Pepper Spray – Is it effective?

posted in: Personal Safety | 0

With so much talk about the safety of people on the streets of India, particularly women, pepper sprays are freely available through stores both online and retail and are being advocated as an effective non-lethal weapon of choice to ward off attacks.

The question we are asking today is - Is Pepper spray really effective when you are under attack?

Well, yes and no. Let us look at the efficacy first. Pepper spray is a chemical agent extracted from plants of the Capsicum genus. The plant is ground into a fine dust, mixed with something like ethanol which is then evaporated and the residue mixed with an emulsifier and pressurised to be sold in aerosol containers. There are lots of different models available with lots of different kinds of concentration and it is not regulated in any form by most Governments around the world. Possession of pepper spray is however regulated in many countries, prohibited in some and freely available in other countries such as India.

Pepper spray is an inflammatory agent when sprayed directly on the face it causes the eyes to close resulting in temporary loss of vision. A lot of tearing is also experienced by the victim. It also causes difficulty in breathing, a runny nose and coughing. In many cases mild to violent sneezing is also experienced. The eyes almost always start to burn leading to an immediate cessation of the intended attack by the perpetrator allowing the prospective victim to make a getaway.

So yes, a burst of pepper spray can stave off an attacker.

But let us look at a real-life situation. Let us focus on women since they are more likely to be attacked than men. We do not expect to be attacked every time we go out on the streets. We probably use our mobile phones a thousand times more often than we would ever think of using a pepper spray. Where would one keep the car keys? And the sundry other items that are part of a lady's inventory? Most of the items are dumped into the handbag or purse.

If we visualise a hypothetical situation when a woman is walking down the street and she is accosted by a perpetrator. Realising she is getting attacked, the first basic instinct is to panic. Most women will get distressed and start to scream and try and fight off the attacker. Somewhere through the fog of panic she might even realise that she is carrying a can of pepper spray for exactly such moments.

Will she be able to find time to ward off the attacker, dip into the handbag, rummage through the stuff, find the can, pull it out, aim it at the attacker and shoot out a spray? All while the attacker is calmly waiting for her to find her weapon of choice? Probably not. Maybe sometime during the physical struggle she has lost her handbag to the ground. She is dispossessed of her weapon.

The other more worrying thing about pepper sprays is that it does not affect everyone the same way. Some studies have shown that almost 15% of people are immune to pepper spray attacks. So even if one manages to spray the attacker with a dose of well directed spray, it may not work the way that it should.


Do not dump it among the multitude of things that make up the contents of your handbag. Keep it in your pocket where you can get to it quickly and maintain the element of surprise when you take it out and spray the perpetrator with it.

We will look at other methods of self defense in another article. You need to learn some basic techniques and we will look at some of them. Meanwhile get yourself a can of pepper spray and even gift a can to your friends.

Leave a Reply