What exactly is pepper spray?
Mace, tear gas, CS gas and other lachrymatory agents (chemical compounds that cause the eyes to sting and water) have recently been lumped into this category. These crowd control agents developed for Police and Military use are now no longer widely used due to inconsistent effectiveness in various field conditions, product degradation when stored for long periods of time and various legal concerns.
OC spray (Oleoresin Capsicum) is another name for pepper spray. The chemical compound capsaicin, the active ingredient, is derived from hot peppers. The "hotness" of the capsaicin is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU), typical ratings are from two to five million units. The Scoville test, originally developed in 1912, involved dilution of the pepper extract by percentage in sugar water and "taste-tested" by a panel of volunteers.
The degree of dilution, when the testers could no longer detect heat, yielded the rating. Habanero peppers have a SHU rating of 300,000 or more, thus their extract is diluted 300,000 times before it becomes undetectable. Modern quality control methods laboratory-verify the SHU via high-pressure liquid chromatography, known as the "Gillette Method", to directly measure the capsaicin rather than subjective sensory methods. Advance purification and refinement process insure uniform product quality.
When aerosolized, the extreme effectiveness of this respiratory irritant has caused it to become the primary riot control agent used by law enforcement, the military as well as the ideal personal self defense weapon for civilians.
This self-defense spray causes instant and intense pain, it swells the body's mucous membranes reducing the airway size, induces intense coughing making breathing difficult but not impossible. The assailant has difficulty getting enough air to continue to fight or run. The extreme dilation of the veins in the eyes and profuse watering force the eyes to close causing disorientation and loss of balance.
Eyeglasses or contact lenses may somewhat reduce the impact but a good spray in the face will significantly affect the attacker. The airways will still receive the full dose and the "leakage" around the glasses or contact lenses cause enough irritation that the attacker will remove his glasses and try try to rub his eyes only causing more pain plus reduced vision.
The effects last between 30 and 45 minutes and cause no product-induced permanent damage. However your attacker will have become more concerned with his own survival rather than continuing to press an attack upon you. Due to the multiple physiological effects this powerful spray has proven itself the best deterrent against violent attack even by persons with a high pain tolerance, alcohol or drug impairment and the mentally ill.
Pepper Spray is non-lethal. With more than two decades of civilian and law enforcement use there has not been any substantiated deaths or permanent health damage from pepper spray. The only related deaths have occurred after the attacker is in police custody and combined with questionable restraint methods, i.e. postional asphyxia where the suspect is shackled hand and foot and left face down for too long.
Good to know should you misidentify a threat or accidentally spray yourself or a loved one. In fact this is the main benefit of OC sprays is that it combines effective stopping power with the ability to "put the bullet back in the barrel" if you make a mistake.
What it is not!
Pepper Spray is not a toy! Never allow young children access, treat your self-defense spray as you would any dangerous weapon. Check your local laws regarding the minimum age to carry a defense spray. Even if allowed by law assess developmental maturity before arming your children with a such a powerful weapon. Discuss the effects and ramifications of use and misuse. While effective against animals, including bears, it is not for use on the neighbor's cat ;-)
Mace Pepper Spray is not a magic bullet.
Never threaten to use it, a lack of surprise may give your attacker a chance to shield against a direct shot and may charge you and try to take it from you. When threatened keep your spray in hand and out of sight until the assailant closes into range, about 8 to 10 feet. Outstretch your empty hand in a defensive move (it will distract his attention) and spray him while keeping the spray hand close to your chest, adjust your aim as needed.
Shout loudly NO! or BACK AWAY FROM ME! etc. Get away from your attacker as quickly as possible, he may still try and grab you. After you have safely escaped, call Police to help in apprehending the assailant and hopefully prevent future attacks.
How is it packaged for use as a weapon?
After capsaicin is extracted and refined it is processed into an aerosol solution to be an effective respiratory irritant. Packaging typically consists of one-half ounce pepper spray key chain models, two and four ounce canister models and even larger bear spray models.
Specialized packaging includes pepper pens, pepper pagers, sprays inside walking weights and even men's and women's rings, ideal for date-rape protection.
Stream Spray - this methods propels the spray in a tight pattern that expands to approximately two feet with a typical effective range of six to twenty feet, depending upon unit size. This is the type most used by law enforcement as it allows more precise application without unintended over-spray. More attention is needed to aim it properly. A side to side motion will cover a greater area.
Fogger Spray - this type disperses a pattern of dense pepper fog creating a wide barrier between you and your attacker. Especially ideal when there may be multiple attackers. Easier to aim but with a slight increase in blowback potential (nothing like what the assailant is receiving). Good if you do not intend to practice often.
Pepper Foam - mixed with a foaming agent this type provides the least potential blowback. The thick foam more quickly blocks vision and when the assailant attempts to wipe it away he is actually grinding it into his eyes and skin thus intensifying the effect.
Additives and Specialized Formulas:
Some formulations include tear gas and/or ultra-violet dyes (invisible to the attacker) that add to the effect and aid law enforcement in later suspect identification when viewed with a black light. The state of Michigan requires a couple of distinct formulations that combine UV dye with either tear gas or OC spray.
A lot has been claimed about special or secret formulas and percentages. The truth is all of the top brands, Pepper Shot, Mace, Wildfire, Sabre, and Fox Labs use extremely fine ground pepper in man-stopping concentrations. Proper civilian self-defense use involves surprise, rapid deployment and escape from the threat. Any brand name formula with a two to five million SHU will temporarily incapacitate your attacker long enough for you to make your break for safety.
Considering a (minimal, but possible) mistaken threat identification or accidental discharge you may not want the absolute hottest of the hot. Law enforcement officers are trained in proper decontamination procedures they are required to employ after use. Your (civilian) concern should only be for your personal self defense and escape. Leave the responsibility to bring the thug to justice up to law enforcement.
Check out these great sprays:
Mace Pepper Peppergard Spray
Dog Pepper Spray
Wildfire 15 % Pepper Spray