Pepper Spray - Great Self Defense Option

Pepper Spray vs Mace

Have you ever chopped up hot chili pepper and accidentally rubbed your eye after?

If so, you're probably shuddering as you remember how bad it stung.

Now, imagine being sprayed in the face with the same oils from that chili pepper. Your eyes will immediately begin to burn and water. Every time you inhale the burning spreads in your nose, down your throat, and in your mouth. The skin on your face starts to sting too.

That is exactly how pepper spray feels.

Fortunately, the burning and stinging are only temporary. The immediate short-term pain of pepper spray makes it a great non-lethal option for self-defense.

Pepper Spray and Mace: Two Different Products

What is the difference between pepper spray and mace? The answers vary depending on who you talk to. Some people use the two interchangeably, but they are actually quite different.

Both mace and pepper spray are used as non-lethal deterrents for self-defense. From use by police officers in the line of duty to the average individual walking home late at night, it's understandable how the two can be confused.

Here is the difference:

The primary ingredient in the original mace is phenacyl chloride, or CN, which is an irritant that affects the mucous membranes found in an individual's eyes and nose. It is very similar to tear gas. Unlike pepper spray, mace doesn't have much effect on individuals who are high or inebriated.

Today, "Mace" is better known as a company name that manufactures and sells pepper spray and other security/self-defense products.

The main ingredient in pepper spray is Oleoresin Capsicum, the compound found in chili peppers that makes them hot. Pepper spray is considered an inflammatory because it causes the nerve endings found in mucous membranes such as your eyes, nose, and mouth to burn immediately.

Additional symptoms of pepper spray include temporary vision impairment, coughing, difficulty breathing, nausea, and the well-known intense burning reaction.

Read more from our July 2018 article to learn about how pepper spray works and how it has evolved over time.

Why Should You Use Pepper Spray

One of the primary non lethal forms of self-defense used by police officers is pepper spray. Mail carriers use pepper spray against attacking dogs. It is about 80% to 90% effective in deterring an attacker.

But it's not just legal for police officers and mail carriers to use. Pepper spray is legal to carry and purchase by almost anyone over the age of 18. However, some places in the United States do have regulations and restrictions regarding the use and purchasing of pepper spray. We'll explain more on that later.

If you've been out West to the Rocky Mountains or Sierra Nevada Mountains you probably have heard about the grizzly bears. Bear repellent is primarily made up of the same ingredients found in pepper spray and is more efficient at stopping a bear attack than a handgun.


The affordability of pepper spray is another big selling point.

Compared to the costs of a small stun gun, handgun, or even a good knife, pepper spray is a steal. In addition, pepper spray doesn't require a permit or certification to carry.

Self Defense Pepper Spray

Cost varies based on the size, style, and potency of the pepper spray you're planning to purchase. A small 5 burst keychain pepper spray costs about $9 while a larger canister of gel or foam spray costs closer to $60.

Each size has its benefits depending on your needs for self-defense.

Types of Pepper Spray

You just read there are small burst spray types of pepper spray and gel spray, but what does that mean?

A Cloud (or Cone) Spray

The cloud or "cone" spray is released from the canister just like it's described, as a cloud mist in a cone shape.

The cone spray covers a wide area making it better for hitting a moving or close range assailant.

The downside is the cone spray has a slower release. If there is a breeze, it could blow back into your face causing both you and your assailant to suffer the symptoms of the pepper spray.

The Stream Spray

As described, this spray comes out in a direct stream. It covers less space than the cone spray and can make hitting a moving target a little more difficult.

Stream Pepper Spray

The good news is if it's a breezy day, the stream is less likely to blowback in your face and is released faster than the cloud or cone spray.

Foam and Gel Spray

The foam and gel pepper spray options are more potent than the cloud or stream sprays. The gel and foam sprays are more viscous and cling to the target causing the burning inflammation to last longer.

Due to the foam and gel sprays' ability to stick to an attacker's face, they offer you more time to escape the attacker. Foam is a better option for deterring an assailant who is wearing glasses as it expands after being sprayed.

Gel Pepper Spray

Lastly, foam and gel options are more environmentally friendly as they don't disperse like a mist. If you're attacked inside or near innocent bystanders, they are less likely to experience the side effects of the pepper spray.

Some foam and gel sprays contain stain dyes to aid in identifying an assailant.

Spray Distances

A small canister of pepper spray can shoot anywhere from a few feet to 10 feet. An industrial-sized canister, such as bear pepper spray, can reach 20 or 30 feet. Each distance has its benefits depending on your needs and situation.

Let's say you're planning to bring a small bottle of pepper spray with you on your morning or evening walks. In this case, a small canister such as a keychain bottle that shoots around 3-6 feet would work well.

A larger canister with more pressure can emit a fast stream of spray that will deter potential attackers at a greater distance.

For individuals looking for a small bottle to store in a purse or carry in the car, a canister of pepper spray that has 10-20 shots and reaches 5 to 15 feet may be a better option. This way you'll be prepared for an attacker who you see coming near you or who is already in close range.

If you're a hiker exploring the trails in bear country, then a larger canister of bear pepper spray would be wise to carry along on your adventures.

In the event you see a bear approaching you (which we hope you don't!) the spray will shoot 20-30 feet to maintain distance and discourage the bear to advance. Nonlethal bear spray will inflame the bear's eyes, nose, and mouth, and will not cause lasting injury or death.

Feel the Heat: How Hot is Your Pepper Spray

As mentioned above, pepper spray is an inflammatory made from the compounds found in chili peppers. When you look at a canister of pepper spray there is a level of potency rated on the label.

This rating is an OC (oleoresin capsicum) percentage which describes the amount of pepper in the spray. This only measures the amount of the pepper compound and doesn't necessarily determine how "hot" the pepper spray is.

Another method of measuring the potency of the pepper spray is Scoville Heat Units (SHUs). The SHUs are based on taste tests and strength of a raw pepper's strength rather than the formula used in the pepper spray.

The most accurate measure of "heat" is Major Capsaicinoids or MC. MC measures the levels of heat and pain of the pepper spray formula. The higher the percentage of MC, the more painful the pepper spray will be.

Easy to Carry

The variety of pepper spray canisters make it ridiculously easy to carry. Everything from size and shape to the accessories you wish to add to your pepper spray is customizable for you and your lifestyle.

A small keychain canister is easy to access, conceal, and carry. Other accessories include holsters, bands for your hand, and clips.

Types of Pepper Spray Canisters

Whether you're looking for a small self-defense accessory for your purse or pocket or an industrial-sized canister for work in law enforcement, there are styles of pepper spray to fit anyone's needs.

For Pockets, Purses, Runners, and Walkers

You're an active person. You love being outside, whether it's dark, light, urban, or rural. No matter the time of day or location, safety comes first.

You probably don't want to lug a 1 pound canister with you while your running or walking. Fortunately, you don't have to! There are numerous pepper sprays that are small enough to conceal in the pocket of your hiking pants or running shorts.

Pepper Spray Bottle of Lipstick

There are pepper spray bottles that look like a tube of lipstick. For active runners and walkers, many brands make hand-sized sprays with a band to comfortably fit in your palm and are at the ready for any emergency.

For those who are just looking for a small practical spray, there are simple hard case sprays available as well.

Small-sized canisters typically contain a few ounces and therefore have anywhere from 5-10 spray shots.

For Your Car or Home

If you're not looking for something tiny and easily concealable, there are jumbo-sized and gun-shaped pepper sprays that are more aggressive. The advantages of these sprays are their ability to travel greater distances, more variety to choose from (cloud, stream, gel, or foam), and can affect multiple attackers.

How Legal is Pepper Spray?

Compared to other non-lethal self-defense weapons, such as a TASER ECD, pepper spray is legal almost everywhere.

For civilian use, pepper spray is legal as long as it's 10-18% OC potency or less, and the individual carrying it is age 18 or older.

Higher potency, such as 18% to 20% OC, is typically carried by law enforcement officers and not the general public. Some states, such as Wisconsin, allow 5% to 10% OC potency.

In the United States, pepper spray is legal everywhere, but usually with a few restrictions. In states such as Kentucky, Ohio, North Dakota, Utah, and Vermont (to name a few) pepper spray is legal with little to no restrictions.

Places such as New York and Massachusettes, on the other hand, have specific laws and registration forms for people purchasing pepper spray. New York, for example, specifies that the pepper spray must be "pocket-sized," "purchased from a licensed firearms dealer or pharmacist," and only "two sprays may be sold" to a single person.

Easy and Safe to Use

Pepper spray canisters are designed to be safe and easy to use. To start, you will want to select a size that fits your needs. Again, if you're looking for a little additional safety while you're out and about, a small keychain or lipstick-sized canister of spray will be more practical than an industrial-sized canister used by law enforcement.

Proper use of the spray is crucial. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to use your pepper spray, operating it safely will prevent you from harming yourself or innocent bystanders.

Pepper spray canisters have a safety mechanism covering the actual button or trigger. As with a gun, the safety mechanism prevents accidental discharge of the spray. They can vary based on the brand and type of pepper spray you're using but are very easy to use.

Second, keep in mind your location. An indoor or constricted space can cause the pepper spray to affect you and/or others in the same room.

Lastly, learning how to deploy the spray. Instructions on the label clearly explain how to use your pepper spray. If you're unsure how to use the pepper spray, ask the seller or your local self-defense store if they can give you a brief demonstration.

To use, smoothly raise your arm towards the assailant, make sure the nozzle is facing the attacker, slide your finger under the safety mechanism, place over the button or trigger, and press!

The ease and safety of pepper spray make it a great option for self-defense.

How Long Does Pepper Spray Last?

Pepper spray doesn't last forever. If you have a bottle of pepper spray that has been hiding in your purse or car for the past 10 years, you should probably replace it.

The shelf life of pepper spray depends on the brand, size, and potency. Most canisters last about 3 to 6 years.

Where to Buy

Pepper spray is widely available at local firearms stores, pharmacies, and online. Start your research here to learn the types of pepper spray available.

With so many spray options, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure of what would suit your needs best. If you have any questions, let us know. We're happy to answer your questions and find the right spray for you!


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