What Is Pepper Spray Made Of? Exploring the Composition of this Self-Defense Tool

Last updated: January 25, 2024

Dive into our comprehensive guide on pepper spray. We shed light on its ingredients, particularly oleoresin capsicum, explore its immediate effects, and discuss the types available. This blog is designed to teach readers about this potent self-defense tool and its responsible use.

What are the Ingredients in Pepper Spray?

The potency of pepper spray is not accidental; it lies in its primary ingredients. The main component is oleoresin capsicum (OC),  derived from chili peppers, which contain capsaicinoids – the “heat” you feel in your mouth when eating spicy foods. Besides OC, pepper spray contains a carrier solvent, typically rubbing alcohol or a hydrocarbon, to assist in the spray mechanism.

Active Ingredient

The active ingredient in pepper spray that gives it the characteristic “pepper” sensation is oleoresin capsicum.

Oleoresin Capsicum (OC)

Oleoresin Capsicum, or OC, is an oily organic resin derived from chili peppers. As the main ingredient in pepper sprays, it causes temporary corneal damage and inflammation when sprayed into the eyes. This tool is widely used as a defensive spray by law enforcement officers who must assess the imminent threat level before deploying OC spray.

Scoville Heat Units (SHU)

The “heat” of pepper spray is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU). A higher SHU indicates a hotter, more potent pepper spray.

Other Additives and Chemicals

Besides OC and a carrier solvent, pepper spray may contain other additives and chemicals to enhance its effectiveness. These could include water, glycol, oils, and other organic materials. There are potential concerns or restrictions regarding these additives based on their potential effects on health and the environment.

Effects of Pepper Spray

The effects of pepper spray are immediate and potent but typically short-lived.

Temporary Blindness or Disorientation

Pepper spray causes temporary blindness due to the immediate corneal damage and acute eye pain it triggers. Other symptoms include a dry cough, throat burning, chest pain, and dizziness. Most of these effects resolve themselves within 30 minutes.

Respiratory Distress and Skin Irritation

Respiratory distress and skin irritation are other common effects of pepper spray exposure. Symptoms can range from coughing and shortness of breath to throat burning and rashes or burns on the skin—severe exposure canlead to more serious complications.

Imminent Death or Bodily Harm

While extremely rare, pepper spray can lead to imminent death or bodily harm in certain instances. It has been linked to fatalities in very rare instances, highlighting the importance of using pepper spray only for self-defense or when apprehending individuals engaged in illegal activities.

Types of Pepper Sprays Available

Pepper sprays come in a diverse range of forms and formulations, each designed with specific considerations and advantages in mind. Understanding these differences is key to choosing the most effective product for your safety needs.

Self-defense Sprays

Self-defense sprays, a common type of pepper spray, are compact and easy to use. While effective as a deterrent, they don’t guarantee complete protection, particularly against assailants with protective gear or in unfavorable wind conditions. They should complement, not replace, a comprehensive personal safety strategy. Users must consider accuracy and potential risks of blowback or self-exposure.

Law Enforcement Sprays

In addition to self-defense sprays, there are also formulations specifically designed for law enforcement use. These typically come in larger canisters and may have a higher concentration of oleoresin capsicum, providing a more potent effect.

Bear and Animal Sprays

Furthermore, there are specialized pepper sprays for use against animals, such as bear sprays. These have a lower concentration of OC, as higher concentrations can cause an overreaction in bears and other wildlife, increasing the danger instead of deterring the animal.

Gel and Foam Sprays

Pepper spray also comes in gel or foam forms. These are designed to stick to the attacker’s face and cause a prolonged burning sensation. They are harder to remove and less likely to be affected by the wind, but they require more accuracy to hit the target.

Overall, it’s crucial to select the right type of pepper spray based on your specific needs and environment. Familiarize yourself with the advantages and limitations of each type and practice its use to ensure you’re prepared if the need arises.

Choosing the Right Pepper Spray

Once you understand the different types of pepper sprays available, the next step is to choose the right one for your needs. This requires considering several factors, including the potency of the spray, its delivery method, size, and other features that can enhance its effectiveness or ease of use.


The potency of pepper spray is often measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU). A higher SHU indicates a hotter and more powerful spray. Commercially available pepper sprays typically range from 500,000 to 2 million SHU.

However, it’s important to note that a higher SHU doesn’t necessarily equate to better-stopping power. In some cases, very high SHU ratings can lead to over-exposure, which can cause the attacker to become frenzied rather than incapacitated.

Instead of focusing solely on the SHU rating, it’s also crucial to consider the concentration of the active ingredient, oleoresin capsicum (OC). A higher OC percentage (usually between 2% to 10% in most commercial sprays) results in a more intense burning sensation when sprayed in an attacker’s face.

Delivery Method

Pepper sprays can come in several forms, including stream, fog, foam, and gel. Stream sprays deliver a narrow stream of liquid and are less likely to be affected by wind but require more accuracy.

Fog sprays create a fog-like cloud and are excellent for handling multiple attackers or for use indoors. Foam and gel sprays are thicker and stick to the attacker’s face, making it more difficult for the attacker to wipe it off. However, these also require a high level of accuracy.


Pepper sprays come in various sizes, with smaller cans being more portable and larger ones holding more spray. Smaller sprays can be easily carried in a purse or pocket and are ideal for personal protection on the go, while larger sprays may be better suited for home defense or professional use.

Additional Features

There are other features to consider when choosing a pepper spray. Some models come with UV marking dye, which can help police identify an attacker later. Others have built-in safety features to prevent accidental discharge, or they might include a training canister to help you practice using the spray.

In conclusion, choosing the right pepper spray requires a careful evaluation of your specific needs and circumstances. By understanding the key factors that influence the effectiveness of pepper spray, you can make an informed choice and enhance your safety strategy.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the primary ingredient in pepper spray?

The primary ingredient in pepper spray is oleoresin capsicum, derived from chili peppers.

2. How is the heat of pepper spray measured?

The heat of pepper spray is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU).

3. What are the effects of pepper spray exposure?

Exposure to pepper spray can cause temporary blindness, acute eye pain, respiratory distress, and skin irritation.

4. Are there different types of pepper sprays available?

Yes, there are different types of pepper sprays available, including self-defense sprays.

5. Can pepper spray cause death?

While extremely rare, pepper spray has been linked to fatalities in some instances. It’s crucial to use pepper spray responsibly and understand its potential risks.


In conclusion, understanding the composition, effects, and varieties of pepper spray is crucial for its responsible use. This potent self-defense tool, when used correctly, can be a lifesaver. Stay informed, stay safe, and remember that knowledge is the best defense.

Are you thinking about getting a Taser for protection? Read more about owning a taser and how it works from our blogs at Security Forward.

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