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One of the most popular self defence weapons / devices today is pepper spray.
It can be a great non-lethal alternative for people that are not comfortable with carrying a gun, or who haven’t learned to use martial arts effectively to the point where they’d feel ready to depend on their innate skills to protect them.
This is why pepper spray can seem like a good option for many people, although there are also drawbacks and other considerations, which we’ll get into shortly.
Some advantages of using pepper spray is that it can provide protection from both people and animals, without causing permanent damage. It is, however, very uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of a blast of pepper spray, and can get you out of a tight fix.
There are many options on the market when it comes to pepper spray and it can be difficult to know which one to buy.
Based on our research, we found at one point that there were over a hundred self defence sprays available on the market, and new ones coming out all the time.
What we present to you here is a complete guide to pepper spray, including common questions about it, martial artists weighing in on the debate, and which brands we like the best.
Table of contents (click to navigate):
- What is pepper spray made of?
- How does pepper spray work?
- When does pepper spray wear off / stop burning?
- Is pepper spray legal?
- Is pepper spray allowed on planes?
- Are pepper spray and tear gas the same?
- When is pepper spray considered a weapon?
- Is pepper spray effective?
- Is pepper spray toxic?
- Will pepper spray work on dogs?
Pepper Spray or Hand to Hand Self Defence – Which is better? (Martial arts experts weigh in)
- Brian Morágne (Freestyle Martial Arts Academy)
- Jeffrey Liddle (New World Defense & Fitness)
- Reggie Trinidad (White Tiger Martial Arts)
- John Frederick (SHIELD Self-Defense System)
- Tony Le (Guardian Traditional Martial Arts)
- Phil Ross (SURVIVAL STRONG)
- Jimmy Falbo (Falbo’s Family Karate)
- Ian Clark (Asbury Park Jiu Jitsu)
- Sensei Jay (Aikido Schools of New Jersey)
- Cary Sochin (Club X Fitness)
- Wallace Bailey (Gator Family BJJ)
- Gabriel Mora (Shaan Saar Krav Maga)
- Carlos Zevallos (Arena Combat Sports)
- Mark Moore (Underground Martial Arts and Fitness Centre)
- Brian Kwong (Ving Tsun Kung Fu School)
We Review The Best Pepper Sprays on the Market
Let’s get into this!
What is Pepper Spray Made Of?
Have you ever touched a hot pepper and then accidentally rubbed your eyes? It can really burn, and cause various facial and breathing, shall we say, malfunctions. This is essentially the same effect that pepper spray can have, just on a different order of magnitude.
Pepper spray uses an active ingredient called OC, which is Oleoresin Capsicum. Oleoresin Capsicum is an oil, and capsaicin is the inflammatory agent in the oil.
This ingredient is derived from hot cayenne peppers. It works as a inflammatory agent and causes the following symptoms when it gets blasted into someone’s face in a spray or gel form:
- Temporary blindness due to the capillaries of the eyes dilating
- Breathing difficulty due to inflammation of the esophagus (it’s still possible to breathe, however)
- The skin will have a burning sensation
For context, the heat of peppers is measured on a scale of Scoville Heat Units.
A jalapeno pepper has between 2,500 and 5,000 on that scale. In commercial pepper sprays that you can buy for yourself, that number is around 2 million units.
Police-issue sprays are at 5.3 million units, which is quite a bit. The concentration of capsaicin is important here, too, and it’s around 1% to 2% in commercial sprays, and 10-30% with police-issue options.
Here’s a video that talks about the Scoville Scale, from over at World of Chili Peppers.
One of the greatest benefits to pepper spray is that it will work on those who have a lowered sense of pain, such as those under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It will also work on animals.
Here’s another video to give some context to how pepper spray affects someone when it hits them, featuring correctional officers being forced to keep going after being blasted with the spray, eyes open.
Let’s continue on, and talk about how pepper spray does what it does…
How does pepper spray work?
Pepper spray is a lachrymatory agent, in that it stimulates the eyes to burn as well as produce tears, and activates and inflames all mucus membranes, until the spray is rinsed off completely.
Unlike tear gas, pepper spray also works on a person that’s under the influence. It is going to cause a temporary, yet intense and debilitating burning sensation.
Being sprayed will lead to a non-lethal inflammation of any mucous membranes in your eyes, as well as the nose, mouth and lungs, and will cause your eyes to slam shut due to the burning and temporary blindness.
For the purposes of self defense, it was put in a spray can, to allow someone (ie. potential victim) to spray it at another person (attacker). This can be a human attacker, or even an animal attacker, like a bear.
As you saw in the previous video, law enforcement and corrections agencies use it to subdue non-cooperative criminals that they apprehend, and so that’s why law enforcement also trains with it, in case they are faced with it themselves, which does occur.
Here’s a video that talks about exactly how pepper spray works, in terms of chemistry.
This leads into our next question…
When does pepper spray wear off/stop burning?
If you’ve ever been sprayed with pepper spray, chances are this was the first question that popped into your mind.
With plenty of varieties on the market, the answer here also varies.
However, it’s usually between 30 minutes and 2 hours, with commercially available products closer to the 30 minute point.
Is pepper spray legal?
This is quite a popular question, and, fortunately, yes, pepper spray is legal to carry and use, but only for self defense purposes.
This applies in most states, but some states, such as Massachusetts, New York, Michigan, California, Texas, Washington D.C and Wisconsin do regulate it.
To be sure, you’ll want to check the laws for the state you live in. This chart should help…
Oh, and pepper spray is absolutely illegal if you use for nefarious purposes. While we’re at the legal status …
Is pepper spray allowed on planes?
The answer to this is both yes and no. In carry-on bags, it is prohibited, and you also can’t carry it in your pocket in the cabin.
Trying to walk through airport security with a canister of pepper spray on your body is ridiculous, and something you definitely shouldn’t attempt. The canister will more than likely be confiscated, and you might even get questioned if you seem suspicious.
With that in mind, most airlines will allow you to carry pepper spray in your checked luggage. This is something that, as a policy, varies greatly from one airline to another, so you might want to consider your specific airline’s policy.
While we’re at it, it might be a good idea to actually inform the airline that you have a pepper spray canister in your checked luggage.
They need to inspect it, and make sure it won’t unexpectedly go off. If you do intend on carrying it with you, make sure that you put it in an easy-to-reach spot in order not to have security need to remove everything from your bag.
Are pepper spray and tear gas the same?
While both are non-lethal irritants, used both in self defense scenarios, and crowd control, they’re different. Many people make the mistake of using the terms interchangeably, but there are differences.
First of all, the chemical makeup is different. In pepper spray, you have oleoresin capiscum, which is not a man-made chemical.
In tear gas, you have 0-chlorobenylidenemalonotrile (CS), or 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile (CN). These aren’t gasses, but actually have a powder-like consistency at room temperature.
Then, you have the delivery methods. For pepper spray, you have five of them – stream, cone mist, fogger, foam and gel. With tear gas, the delivery is a “grenade” which explodes, releasing the compound in the air.
As you can see by this tear gas bomb literally exploding, this isn’t what you’d call a “spray”.
When is pepper spray considered a weapon?
This has much to do with the legality of pepper spray. Pepper spray is actually considered a self defense weapon, but as such, is usually sold with only some states requiring a license.
Note that these are strictly regulated types of pepper spray, with capsaicin content of 2-10%, and in limited amounts.
Is pepper spray effective?
As we mentioned earlier, when pepper spray gets into the eyes and face, it is really painful. It causes a burning sensation, and your eyes, facial skin and mucous membranes will start to itch and burn intensely,
There’s also a choking sensation, and overall you have a severe discomfort.
Therefore, if you’re being attacked, know that a single second burst will usually leave the person affected for around 45 minutes.
That said, it’s only effective if it hits its mark.
Is pepper spray toxic?
While it is dangerous, pepper spray is completely non-toxic and safe, provided you don’t overdo it.
Repeated exposure, however, may trigger changes in your corneal sensitivity.
Note that if a person does have other issues, such as an allergy to the ingredients, or a heart condition, they may experience a more severe reaction.
However, it’s hard to know that considering this is likely to be the attacker we’re talking about here.
Will pepper spray work on dogs?
Well, it depends. The basic answer is yes, but it varies quite a bit. For example, if you’re being attacked by a dog, most brands of pepper spray will stop the dog in its tracks.
It doesn’t have the same effect as it does on humans, though, but it might be enough. However, a dog that has been trained by the police has been trained to resist the oils found in a pepper spray.
If you’re being attacked by a dog, you should aim for the nose. As you probably well know, dogs have very sensitive noses, so hitting that point might slow them down for several hours, giving you plenty of time to get away.
Here’s a guy that needed to use pepper spray on some dogs, and what happened.
As you can hear from the above video, pepper spray was effective for this guy when facing some mean pitbulls.
Up next, we speak to some experts and get their take on peppers spray.
Pepper Spray or Hand to Hand Self Defence – Which is better?
Before we get to our choices for the best pepper sprays, we want to share with you the opinions of martial arts experts who we spoke to, to hear what they have to say about using pepper sprays versus other forms of hand-to-hand practices of self-defence.
For instance, we spoke with Master Brian Morágne of Freestyle Martial Arts Academy to get his opinion on pepper spray.
Brian both owns and is the Head Master at the Freestyle Martial Arts Academy, located in New Jersey, where he has taught for over 25 years.
He says: “I think that pepper spray is a great way to be proactive in self defence. I highly suggest that everyone carry it if it is legal to do so in their respected state.”
We also contacted Jeffrey Liddle, resident Krav Maga instructor over at New World Defense & Fitness, and here’s what he said regarding self-defence and the use of pepper spray and other weapons:
“First and foremost we believe the safety of ourselves and our loved ones is of the upmost importance and should be protected by any legal means necessary.
That being said, situational awareness, preparing for threats, making yourself a hard target, and realistic reality-based training for violent confrontations is the key to safety. Whether or not a weapon or self-defense tool is used is irrelevant so long as the situation has a positive outcome.
We do train in the use and proper deployment of various types of self defense tools such as firearms, blunt objects, and blades. We also feel it is imperative to be properly trained in the use of any defensive tool prior to carrying for self defense purposes, so as not to introduce a dangerous tool that could be used against yourself.
We do not train specifically with the use of any chemical defense sprays. However, the concept of its use remains the same as any other defensive tool. Proper training in identifying a threat in a reality based situation as well as effective deployment of a defensive tool is imperative to its usefulness and our safety.
Further, chemical sprays come in various sizes, strengths, chemical mixtures, consistencies, and spray patterns ranging in different effective distances. Many brands offer inert test canisters for practice and training purposes.
Lastly, we would always recommend checking local and state laws as some states do have restrictions on self defense weapons including chemical sprays.”
Master Reggie Trinidad
We spoke to Master Reggie Trinidad of White Tiger Martial Arts, out of Wayne, New Jersey.
“My take on pepper spray is that it is a great alternative for self defense. Just like any other tool, you have to consider a few factors.
1. Ease of use, 2. Effectiveness, and 3. Ready availability.
In my opinion, pepper sprays do not take a lot of skill to use. Just point and spray.
The downside may be that you will be in a state of stress and might panic, so that you may not hit your target right away, but can easily adjust with spray path.
When applied right, it will hopefully deter, or at least slow down, the assailant giving the intended victim a chance to escape or continue with physical force.
And lastly, pepper sprays can be easily purchased. I also feel that some people may have different views on morally using more violent tactics such as firearms, knives, or blunt instruments, in which pepper spray becomes a great alternative.
But of course, there’s always the downside such as wind direction and having it backfire on you, failure to deploy it on time, and lastly malfunction. But this can happen with any tool.
Bottom line, it’s always good to have something ready, but better to have a back up plan as well.”
We also got a hold of John Frederick from SHIELD Self-Defense System, who is basically anti-pepper spray as a self defense tool.
John says: “The thought of Pepper Spray as a self-defense option or tool is one of the most absurd and dangerous pieces of training taught.
The few out there that teach protection against real violence knows and understands this and would never let a person believe that they are safe just because they have pepper spray.”
We spoke with Tony Le of Guardian Traditional Martial Arts.
According to the website, “Tony Le, Kyo Sa Nim is a 3rd degree black belt who has been training for over 13 years. KSN Le has been teaching for over 10 years. He currently serves as the U.S. Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan Federation Region 2 Board Director. He is the 2018 national champion in forms and silver medalist in sparring (3rd Dan division.)”
Tony says: “While we don’t teach pepper spray defense techniques in our regular Martial arts programs, I have trained with and have taught a clinic on its use.
Pepper spray is an effective deterrent against assault, however, the defendant may not be able to deploy the spray in a timely manner, specifically if they are unaware of an attack.
So, we emphasize situational awareness and evasion tactics first. But when needed pepper spray is a safer non-lethal option.”
We also reached Master Phil Ross, who is the author of SURVIVAL STRONG, which focuses on tactical strength and self-defense. Phil says: “I believe in and recommend pepper spray. I’ve been using it ever since the 1980’s! I discuss its use in my book.”
The endorsement of these experts so far might seem sufficient, but, in speaking to many other self defense experts, we got much more than even we bargained for!
We spoke with Jimmy Falbo, of Falbo’s Family Karate in Gulf Breeze, Florida, who says:
“In the case that a woman is walking to her car, she needs to be aware of her surroundings. We call this situational awareness. Especially if she is in an unfamiliar location, like a big city.
Most attacks happen in un-secluded dark areas away from crowds. If a victim had access to a weapon to defend themselves, they would have a greater chance of survival.
Problem is, most weapons are too large to carry on your self and may take too long to pull from a purse. Keys in between the fingers to scrape the eyes of the attacker is handy.
Pepper spray on the key chain is easy access also. Most important, be as calm as possible, focus if you plan to use something to help you survive.
Of course if you know any kind of self-defense martial art like krav maga or karate always helps. You take that with you everywhere you go.”
We spoke to Ian Clark, of Asbury Park Jiu Jitsu, who raises a good point when it comes to some potential disadvantages when using pepper spray, if you aren’t trained to use it correctly.
Ian says: “In many cases, people attempting to use weapons / pepper spray who are not properly trained will end up injuring themselves or having their own weapon used on them. Pepper spray must be in hand and facing the proper direction prior to a physical altercation.
You also need more then 2-4 feet of clearance between you and your attacker to not inflict self harm. Using pepper spray from the proper distance and spraying in a “S” form will be effective, so individuals with safety concerns should train to draw and spray the tool.
We advocate for martial arts as first line of defense, as physically controlling and rendering your opponent unconscious or broken is best for unarmed scenarios.”
We also reached out to Sensei Jay at Aikido Schools of New Jersey, to ask what he thinks about the use of pepper spray when defending oneself…
“We do not use pepper spray in the practice of Aikido, which is more of a practice that focuses on the ability of a person to stay blanched and calm when attacked.
Pepper spray, and other items for self defense and be an effective tool, but, like everything, you need to practice using it for it to be effective.
I am not condoning randomly spraying people, but targets. And the practice should be done with some resemblance of stress (have some screaming at you).”
Cary Sochin from Club X Fitness in Miami adds his own take, saying:
“With regards to having pepper spray on hand to use in self defense, they say it can’t hurt, but be cautioned that to have that be your sole source of self-defense would be problematic – you would need to have your hand on it at the ready at all times, otherwise it may not be within immediate reach or be unlocked / off safety in time to use effectively in an emergency.”
After almost ten years of training Jiu-Jitsu I can confidently say I am still not prepared for every attack. There are too many variables involved.
While Martial Arts training can greatly enhance your chances of fending off an attack, it is extremely important to have a back up plan.
Pepper spray can be effective. When used properly it can allow you to escape an attack.
It can also be used as a deterrent if an attacker approaches.
Be aware of your surroundings, get training and stay safe.”
We spoke with Gabriel Mora, Owner and Chief Instructor at Shaan Saar Krav Maga. Gabriel is a 3rd Dan Israeli Black Belt, Counter Terror. and Master Certified Weapons Expert Instructor.
He says: “Pepper Spray can be a very effective tool if the person using it is properly trained and the individual have practiced drawing it under stress.
I cannot stress the significance of proper training enough.
Effectiveness of all self defense tools depends on where they are carried on the person, the aggression level of the attacker, and the proximity of the attacker.
There are a couple of disadvantages to tools; first off they can be used against the person trying to defend themselves. This is most typical in high stress situations where the user freezes.
Second, if an attacker is already striking at a person and the tool has not been deployed, the user will find it incredibly difficult to draw, access and use in a stressed scenario.
Pepper spray is limited in the fact that it cannot be used in close quarters to its full advantage without also affecting the user.
Also, when we talk about self defense, at Shaan Saar Krav Maga, we always discuss and prepare for the possibility of an attacker being on drugs.
Various drugs can make the attacker impervious to pain from nerves or pressure point manipulations.
For me, I strongly believe that pepper spray is a good addition to Krav Maga self defense training but not a replacement for reality based, non-sport self defense training .
I do not believe any self defense tool can replace the knowledge and benefits of Krav Maga.
Rather, they are supplemental and can help end a violent attack faster and more efficiently.”
Carlos Zevalos, from Arena Combat Sports, was fairly doubtful that pepper spray would be a sufficient way to defend yourself in a real one-on-one confrontation.
He says: “I always tell my female clients to get a permit and arm themselves. I don’t think pepper spray has the proper man-stopping power.”
To that, we said, “Why do you say that?”
His response: “Well, time and time again, you see a guy getting sprayed in the face and continuing towards you.”
“Pepper spray is a valuable tool when it’s ready in your hand, and the safety lock is off. The psychology of a bad guy is that he wants a victim that is weak and unaware of the environment they are in. So, most likely if you are attacked, it will be at a time when you least expect it.
From the second this attacks starts your heart rate is going to go from zero to sixty miles an hour, you will get tunnel vision, and you will lose all fine motor skills.
As the unexpected attack happens, it will most likely be impossible or you will be unable to search through your purse, find your keys, unlock the pepper spray, aim, and shoot. This sudden attack will be better handled through physical self-protection and escaping as fast as you can.
However, the best way to use pepper spray is to have it ready in your hand, when walking alone in an environment that makes you vulnerable and an easy target.
Also, it can be of used when confronted by a possible threat. By keeping your distance you will allow yourself to have time to use your pepper spray or hold it in your hand and point it at the attacker using it as your own threat.
Remember – bad guys are lazy, and they want the easiest target possible. The best self-defense is your ability to be aware and put as many obstacles in between you and a possible threat.
Walking with a friend or dog, parking in a well lit area, wait to text until you are in a safe place and always keep your eyes up and be aware of your surroundings.
These are all ways you can help to deter an attack. These deterrents make you a harder target for a lazy attacker and could possibly be life saving.”
Brian Kwong is an instructor at the Ving Tsun Kung Fu School in East Brunswick, New Jersey. Here he offers his own take on pepper spray, as to whether he thinks it’s a good idea to keep it on hand, or not, for self defense purposes.
“As a martial artist who has been practicing since I was 16, and being exposed to the industry, I can confidently say that pepper spray and similar products are among the most effective (and personally recommended) self-defense tools that one should purchase.
I teach young adults, senior citizens, and women. My demographic is extremely broad. There have been many situations where people have come to me seeking self-defense, without understanding that training any martial art to a combat-proficiency is not a short-term process.
Training your body to perform systematic movements at rapid speeds while maintaining high-accuracy is something that takes a long time, and requires quite a bit of effort and time-investment.
Many come looking for instant gratification, and the martial arts industry as a whole is more than happy to market a false sense of security in people by teaching “self-defence workshops” or “women’s self defence.” But they do very little to help people when it comes to an altercation because there is only so much you can learn in a couple hours at a workshop.
How proficient can you become at performing a combination of movements tailored to extremely specific situations that you may never encounter?
Trying to teach martial arts with integrity in this day and age has become extremely difficult, but I still continue to try and do so. It is far less lucrative, but I don’t lie to my students.
Students who come in to my school for their free trial telling me that they are scared of confrontation, and want to learn to defend themselves quickly, I often tell them that pepper spray will do much more than martial arts.
It is something they can use immediately with little-to-no-training, and they will be able to use it in a far wider amount of situations in the beginning.”
We Review The Best Pepper Sprays on the Market
There are a few key things that you need your pepper spray to do: always spray when you need it, spray far enough that you can use it without being too close to danger, and have a strong enough spray that it wont be blown back onto you when used. Here are three of the best pepper spray options available:
Sabre 3-in-1 Pepper Spray
Sabre brand pepper spray is carried by police officers around the world. This fact alone lets you know that this is a high quality brand.
Officers that are put in danger everyday are not going to choose to carry a spray that is ineffective or unreliable.
The company has in an house lab that tests the formula in every product before they are sold to assure a quality product.
The small pepper spray canister holds enough spray to be used for 35 bursts and sprays as far as 10 feet. It also includes UV dye that will help to identify the attacker.
But, what people like most is the effectiveness of the spray. It is a powerful formula. If you want proof and are afraid to test it out on yourself, search for videos online.
There are more than a few, and they show that they spray can stop an attacker in their tracks.
Mace Brand Pocket Pepper Spray
Many people use the words Mace and Pepper Spray interchangeably.
While Mace is pepper spray, not all pepper spray is Mace. It is just one brand of pepper spray. With that said, it is a highly rated and preferred brand of pepper spray by many people.
Mace Brand Pocket Pepper Spray has a stream spray that can reach 12 feet.
The powerful stream also reduces the chance that the spray is blown back onto you by the wind. The formula is strong and the product is a favorite of many club bouncers.
The main complaint that people have online about the product is that it does not include a pocket clip.
Police Magnum OC Pepper Spray with UV Dye
The Police Magnum OC Pepper Spray comes with a twist top to reduce accidental discharge and a UV dye to mark the attacker.
The canister is small and easy to carry with you. It even has a key chain ring if you want to keep it with your keys. The product is made in the United States and has a strong formula.
You can feel the effects of it even if you accidentally get a little on your fingers when spraying.
The one thing to keep in mind with this pepper spray is that there is a small amount of spray in the canister.
You will want to hit your attacker, person or animal, in the face with the spray, which could be a little trickier. However, the product is strong and the size is convenient to carry with you to many places.
Pepper spray is an easy non-lethal product that you can carry with you for your personal safety.
Read the complete reviews of the products above to make sure you are choosing the best pepper spray for you and your needs.
If you are interested in other non-lethal self-defense products check out our review on the best stun guns.
Thanks for reading. If you have any comments, leave them below!