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Pros and Cons of Adding Pepper Spray to Your Everyday Carry System

Pros and Cons of Adding Pepper Spray to Your Everyday Carry System

There’s no doubt about it – a pistol is the best form of self-defense going. But what about when you can’t bring your gun, or when the situation doesn’t warrant its use?

Whether you’re looking for a non-lethal self-defense solution, or you’re looking for something to back up your gun, concealed pepper spray is a viable option for EDC – as long as you know how to use it correctly.

So, let’s talk about how pepper spray works, the legal ramifications of using it, and how to best go about adding it to your everyday carry setup.

What is Pepper Spray?

We all know pepper spray as something that can stop an assailant in their tracks thanks to its burning, blinding properties. But what is pepper spray made of, and how does it work exactly?

Pepper spray, also known as Mace, capsicum spray, or OC spray, is an aerosol spray containing oil that causes burning, pain, and tears when it makes contact with someone’s eyes.

Defensive spray is primarily made up of an oil called oleoresin capsicum, which comes from plants in the Capsicum genus, including a variety of peppers like chili peppers, according to Medical News Today.

The same chemical that gives these peppers their spicy flavor is the main ingredient in pepper spray – though at a much higher concentration. It’s easy to see why this spray causes such an adverse reaction when it makes contact with someone’s eyes or skin.

There are several types of OC sprays, including sprays, gels, and streams, some of which contain a UV marking dye to help police identify attackers.

What is Pepper Spray? -  Sabre Pepper Spray

What Are the Effects of Pepper Spray?

Though considered non-lethal, the physical effects of OC spray include a wide range of symptoms – none of which are pleasant.

According to Medical News Today, the consequences of coming into contact with pepper spray include:

  • Involuntary eye closure, eye pain, and temporary blindness
  • Throat burning
  • A runny nose
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing, dry cough, or gasping for air
  • Chest pain
  • Gagging
  • Dizziness
  • Panic
  • The inability to speak
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Rashes, blisters, or burns

These symptoms are incredibly painful and last approximately 30 minutes or so.

Can Pepper Spray Blind You?

Considering how agonizing the symptoms of capsicum spray can be, one has to wonder whether this high concentration of chemicals can have any permanent effects on a person’s eyes.

According to an article from the Vision Eye Institute, while the immediate, uncontrollable, symptoms of OC spray can cause temporary blindness, there is a very low likelihood that a single exposure will have any long-term effects.

“Overall, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that pepper spray will cause permanent damage to the eye; however, repeated exposure could certainly cause permanent damage to the cornea,” the article reads.

According to Medical News Today, around 10% of people experience corneal abrasions (AKA eyeball scratches) after being exposed to OC spray – which is likely a result of them rubbing their eyes. Like most symptoms associated with pepper spray, these scratches are temporary and tend to go away on their own.

Should You Use Concealed Pepper Spray for EDC?

Like most topics in the self-defense world, there are arguments for and against the idea of incorporating pepper spray into your concealed carry system. While defensive spray can make a great non-lethal backup to your carry gun, it’s not foolproof.


Though it should never be used as an alternative to your carry pistol, there are plenty of reasons why one might want to add OC spray to their carry system.

First, it is a non-lethal form of defense that is perfect for circumstances in which you need to protect yourself, but deadly force is not justified. In these situations, pepper spray works better than other alternatives like a knife or your fists because you can still deploy it from a distance and the odds of you getting seriously hurt are lower.

Second, you can take defensive spray to locations where you can’t bring your weapon. Places like gun-free zones and other areas where firearms are prohibited often have no such laws regarding OC spray (though you should always verify). And while it’s not your trusty side piece, it’s better than nothing.

Next, pepper spray is a great option for anyone who can’t carry a gun. Whether you’re underage, prohibited from carrying firearms, or haven’t had the time to get your CCW permit (what are you waiting for?!), you still deserve to be safe. And if you can’t carry a pistol, capsicum spray is the next best thing.

Finally, defensive spray is super cheap. If you can’t afford a firearm, a $15 can of pepper spray is a decent substitute. And again, it’s better than going unarmed.

Pros and Cons of Pepper Sprays - Array of different brands and types of Pepper Spray


While there are many reasons to carry OC spray, there are a few downsides as well.

First, defensive spray can be unreliable in outdoor conditions. If the wind is blowing, not only can it prevent the spray from reaching your attacker, but it could send it into your face instead, which ends up helping the bad guy instead of stopping them.

Next, not everyone will have the same reaction to pepper spray. Someone who is highly intoxicated, for instance, may not even register that they’ve been sprayed. Glasses, masks, or other clothing items could also create a barrier that makes OC spray less effective. And those who have been sprayed before might be able to fight through the pain.

The unfortunate reality of these situations is that not only will your spray be ineffective at stopping your attacker, but it could also anger them and cause them to become even more aggressive. And by the time you realize the spray isn’t working, it could be too late to draw your gun.

Another problem with OC spray is that the risk of blowback is pretty high. Whether there’s wind, the AC is running, or a ceiling fan is on, there’s a good chance that when you deploy your spray, some will get on you as well. Even if you manage to sidestep any potential blowback, if you end up grappling with your attacker at all (which is not unlikely), those burning OC oils can transfer to you.

Finally, carrying both a firearm and pepper spray could be a problem if you accidentally grab the wrong one. When you need a gun, you need a gun. Period. And if you accidentally reach for your capsicum spray when you need a bullet, the consequences can be deadly. Along the same lines, if you draw your pistol when the situation doesn’t warrant it, you could wind up shooting someone you only meant to incapacitate.

Even if you don’t reach for the wrong weapon, that split second of hesitation you may take thinking about which one to draw could be the time your attacker needs to gain the advantage. Sometimes it’s better to have one reliable self-defense tool to avoid choice paralysis than to carry a whole range of weapons.

How to Use Pepper Spray

Using OC spray might sound like a no-brainer. After all, you just have to point and spray, right? While that might be the gist of it, there are a few safety and defensive factors to consider before pushing that button.

To use capsicum spray, grip the can in the palm of your hand with your thumb on the trigger. This not only makes the container easier to hold, but it also helps prevent your attacker from swatting it out of your hand.

Point the can in the direction of your attacker, unlock its safety mechanism, and press down to release the spray. Be sure to point the can directly at your opponent’s eyes, and spray the substance in a back-and-forth motion across their face in one-second bursts.

Once the aggressor has backed off, quit spraying. If you do need to spray a second time, aim for their mouth and nose, the USCCA recommends.

By this time, your attacker should be blind, disoriented, and in a lot of pain, giving you an opportunity to escape. Get away from the aggressor and head to a safe place, then call 911 to report what happened.

Be sure to tell the dispatcher exactly what went down and give them a description of the suspect. Let them know that you used pepper spray to defend yourself, and don’t forget to tell them if your spray had dye in it to help them locate the person they’re looking for.

Once you’re in a safe place and police are on their way, stay put. Once officers arrive, they will likely want to question you about what happened. And, because the effects of defensive spray may not stop your attacker from pursuing you further, especially if they are intoxicated, it’s best to stay where you are until you know it’s safe.

How to Use a Pepper Spray - Handling a Pepper Spray Correctly

Tips for Using Pepper Spray Safely

Like with any weapon, there are certain safety factors to consider before pulling the trigger on a can of pepper spray.

First, be SURE that can is pointed at your attacker and not at yourself. It may sound silly, but it can be easy to get things turned around in the heat of the moment, and it happens more often than you’d think.

Along those same lines, be aware of pepper spray blowback. This is especially important if you’re outdoors. It should go without saying, but you should never spray Mace directly into the wind unless you want to be the one getting a faceful of chemicals.

But even if it doesn’t seem windy, there is a chance that you will get some spray on yourself, so be prepared. One of the best ways to mitigate this issue is to take a sidestep after spraying to avoid any potential blowback.

Next, before you deploy your OC spray, make sure your stream is going to hit the attacker and the attacker only. Be aware of any other people nearby and try not to spray the innocent, like your jogging buddy, your kid, or a stranger passing by.

Finally, proper storage is critical when it comes to pepper spray, especially if you have animals or small children. Keep your spray in a safe, temperature-controlled place where curious youngsters can’t access it.

What to Do if YOU Get Sprayed

Whether you accidentally spray yourself, the wind blows some toward you, or your attacker sprays back, here’s what you should do if you come into contact with pepper spray, according to Medical News Today.

  • Do NOT rub your eyes – it will only make it worse.
  • Rinse the exposed area with clean water and soap.
  • Remove any clothing that got spray on them.
  • Try not to touch the affected area. The last thing you want to do is spread the burning chemicals to other parts of your body.
  • Blink your eyes rapidly to help flush out the chemicals.

The symptoms of OC spray should only last around 30 minutes. If your symptoms persist past an hour, or you’re having trouble breathing, you should seek medical attention.

How to Carry Pepper Spray

So you’ve decided to add OC spray to your EDC setup. But what’s the best way to carry it?

The considerations that go into how and where you carry pepper spray are very similar to those that go into carrying a firearm. No matter what you’re carrying, you want it to be safe and accessible.

While you can carry it on a keychain or in a bag or purse, the best way to carry pepper spray is in your pocket or hand where it is easily accessible.

Some canisters of defensive spray come with a clip so you can attach them to your EDC belt alongside your firearm. Just be sure to keep your gun and spray in entirely different spots and train with them both frequently, so you don’t accidentally mix them up in the heat of the moment.

And, as always, your OC spray should be carried in a way that keeps it out of the hands of unauthorized users. That means your diaper bag is probably not the best place to keep it.

How to Carry Pepper Spray -  Where should one place a Pepper Spray?

When to Use Pepper Spray

Self-defense is all about using the correct amount of force necessary to neutralize a threat. Using too much or too little force in a defensive situation can have serious consequences.

OC spray is not meant to replace your carry gun. Rather, it should be used as a backup or alternative to your firearm, depending on the situation. Pepper spray should be used to defend yourself in the event someone attacks you, but the use of deadly force is not justified.

You should never attempt to use defensive spray to protect yourself in a situation where a gun is required to stop the threat. So, even if you start with pepper spray, you should be prepared to draw your weapon if the situation intensifies.

On the other hand, just because capsicum spray isn’t lethal, it is considered assault if you spray someone without justification – much like punching someone in the face. So, how do you know if your use of OC spray is justified?

You should only use pepper spray in self-defense, plain and simple. Every state has different laws, so it’s important to understand what is considered self-defense where you live. Beyond that, it will be up to you to determine whether you’re legally justified in using defensive spray in a given situation.

Whether or not deadly force is justified in a situation is up to local laws and your discretion in the moment, so be sure you understand the difference before heading out into the world with a weapon of any kind.

Which States Can You Carry Capsicum Spray In?

It is perfectly legal to carry pepper spray for self-defense in all 50 U.S. states. It is important to note, however, that many states do have their own specific laws and regulations when it comes to OC spray.

For example, some states restrict the amount of spray you’re allowed to carry, while others regulate the strength of the spray. Many states also require you to be at least 18 years old to buy or carry capsicum sprays.

Every state is different, so be sure to check the rules where you live before incorporating pepper spray into your EDC setup.

Training With OC Spray

Just like with your carry gun, it’s important to regularly train with your pepper spray to ensure you know how to use it when seconds count.

Much like dry fire training with your pistol, you can practice drawing, aiming, and disengaging the safety of your OC spray at home until you’ve got the motions down. Just be sure not to keep the can pointed in a safe direction, and be careful not to accidentally deploy the spray – especially indoors (we promise you’ll regret it).

It’s also a great idea to head outside for a test spray to give you an idea of the amount of pressure you need to spray, how far the substance will go, and generally what to expect. This also helps ensure your spray hasn’t expired and is operational.

As always, safety first, so don’t do your practice spray anywhere near people or animals and consider wearing gloves, long sleeves, and goggles to keep from getting any of it on you.

Training with Pepper Spray -  Be ready and prepared for when you have to use your self-defense pepper spray

Choosing the Best Self Defense Pepper Spray

If you’ve ever browsed for pepper spray, you know there are countless variations. From gels to sprays, to those with keychains and dyes, how do you know which is best for you?

Before you can choose the best spray for your needs, it’s important to understand what you’re looking at so you don’t look like a deer in the headlights in the aisle of your local sporting goods store.

The first thing you should decide is the type of OC spray you want to use. There are three main types of sprays available on the market: sprays, streams, and gels.

A spray or “fogging” device is designed to spray its contents in the form of a fine mist – much like a can of hairspray, according to the NRA. The benefits of this form are that it can cover a larger area and does a great job of getting into a person’s lungs and eyes. It can also create a cloud that lingers in the air for a moment that creates a barrier between you and your attacker.

The downside of a spray is that it can’t go as far as other forms do, and there’s a larger chance that it could blow back onto yourself if there’s any wind.

Stream-style OC sprays are a great option that squirts the capsicum substance at your attacker. While this type is much less likely to blow back onto the defender, it’s also harder to hit your assailant thanks to its more concentrated stream, so you have to have good aim. It does have the farthest reach of all the forms, though, and is most popular among civilians.

Finally, gels are a thicker version of the stream-style pepper spray. Though effective at sticking to its intended target, especially since it’s difficult to wipe off, this style of spray can be slower-acting and, like the stream, requires a certain level of precision to work.

Once you’ve decided on the type of spray you want to use, you’ll need to take a look at factors such as OC content, size, range, and carry style.

The first thing to look at is the percentage of Capsaicinoids (AKA “spicy stuff”) the spray contains. Most defensive sprays contain somewhere between 0.18% to 1.33% Major Capsaicinoids (MC) with bear spray having the highest concentration at 1-2% MC, the NRA writes. The higher the MC percentage, the stronger the spray.

The next thing to look at is the effective range of the spray you’re looking at. It goes without saying that the farther away you can be from your attacker, the better. So, you want to choose a pepper spray that can travel a nice long distance. Most sprays advertise a range of anywhere from 10-18 feet. Keep in mind that’s the maximum distance and doesn’t factor in things like wind or movement, so understand that number may be a bit shorter in actuality.

Next up is the sprays per can. Most OC sprays are fired in short, 0.5-2 second bursts, though some can be sprayed continuously until the can is empty. The type you choose is up to your preference, just be sure you know how many sprays are in the can you buy, or how long it can spray continuously, so you can be prepared.

Lastly, you want to look at the design of the can itself. Defensive sprays come in many forms, with many different purposes and safety mechanisms. Some have a twist safety feature, while others have a cap over the top of the spray nozzle. Pick whichever one is easiest for you to operate and be sure to practice with it regularly.

The design of the spray canister is important as well. There are OC sprays designed to be carried on a key ring, some come with hand straps for running, while others are just a simple can. Pick whichever one best fits your lifestyle.

One form of spray thatsome experts do not recommend using is the gun-shaped container. While these are helpful in aiming and spraying at your intended target, they do open up the possibility of escalating a situation.

The last thing you want is for someone to think you’re holding a pistol when you aren’t and react inappropriately. And you never want to accidentally mistake your pepper spray for your actual gun, or vice versa, in the heat of the moment.

Defensive Spray Recommendations

The best OC spray for you will depend on your needs, lifestyle, and personal preferences.

Before you buy a can of pepper spray, you should always do your research to make sure it will meet your needs. That being said, here are a few recommendations to get you started.

One of the most popular capsicum spray brands on the market today is SABRE. These guys sell everything from small keychain canisters to full-on bear spray and everything in between. SABRE sprays are incredibly high-strength, have a range of 10-25 feet, and are individually tested. They sell sprays with UV marking dye, running straps, and practice canisters, among many others.

Even though “Mace” is often used interchangeably with “pepper spray,” it’s actually a brand name, not a general term for OC spray. Mace is one of the most well-known defensive spray brands of all time, and for good reason. The company is all about educating people about self-defense and sells a wide variety of concealed pepper spray products, including a range of sprays and gels that come in a lot of colors and styles.

Finally, we would be remiss not to include Fox Labs as one of the best pepper spray brands going. While they have a wide range of products, their “Mean Green” spray, in particular, is worth checking out. It is not only incredibly strong heat-wise, but also contains a bright green staining dye that’s hard to miss.

Does Pepper Spray Expire?

If you plan to carry pepper spray, understand that it will need to be replaced every so often. A can of OC spray will expire, just not for the reason you would think.

While the actual ingredients in capsicum spray don’t expire, the canister itself will eventually go bad, according to the Pepper Spray Store. Most pepper sprays use aerosol to propel their contents, which can leak out of the canister over time and cause it to lose pressure.

For this reason, it’s important to replace expired pepper spray and test the cans you have regularly. The last thing you want is to reach for your defensive spray and find that it has weakened, or worse, won’t spray at all.

Most experts recommend giving your can a test spray every 90-180 days or so, just to ensure it’s in working condition.

To help give your capsicum spray a longer shelf life, make sure to store it at room temperature. So, while it can be tempting to leave it in your car, don’t. Exposing your can of pepper spray to extreme heat or cold can speed up the expiration process, so it’s best to keep it on your person or in a temperature-controlled environment.


Pepper spray is a commonly used self-defense tool that can make a great addition to your everyday carry system. Before you do so, however, it’s important to familiarize yourself with your local laws, learn how to properly use OC spray, and understand the risks associated with it.

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Mikayla Blair

After launching her career as an award-winning journalist in the American Southwest, Mikayla Blair joined the Vedder Holsters team as a content writer in 2021. She writes about all things guns, holsters, and concealed carry, and is especially passionate about women's self-defense.

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