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We all know pepper spray, pepper gel and other products based on peppers’ intensely hot chemical capsaicin are effective self-defense tools. They are used by individuals and law enforcement officers alike. And for good reason.
Whether you are seeking to protect your family or want more security for yourself when you are alone, carrying provides you with a dependable ally. Besides being effective against attackers, pepper spray is compact, easy to carry and legal in all 50 states and in most jurisdictions.
But some folks may have questions about pepper spray’s effects. Is it dangerous to use? Can it even be fatal? How much pain does it cause, and how long does it take for pepper spray to wear off? Read on for answers to these and other questions from SABRE.
Oleoresin capsicum, the chemical in peppers that gives them their hot and spicy effect on the tongue, is the main ingredient in pepper spray. Used in high concentrations in pepper spray, this chemical causes temporary pain, blindness and a burning sensation when used against an assailant.
Percentages of capsaicinoids vary depending on the spray’s intended use. Sprays designed for self-defense against humans differ from those made for use against bears or dogs. Professionals in law enforcement and corrections use sprays and gels with the highest concentrations of capsaicinoids.
Properly aimed, a burst of pepper spray delivers capsaicin to the target’s face. When they contact the mucous membranes in the eyes, nose or throat, the capsaicinoids create an immediate inflammatory response.
Besides feeling intense pain, targets may temporarily lose their sight when their eyes swell shut. In addition, they may have trouble breathing for a time when the pepper spray disrupts their respiratory system.
The “badness” of pepper spray depends on who you are. If you are an aggressive criminal or a disruptive inmate or person on the street, you might consider pepper spray to be “bad.” On the other hand, if you are a peaceful citizen confronted with an assailant or a law enforcement officer trying to do your job, you will likely consider pepper spray “good.”
Pepper spray is considered a nonlethal weapon. Compared to firearms, knives, billy clubs or baseball bats, its use will do much less short-term or long-term damage than these weapons. The main difference, of course, is that the effects of pepper spray will wear off. The use of lethal weapons can produce long-term or permanent effects, including death. They can also endanger bystanders and even users if not aimed properly
How long can pepper spray incapacitate a target? The time varies depending on many factors. It can range from a few minutes to up to an hour. That is why if you are using pepper spray for self-defense, it is wise to move away from your attacker and get help as quickly as possible after using the spray. In some cases, targets can bounce back from a spraying in just minutes.
According to one study, temporary blindness typically lasts from 15 to 30 minutes, while a burning sensation on the skin can linger 45 minutes to an hour. Breathing problems can run from three minutes to 15 minutes. Usually pepper spray’s effects wear off after 30 to 45 minutes.
When using pepper spray, always try to disperse it upwind of your adversary. Otherwise, it is possible the wind will carry some of the spray back into your face. One smart alternative is to use pepper gel, which is less subject to the wind’s effects.
If you accidentally spray yourself, take immediate steps to lessen your discomfort. Immediately leave the place where the spray has been dispersed and get some fresh air. Make sure your clothing is loose enough that it won’t restrict your breathing. If you wear contact lenses, remove them. Then wash your face and hair with water and soap for 15 minutes. Don’t rub your eyes. Doing so can push more spray into them. In addition to washing your face, remove and wash all your clothing that’s been contaminated by the spray.
Pepper spray’s stinging and burning effects should wear off within an hour. If they don’t, or you still have trouble breathing, get medical help.