So, you've bought pepper spray and carry it on your key chain but are wondering, "Exactly how good is this stuff going to work in an emergency?" Or, you are shopping online now and wondering whether a stun gun or mace is better for your personal self-defense objectives?

We're going to dive into exactly what pepper spray feels like and how it works on the nervous system. But first, it's important to stress that self-defense preparation is not a "one and done" topic. Different situations will be better handled with different self-defense weapons and tactics. For example, "zapping" your stun gun in the air is often enough to scare a dog away. But would it be enough to scare away an attacker on meth? Pepper spray can be used before the attacker gets within arm's reach of grabbing you, which is probably it's largest benefit over a stun gun.

The flip side of this? In windy conditions, pepper spray can miss your attacker or even blow back into your own face. So you see, in this self-defense situation, a stun gun would be a wiser option. Having multiple options available in an emergency situation is always ideal.

Here are some key things to know about pepper spray, how it works on the body's systems and what it feels like.
First and foremost: pepper spray is a VERY effective and VERY reliable method of self-defense; but it takes a few seconds to really take effect. Don’t panic and just keep spraying!!! It is designed to be a non-lethal self defense product and as such, it is designed to create a window of opportunity and allow you to escape a potentially deadly situation.

Most pepper sprays on the market today also contain a UV dye which will not wash off of your attacker. This is added to pepper spray as an additional safety measure which helps police authorities identify your attacker if he escapes the scene and is caught later.

Here are the physiological effects that pepper spray has:
Respiratory System
You attacker will experience immediate inflammation. The throat will restrict and the temporary paralysis of the larynx will close up, restricting air flow enough to debilitate your attacker and allow you to escape. Extreme coughing and gasping for breath and nausea. Your attacker’s respiratory functions will return to normal within 20-60 minutes. 
 man being sprayed with pepper spray
Effects on the Skin:
Any pepper spray product that hits the skin will inflame it severely. The typical reaction to the skin is extreme inflammation and a sensation of extreme burning followed by extreme but painful irritation. (Think bee sting as the lasting effects but with a much wider surface area than a bee sting)

According to the Vision Eye Institute, the effect of pepper spray on the eyes will be immediate, triggering uncontrollable tearing, involuntary closing of the eyelids, redness, swelling, stinging and temporary blindness. The epithelial layer of the cornea is disrupted by pepper spray, so people with impaired corneal integrity (diabetes, dry eye or recurrent corneal erosion) are particularly susceptible to these effects, compared to those with good eye health.
Anyone wearing contact lenses will need to remove them as soon as possible – using clean fingers, not skin that’s been in contact with pepper spray. The contact lenses should be thrown away, because they can’t be repaired.
Rubbing affected eyes will only increase the intensity of pain and should be avoided. You can try flushing eyes with a saline solution. Blinking vigorously to encourage tears will also help flush the irritant from the eyes.

effects of pepper spray
Effects on the muscle coordination:
Pepper spray products have a secondary effect on muscle coordination.  Your attacker may stumble, not be able to run away and experience extreme disorientation by the effects that it has on the attackers soft membranes (eyes, nose, lungs and throat).  They are designed to debilitate an attacker’s immediate senses first. Often times, reports are that after the initial “blast” from a pepper spray and debilitating effects, the attacker still feels the effects that rake over his body for a long time. Remember, with a non-lethal self-defense product, your first choice is escape. The evidence of the attack will be on the assailant’s body.
physical effects of pepper spray illustration