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Self-defense is an invaluable part of survival, whether it’s in an urban environment or somewhere in the wilderness. That’s where a pepper spray comes into play with it’s compact, lightweight design and unarguable effectiveness. But – what is pepper spray made from?
Pepper sprays are made of the chemical compound Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) acting as the active ingredient.
This is an oily extract that’s derived from hot chili peppers e.g. cayenne.
Actually, it’s safe to say that we can refer to pepper spray as a ‘weaponized hot sauce’.
This is also why pepper sprays are also called OC sprays since they rely on Oleoresin Capsicum as the primary ingredient that does all the damage.
In fact, the main compound in this oily extract is capsaicin and this is what gives that horrible burning sensation when in contact with the skin.
How is a Pepper Spray Made?
To put it simply, here’s the rough process of how pepper sprays are made in approximately 7 steps:
- Hot peppers are finely ground
- Capsaicin gets extracted via an organic solvent (e.g. ethanol)
- The organic solvent evaporates, leaving only the oily resin a.k.a. OC
- Inert ingredients are added to Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) to subdue some of the effects in order to comply with current laws
- The OC is combined with a propellant and water (or an oil-based solution)
- The complete mixture is put in a canister where it gets pressurized
- The OC-based solution is now ready to be used i.e. sprayed on a target
Note that the exact manufacturing process might vary between the various pepper spray brands out there.
However, this is just to give you a rough idea of how a pepper spray is made so that you may be able to use the finished product i.e. a small canister of red-hot goodness meant for self-defense purposes.
Types of Pepper Spray Patterns
Depending on how the pepper spray is made, there are 4 main spray patterns that you can choose between:
- Stream – This pattern utilizes a narrow stream that can reach up to 25 feet. It’s highly-effective in windy conditions and the chance for it to blow back in your face is pretty slim.
- Cone – In this pattern, a fine mist comes out of the canister and it can reach up to 12 feet. Also, you don’t need to worry about aim with cone-type pepper sprays, although they can perform poorly in windy weather.
- Gel – The gel spraying pattern is ideal when used indoors or in close quarter scenarios and it can reach as much as 25 feet. Moreover, the pepper gel sticks to your target/attacker when sprayed.
- Foam – The foam is quite similar to the gel as it’s highly effective in close distance or when used indoors. It sticks to the target in a similar fashion to the gel, but the range of the foam is less – around 6-8 feet.
- Fog – This spray pattern provides a very wide range of spray that minimizes the chance of missing your target. However, it’s only effective in close quarters (4-8 feet) and the fine fog might end up in your face during windy conditions.
And if you’re wondering which of these spray patterns is the most effective, my personal opinion is the stream.
I’ve now owned a couple of SABRE RED stream pepper sprays and this spray pattern is simply ideal as it gives you top-notch accuracy.
Or in other words, you could accurately aim at someone’s eyes if you want to and you don’t have to worry about the stream blowing back in your face.
What Does Pepper Spray do to Your Face?
You’ll immediately feel a very noticeable burning sensation only in sensitive areas of your face (e.g. your eyes or mouth) if you get pepper sprayed or if you spray someone with it.
To give you an idea of what it feels like, think about the awful burning sensation that you feel in your mouth when you eat very spicy foods.
Now imagine feeling this type of heat on your eyes for example – not nice… at all.
Due to the fact that capsaicin only reacts with the nerve endings in sensitive areas of your face, you’ll feel the burning sensation mainly in your eyes, throat, eyes or lungs.
And while this does sound quite horrible, these effects are only temporary and aren’t meant to (and typically shouldn’t) result in any permanent damage.
How Long Do the Effects of a Pepper Spray Last for?
If you were sprayed in the face with pepper spray, you would immediately feel a stinging and burning sensation in your eyes, nose, mouth, throat, and possibly even on your skin. Left untreated, this burning can last from 40 to 60 minutes.
If the spray were to come in direct contact with your eyes, they might become irritated and swell shut. This temporary blindness can last from 15 to 30 minutes.
If you breathe in any of the spray, you might feel burning in your throat and lungs. This can cause severe coughing or difficulty breathing for up to 30 minutes.
1. What is the difference between Pepper Spray and Mace?
Pepper spray is an inflammatory agent that uses a hot pepper extract oleoresin capsicum (OC), while Mace relies on a chemical irritant called phenacyl chloride (or NC tear gas).
With that being said, Mace is a powerful irritant that can cause quite a bit of pain on one’s face and in particular areas like one’s nose and eyes.
Pepper spray is much more effective than Mace against people under the influence of alcohold and drugs!
However, the original Mace formula is considered to be incredibly toxic in contrast to pepper spray that’s basically made of hot peppers.
2. Can Pepper Spray kill you?
Yes, although that’s highly unlikely since you’d have to be allergic to the active ingredient capsaicin and/or be asthmatic.
It’s worth noting that pepper sprays are labeled as less-lethal (than guns for example) and that’s why they’re legal in most states and places around the world.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t kill you under the “right” conditions as evident by government official reports.
Report courtesy of the Department of Justice from 2003 points out that pepper spray had a direct impact on the deaths of 2 people from a total of 63 observed cases (1).
What this report shows though is that these 2 individuals had pre-existing asthma that’s cited as a factor that contributed to their death.
So if you or the person you’re spraying this stuff with is allergic to capsaicin or spicy/hot smells, an allergic reaction will be triggered, which can be deadly.
How do you know if your attacker is allergic or has asthma?
There’s no way to be sure and you can’t take your chances during potentially life-threatening self-defense scenarios so first and foremost think about preserving your and the life of those with you.
3. How bad does Pepper Spray hurt?
It hurts bad, REALLY bad!
To put things into perspective, think about the pain you experience on your lips if you accidentally touch a hot chili with them.
Then amplify that pain and spread it across your face, especially your eyelids, eyes and mouth.
Although I’ve never been pepper-sprayed (thank the Lord), I know that the burning pain is quite intense and can last for well over an hour, even if you’re under cold water the whole time.
I’ve tested pepper sprays a couple of times on bushes and trees and even standing next to the target you can feel (like you’re peeling onions) and smell the ultra-concentrated capsaicin.
4. What kind of peppers is Pepper Spray made from?
Pepper sprays are typically made of super-hot chili peppers like cayenne.
That’s because these peppers contain a lot of capsaicin, which is the chemical compound in peppers that’s responsible for their spiciness i.e. hotness.
And the exact way the capsaicin content in peppers is measured in ppm (parts per million) with hot peppers having a ppm of 2100-2450.
Anyhow, what makes one pepper hot is the capsaicin content, which means that the more capsaicin = the hotter the pepper.
Now you know what a pepper spray is made of – the chemical compound Oleoresin Capsicum or OC for short.
And this chemical compound that’s essentially an oily extract is unsurprisingly derived from hot chili peppers.
Now, we’d like to know – have you ever experienced capsaicin’s concentrated power i.e. have you ever been pepper-sprayed?
Let’s make it an interesting and fun discussion so drop your answer below!
Simo, an outdoor specialist and avid survival enthusiast, brings over 3 years of experience in navigating and thriving in the great outdoors. With an unwavering passion for nature, Simo has honed their skills in various aspects of outdoor exploration, including camping, hiking, and wilderness survival. Their extensive knowledge and hands-on experience enable them to tackle challenges head-on while imparting valuable insights to fellow adventurers. His dedication to promoting outdoor safety and environmental stewardship make them a trusted resource for anyone seeking to embark on unforgettable outdoor experiences.