold of the officer and beat him to death. The officer died with the pepper spray canister still in his hand.
Pepper spray will not protect you just because you are carrying a canister. One commercial selling pepper spray showed two women walking by a street that led to a “bad” area of town. The one carrying the pepper spray started to walk in the bad/crime area’s direction when her walking partner objected. The one armed with pepper spray convinced the other woman to walk into danger because “they would be safe just because she was carrying pepper spray.” Remember that true self defense is avoiding danger in the first place.
Accurate Expectations of Chemical Devices
Michael Castleman described a tear gas test in his book Crime Free:
In April 1981, in cooperation with the ABC television program “20/20,” the Ventura County, California, Sheriff’s Department arranged a unique experiment to test it. The television producers invited twelve Los Angeles women, all licensed to carry tear gas, to participate in a realistic simulation of street assault, with deputies playing the assailants. A parking-lot scenario at the Sheriff’s Academy was created. The women were given shopping bags and told them to imagine that they were leaving a supermarket.
Each carried her usual type of Mace product. The women and deputies were all average height and build; in some cases the women were bigger than the deputies. The women had the tear gas in their hands with the safety off. They knew something was going to happen, but not exactly what or when. The scenario had diversionary activities going on such as kids playing, people walking into the “market,”’ a guy changing a tire in order to create an environment in which the women wouldn’t just Mace or pepper spray the first person who crossed their path. Then a deputy posing as an assailant confronted each woman and attempted to grab her purse or push her to the ground. Each woman was attacked four times, for a total of forty-eight simulated assaults. Even though they knew they were going to be attacked, not one of them stopped the deputies who played the assailant.
The Lieutenant running the event said the women were absolutely convinced the Mace would work. The women had been told the Mace would instantly disable any assailant. They were described as cocky. One woman even said, “We’re going to wipe you guys up!” The experiment was arranged to give them many more advantages than they would have in a real assault. The tear gas was pre-staged in their hands and not in their purses, and they knew they were going to be using it. After the test, they were all upset and felt the tear gas school they had attended had misled them. They said the school’s promotional videotape showed assailants instantly incapacitated.
Even with the tear gas in hand, the women hit the deputies less than 20% of the time, and hit them in the face only a few times. In the few cases where the officers were hit in the face, the spray did not stop them. The manufacturers’ claim of immediate incapacitation” simply did not hold true. One in five deputies who were hit in the face did feel some ill effects but only after a minute or so, which would not have stopped a real assault.
Even though this experiment was conducted with Mace, and pepper spray is considered more effective, but again, chemical irritants do not affect everyone. Most of the women in the above test missed entirely. An average assailant can cover 6 feet in less than a second, which does not provide the time to aim and shoot, much less effect the assailant with the contaminating solution. This is not what manufacturers would like you to believe. Since the pepper spray has been on the open market, its effectiveness has dropped.
Pepper Spray Used as a Diversionary Tool
If you choose to carry pepper spray or mace as a means of self-protection, think of it as a diversionary tool that may allow you to escape. Realistically the chemicals won’t stop the assailant, but optimistically it can buy you a few seconds, at best, to possibly escape. But keep in mind that you are still subject to the mental and physical vulnerabilities of trying to escape a pursuing assailant who is not happy. A direct spray to the eyes and mouth will likely change his intent and motivation to end his pursuit of the crime. Other times it might enrage him to retaliatory violence.
Predators understand how to use the element of surprise and know how to distract victims when attacking them. Many understand the mind-body-spirit principle of attack. Criminals prefer that you are not ready when they attack you. They can also see what you are carrying in your hands. During a blitz attack, they will grab hold of the spray canister and then hit you with their other hand.
What Is the Situational Stress Level? Unless you train to use any tool or weapon under stress, you will experience the “freeze response.” Your mind will go blank and you will forget that you even have the weapon.
During the physical portion of the Model Mugging Basic self defense course women have wanted and have been allowed to use personal alarms (when they were popular) during the fighting exercises. Ironically, each student forgot she had the item until her coach reminded her to use it.
While you are concentrating on using the pepper spray or any other weapon, your mind and body are separated; and if you were to simultaneously try to use physical force, you will probably be ineffective. When in stress, people are far more effective if they concentrate all of their effort on one effective task; attempting to use pepper spray on a rapidly advancing and violent assailant while attempting to kick him is not an easy task.
Where Is My Pepper Spray?
Women have been attacked while they were taking a shower! How many women will shower with any protection device in their hands? The canister, like all weapons, is not a part of the human body and must be put down eventually. In the con or surprise approach, women will not even have the canister in their hands, or it will be simply taken away from them. Pepper spray, mace, and other items are usually carried at the bottom of a woman’s purse out of convenience, which will be unavailable during an attack. Even if a woman constantly carries such items in public, protection devices are normally left inside a woman’s purse while she is at home, where women are assaulted 50% of the time.
30 year-old woman was walking down the street at about 8:30 in the evening when she turned and realized two males were approaching her from behind. One of them suddenly grabbed her from behind and the other struck her in the stomach knocking the wind out of her. They pulled her off the sidewalk into the bushes. She fumbling in her purse for the pepper spray but one of the assailants stopped her. She was being groped and told to take off her clothes. She could smell alcohol on the breath of both of the assailants. Unable to get to her pepper spray, she was still able to flail, breaking free of their grasps. She fled and they did not chase her.
The pepper spray canister must be aimed properly, which is not hard with dummy proof canister designs, but under the stress of an assault situation, turning the canister around into the proper direction could cause life-threatening delays. If you do not have a dummy proof canister, there is the possibility you could spray yourself in the face as one martially proficient police officer did while trying to apprehend a suspect. In the heat of the fight, the pepper spray canister became twisted.Pepper spray has the same deployment risks as other chemical devices.
Regardless of canister size, each canister requires mechanical operation and could malfunction, but more than likely it might run out of spray while the assailant is still coming. The smaller the canister is there will be a smaller quantity of usable spray available. Police officers have had canisters run out of spray while in the middle of fighting with a violently resisting suspect, and they have also had canisters malfunction (or not function at all) in the middle of the conflict.
Additionally, many of the key chain canisters, which women are encouraged to purchase, have an impractical carrying case that must be adjusted and hinders immediate use. However, the smaller canisters do allow them to be concealed from plain view. Some canisters come with a clip that allows you to attach it to your belt or purse for faster access.
Are You Prepared?
Any weapon, including pepper spray, requires that you be prepared and have it ready before the assault. The canister, like all weapons, can be taken away from you and then be used against you. In estimated 80% to 85% of all rapes, victims know their assailants and fifty percent of assaults occur inside the victim’s own home. Rapists are not always the stranger in the alley or the weirdo in the parking lot.
How many women will hold their pepper spray in their hands while they are out on a date or socializing? How many will keep their pepper spray canister in their hands while someone they know is visiting them? If a woman feels she must hold onto her pepper spray while she is on a date, which would be a clear indication she should not be dating this guy in the first place. These predators manipulate their victims into isolation using the con approach and the pepper spray will unlikely even be within arms reach. Other predators surprise or blitz their victims. Consequently these victims are unlikely to even have the canister ready, or any other “quick fix” personal protection item in her hands for that matter.
A 26 year-old woman had just sat down inside her small truck after buying some take home food. Before she could close her car door an assailant immediately attacked her. The 31 year-old assailant had been arrested on two separate occasions for rape, but only convicted for robbery.
The victim was positioning her food on the passenger seat of her truck when the robber/rapist positioned himself in the open car door threatening her with injury. He had just recently robbed two other people a couple blocks away before identifying her as his next victim. He robbed her and began fondling her breasts. As he was fondling her, he told her to give him her car keys. She complied and handed him the keys with a small canister of pepper spray attached to the key chain.
The assailant then pepper sprayed the woman in the face with her own canister of pepper spray. He then told her to lie face down on the seat. She realized that he intended to rape her in the parking lot and started to physically resist. Her physical resistance is what prevented her from being raped and not the pepper spray canister she handed over to the robber/rapist.
However, this rapist seemed to be more interested in committing robberies and allowed her to get away because she did not hurt him during her resistance. His 5-8, 210 pound, large muscular, penitentiary stature would have easily kept her from escaping. He committed another robbery a few minutes later and soon arrested that evening.
Pepper Spray Dissemination Methods
There are four methods of dissemination pepper spray or Mace:
- Liquid — common in mace and pepper spray canisters.
- Foam — common in mace and pepper spray canisters.
- Fog — solid to gas or liquid to solid release.
- Burning — the smoke disseminates the particles.
- Pyrotechnic — blast or burst projectile shot or thrown with agent inside the projectiles.
Pepper Spray Delivery Methods
There are three common categories of pepper spray and Mace delivery dissemination methods. All three delivery methods do not require strength to deploy and minimal coordination.
- Cone – The Cone or Cloud delivery method is in the shape of a funnel or cone which makes it easier to hit a moving target/assailant because you do not need to accurately hit him in the face. The pepper spray also spreads out over a greater distance but is slightly slower to disperse than the stream. It is more effective against a charging or group assailants. But if it is sprayed into the wind, the chemicals will blow back and affect you instead.
- Stream – The Stream delivery method is like a thin ‘stream’ of water coming out of a hose that makes it almost impossible to hit a moving target/assailant in the face who is attacking you. However, splatter stream delivered pepper spray has less chance to blow back on you in mild wind conditions. Some stream solutions also have a UV mixture for trace evidence identification if assailant was detained by police.
- Foam or Gel – The Foam or Gel delivery method is usually delivered in a semi-stream like spray that sticks to what it makes contact with. Some manufacturers might claim, “it will obscure an assailant’s vision and assist in the user’s ability to escape.” Sometimes staining dyes are mixed into the foam for suspect identification. Foam may be more effective against a charging suspect or one wearing glasses, but often has less range than the stream method. Foam or gel delivery methods are better for inside use and will have less environmental contamination that the stream and cone delivery methods. Foam-gel interior deployment may less severely contaminate an entire room if used inside a building.
Pepper Spray Canister Range and Delivery Concerns
The distance pepper spray will reach, like mace, is dependent on the size and pressurization of the canister and the delivery mechanism.Maximum effectiveness for most pepper spray canisters is between four and fifteen feet away from the assailant. This short distances can give the advantage to a rapidly approaching aggressor. The desired target is the face, which can be difficult to hit on a moving target even when the attacker is closing the distance from 15 feet away.
Expect that most of the smaller key chain canisters will disperse a pepper spray range of about 6 feet or 2 meters. Expect to get 1 to 3 sprays from key chain size canisters. The larger hand size canisters will average about 12 feet or 4 meters with 5 bursts of 2-3 second sprays. The older the canisters, the likelihood of pressure dissipation which reduces range and the amount of bursts one might use. A common shelf life is about 4 years, but each manufacturer is different.
The amount of pepper spray will also vary, and obviously larger cans contain a greater duration of spray. Key chain canisters will likely have a single use with a short burst, maybe three seconds at best. The approximate 3 to 4 ounces or 80 to 110 grams canisters are more dependable with multiple uses and maybe best for walking and jogging. However, the larger canisters may not be practical for purses and and everyday routines.
Pepper spray manufacturers usually provide the specifications of deployment so you do not need to purchase numerous types of cans for testing. Pepper spray is disseminated by liquid or foam-gel. Do not expect to return a pepper spray canister after purchase because of the chemical materials. All expired or empty canisters should be properly disposed of as a hazardous waste product.
An assailant must be inside the effective range of the canister’s spray limits. If you were lucky enough to spray him in the eyes and mouth, the effects are not immediate, and he will probably be able to grab hold of you. As he begins to feel the effects of the chemical, he will probably become very angry that you spayed him. Because pepper spray does not incapacitate an attacker, he will hold onto you will with one hand and punch you with the other.
Newer pepper spray canister designs and product lines have become very creative. Some involve flashlights, lipstick, and some companies have developed a fake cellular telephone as a pepper spray canister to disguise the weapon. Most criminals do not let their use their mobile/cell phone during a crime. Now if an assailant allowed you to use your disguised cellular telephone for something other than a communication device, he is likely to quickly realize what you have before you can use it. He may run away or he may simply move, duck under, or rush through your efforts to pepper spray him. Then he will punch you while he takes the pepper spray canister away from you. One pepper spray product called the flair pen was marketed as “always ready to fire on an unsuspecting assailant for commuters and other travelers.” The marketer claims the pen has a range of 8 feet and “will disable any attacker instantly for up to 1/2 hour with no permanent after effects.”
Pepper Spray Effectiveness or Strength Rating
Consider the OC potency in the pepper spray canister you are considering to purchase. Before pepper spray became popular, law enforcement officers carried Mace canisters with a potency level three times greater than what was sold to the general public. Some chemical spray personal protection products have mixed Mace (CS) with pepper spray.
OC is measured in percentage of OC Oleoresin Capsicum solution that ranges from just a few percentage points to claims of 18% defined in the Scoville Scale (SHU – Scoville Heat Units) that measures potency/dilution level of the pepper concentrate. SHU is dependent on the quality of peppers extracted and processed capsinoids, which is the “heating element” used in the OC solution. Other times manufacturers will list potency as Major Capsaicinoid (MC) ratings. In general, the higher percentage in both the SHU and MC ratings would be a consideration for greater pepper spray effectiveness. Consideration must be given to the laws or restrictions of one’s state, province, or nation before purchasing pepper spray or Mace. Pepper spray is generally more effective than CS or Mace but still may not have the desired affect on everyone.
Pepper Spray Contamination Is Unbiased
If you do use pepper spray or mace on someone you may also be affected. The particles in the canister do not discriminate between the good guy and the bad guy. The OC particles bounce around and fly all over. Chemical particles cannot recognize who is the bad guy and then just stick on him. These particles will also affect you too. This is especially true after pepper spray or Mace is deployed inside an enclosed area. In such cases, fans are recommended for airing out indoor rooms that have been contaminated and usually require at least an hour to air out. This was the case when one “brilliant” officer deployed his pepper spray as a joke in the locker room as the next shift was preparing for duty.
Before you carry pepper spray test your reaction to it by spraying some in the air and walking into it (Do not try this if you have a repository condition or allergies) you should look at selecting another options for personal protection devices. After you are finished heaving and hacking, you will probably have second thoughts about using it. The foam delivery method reduces the amount of OC or CS chemical contamination, but not completely.
Intentional Self-Contamination If Threatened
Possibly one of the best ways to deploy pepper spray when confronted by an assailant may be to spray yourself with the chemical instead of the assailant. If the assailant attacks you, more than likely, he will not stick around to rape you. However, if he is an anger retaliatory rapist, he may continue to violate you under such conditions. Regardless, the coughing and gagging sensations of pepper spray or Mace will likely affect you negatively effecting your ability to physically respond. Your hair and clothes will all be contaminated and any movement you make will probably put you into a coughing fit. You will need to shower as soon as possible. Don’t wear your clothes inside the house or you will contaminate your home as well. Let the clothing air out before washing.
Do not attempt this technique, if you have any medical side effects or allergic reactions to the chemical. This technique is not a guarantee to stop the assault and you would simultaneously be at a physical disadvantage to do anything else but cough and gag.
First aid for contamination from pepper spray or Mace is the combination of fresh air and clean water; sometimes soap and water, or ice is used. Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo is sometimes recommended for decontamination. Water may increase the burning sensations from pepper spray. You should check with the instructions provided by the pepper spray manufacturer regarding treatment after contamination. The effects or pepper spray should dissipate between 20 and 45 minutes depending on level of the exposure and the OC potency. Do not rub your eyes. Do not use ice to cool the skin or eyes and do not use creams, oil based soaps, or saline eyewashes. Make up also produces persistent irritation. If the effects still persist beyond 45 minutes, contact a physician immediately. Although semi-miserable experience will linger for many hours after significant pepper spray contamination.
Assailant’s Condition and Mindset
Do not think just because it worked on you that it is going to work on a predator. The effects on you may be uncomfortably effective, never count on it working similarly to an angry, drunk or drugged predator with a high pain tolerance level or commitment to inflict injury. Your mindset is geared on being affected by the chemicals while you are conducting your experiment, which is nothing compared to the mentality of a violent criminal committed to attacking you. Alcohol and drugs will also reduce the effectiveness of chemical agents and can make some individuals even more violent if sprayed. There are reports that some individuals who commonly eat cayenne peppers become less affected by OC.
Pepper spray or Mace effectiveness seems to be more as a result of an individual’s commitment level. When a person has commitment, the effects are minimal or non-existent. Military police and law enforcement recruits are sprayed directly into the eyes with stream pepper spray during training. Then they are required to fight off an aggressor using a baton, take down and subdue suspects as part of the pepper spray (OC) exposure certification process. The point is to have each recruit prove to themselves that they can function if they were directly pepper sprayed with the chemical.
Pepper spray was used on police attack dogs testing its effectiveness. When the dog was calmly sitting still, with no attack stimulus, the dog was sprayed in the face and ran away yelping. Later, the same dog was presented a target and then sprayed. The spray had zero effect and the dog charged at full speed attacking the target as if he had not been sprayed at all. The effects on humans are very similar. The effectiveness will depend on the commitment level of each individual.
Another effectiveness experiment conducted in 1997 by the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers demonstrated the ineffectiveness of pepper spray. Twenty officers were told to stab an individual 20 feet away after being sprayed in the face. Upon success, they could dive into a swimming pool. Each of the twenty officers was individually sprayed with a full blast of pepper spray directly in the face. The all succeeded in stabbing the targeted person with a simulated knife, but most significant was the fact that no one fell to the ground.
Some criminals are mentally resistant to chemical agents. The potency of the spray that police use is far greater than what is sold on the open market, and police officers are issued canisters with easier operational mechanisms. If the effectiveness of pepper sprays used by law enforcement agencies is declining and they carry a stronger ingredient mixture, what do you think are the effectiveness of the less potent sprays that are sold to the general public?
Some may argue that conditions are different when the police use pepper spray compared to when civilians need to use it. That is partially true, first the police go into situations expecting the possibility of trouble, versus women who are attacked by the surprise, blitz or con approaches. Secondly, the police are not normally attacked by people they know. Third is the fact that the criminals who are arrested by police officers are the same criminals who come into contact with the police because they victimize the general public, some of whom carry pepper spray.
In general, quick fix items are just an attempt to give women a “quick fix” to a complicated problem. These items can become a “crutch” that can cause dependency, reduce environmental awareness, and weaken any response to a threat both physically and mentally. Rape continued to rise in the 1990’s despite the popularity of chemical and other protection devices. These items, and even firearms, did not answer the “quick fix” problem of personal safety.
Will the Pepper Spray Be Ready?
Most rapes are committed by someone whom the victim knows and these items won’t be in a woman’s hands when she is attacked. An assailant, who commonly knows his victim, may know she has a self-protection device and can easily counter the item physically or simply lure her away from the item.
More effective impact for personal safety is derived through effective self defense that comes from realistic training and an understanding of the context from which various crimes occur. In addition to pepper spray there are many choices in self defense.
Do not rely completely on any personal protection weapon or gadget as one’s sole method of personal safety.