What is pepper spray?
Pepper Spray is a concentrated form of Capsaicin, the same chemical that makes chili peppers spicy. Capsaicin is found in most plants within the genus Capsicum and serves as an insecticide for the plants, keeping them free of pests. The oil extracted from chili peppers is called Oleoresin capsicum or “OC” for short. It is put into an aerosolized canister ranging in concentration from 2% to 15%.
Pepper Spray is a fantastic self defense weapon that causes a strong burning sensation when it contacts the skin, eyes, mucous membranes, or lungs. It is almost always non-lethal, and the few deaths attributed to it have been a result of rare complicating factors like asthma. However, Oleoresin capsicum is an oil, and as we all know oil and water do not mix. This makes it extremely difficult and complicated to wash off pepper spray. We will cover exactly what TO DO and what NOT TO DO in case you ever come in contact with Pepper Spray.
When would you need to wash off pepper spray?
Law abiding citizens may become contaminated with pepper spray or OC in a variety of ways. Although rare, some criminals use pepper spray to attack people. Some people also just want to see what it feels like, and they pepper spray themselves for YouTube (not recommended). When used in a legitimate self-defense situation, you can experience “back spray” where the aerosol blows back onto you. This exposure is usually mild, and results in coughing, not the severe acute pain associated with a direct spray to the eyes.
What does Pepper Spray feel like?
Pepper Spray sucks. When you get it on bare skin it creates a strong, but usually tolerable burning sensation. When it is inhaled it can cause uncontrollable coughing and burning in the lungs. The absolute worst however is when it gets in the eyes. It can cause a searing pain that is so strong it is nearly impossible to open one’s eyes. The effects are almost always non-permanent and usually last between 30-45 minutes. The exact effects of pepper spray can vary by person, but are usually as follows:
- Uncontrollable coughing
- Chest burning
- Burning sensation on the affected area
- Shortness of breath
- Mucous excretions
What NOT to do.
You can easily make a pepper spray contamination worse, so we’ll first cover what not to do.
- DON’T take a shower: Taking a shower without properly decontaminating can result in the OC oil washing down to the thin skin around your genitals, making a bad situation even worse.
- DON’T touch ANYTHING: To prevent the spread of the OC oil, do not touch any other part of your body. Do not rub your eyes, genitals, or face without properly decontaminating or your whole body will be burning.
- DON’T panic: It’s important not to panic, which can lead to hyperventilation and panic attacks. The pain, although severe, is temporary and is not causing any permanent harm.
- DON’T use milk, antacids, lidocaine, or shampoo: These are often touted as “cures” for pepper spray but just don’t work. They can distract you from other legitimate efforts to relieve the pain and can even cause infections or further irritation. A study done in 2008, proved that these methods were no more effective than soap and water at reducing pain.
- DON’T apply lotions, salves or ointments: These can trap the OC oil in suspension on the skin and prevent it from being washed off, extending the pain.
What TO DO.
- DO use soap and water: OC is an oil. And the only way to remove it is to use soap and water. Dish soap is often very effective, although baby shampoo is less irritating and can be used safely around your eyes. Wash your face repeatedly to remove as much of the oil as possible, and flush continuously with as much cool water as possible. It’s often not recommended to use soap directly in your eyes, but it is our experience if you are careful and gentle and use baby soap, it can lessen the effects more quickly.
- DO remove contact lenses as soon as possible.
- DO get to fresh air: A cool breeze can do wonders on lessening the pain. If you have a fan, standing in front of it after washing out your eyes can make the pain much more tolerable.
- DO stay calm: Stay as calm as possible. The pain is temporary, and panicking can make respiratory symptoms worse.
- DO wash your clothes and body: Once you have properly decontaminated your face, make sure to wash your clothes and anything else that had contact with the pepper spray. Do not take a shower until you have properly decontaminated everything else, as this can lead to the OC oil contaminating your genitals.
- DO wait and be patient: The only true cure for OC contamination is time. Pepper spray takes about 30-45 mins to wear off completely, and once it does there is usually no permanent effects.