How much have you thought about your personal safety and security?

What about your loved ones?

Not everyone wants to carry (or is allowed to carry) a firearm or a knife. Statistically, anyone who does so is actually more likely to end up the victim, anyway.

In a moment, we’ll tell you what the best possible self-defense method is.

But in this article, we’re going to explore alternatives to deadly force, specifically tear gas vs pepper spray.

What’s the difference? Which is more effective? And how to choose the right one for your needs, and/or the needs of your family.

This information might just save your life, so read on.

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Pepper Spray vs Tear Gas in a Few Words

In the interests of keeping things brief and to the point, here’s the answer upfront:

Pepper spray is derived from fruits of the plant genus Capsicum, whereas tear gas is a man-made compound.

They cause similar, dilapidating effects, but aside from their formula, their main difference lies in how they are distributed.

All that information and more is coming up, so I highly recommend you stay with us on this one.

person using pepper spray

The Best Self Defense Method

In the introduction, I promised that I would tell you the best possible method for self-defense.

And it might surprise you.

It’s not to carry guns, knives, or non-lethal assailants like pepper spray, or tear gas.

It’s not even to know martial arts or other fighting techniques.

Although all of these things can greatly assist you in a potentially hostile situation.

The best self-defense method is to run.

That, and to not go looking for trouble in the first place, which, unfortunately, a lot of wannabe cops and military personnel want to do these days.

If you’re in a situation where you’re being attacked, then the best possible way to stay safe, and stay alive, is to get out of there as soon as you possibly can.

However, that’s often easier said than done, and products like pepper spray and tear gas can help buy you time, neutralize your attacker, and give you a window in which to escape and get help.

As can something like a tactical pen – which also contains several additional features that can aid self-preservation. Check out that link for some quality options.

tactical pen

What is Pepper Spray?

Have you ever heard of the Scoville scale?

It’s a unit of measurement that determines the hotness (or pungency) of peppers, called the Scoville Heat Unit (SHU).

If you’ve ever touched your eyes, nose, or other sensitive areas on your person after chopping chilies, you’ll know just how painful pepper spray can potentially be.

Such a chili, like the kind you might find on an average pizza, for example, might come in at around 100-500 SHUs.

Now, imagine that in a more potent, concentrated form, fired directly into your face.

Pepper spray is believed to produce an eye-watering 2,000,000–4,500,000 of SHUs.

That’s going to hurt, right?

Also known as oleoresin capsicum spray, capsicum spray, or OC spray for short, pepper spray is a lachrymal agent, a compound designed to stimulate the lacrimal gland in the eyes.

Aside from effective use against humans, it’s also made in an even stronger formula for defense against animal attack – commonly known as bear spray.

tactical gear and guns

Pepper Spray Reactions

Let’s say you’re unlucky enough (or you deserve) to have such a spray fired into the general region of your eyes, nose, mouth, and throat – the mucous membranes located on and around your face.

In a heartbeat, you’re going to stop whatever you were doing, and suffer instant (but temporary) blindness. Your eyes will stream, your nose will run, you’ll let go of whatever you’re holding and double-over in burning pain.

Your lungs might feel like they’re on fire, which results in shortness of breath. There’s a strong possibility you’ll puke your guts up, your skin will experience a burning sensation, and your blood pressure will increase.

Expect symptoms to last between 45-65 minutes.

That’s not a pretty picture, is it?

What is Tear Gas?

Sometimes referred to as “mace,” tear gas is also a lachrymal agent, designed to produce a reaction similar to that of pepper spray, attacking the same mucous membranes.

Although it is regarded as a chemical weapon, technically it isn’t gas at all. It consists of aerosolized solid or liquid irritants that are released as a gas when discharged.

Unlike pepper spray, tear gas is an artificial, man-made agent. It is more commonly used by law enforcement for putting down riots and violent protests on a large scale.

Tear Gas Reactions

Tear gas causes very similar reactions to that of pepper spray.

Expect temporary blindness, streaming eyes and nose, coughing fits, difficulty breathing, and general pain and burning sensations at the sites affected.

Symptoms will typically appear 20 to 60 seconds after exposure and will be reduced when a victim has moved from the area, within around 30-40 minutes.

Non-Lethal Assailant Use

Both pepper spray and tear gas are becoming more popular with the public for self-defense purposes.

Prior to this, they were solely carried by the military and law enforcement personnel, in addition to lethal weapons such as firearms.

Having a canister of pepper spray attached to one of these plate carrier vests might be common, for example, or perhaps as part of a battle-belt or chest rig.

soldier wearing a chest rig

I carried pepper spray when I was traveling the world. While I never needed to use it, it gave me peace of mind that it was there. It was in my pocket everywhere I went, especially if I was out at night.

I’d rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.

Just be sure you don’t leave it in a tactical messenger bag if you’re using such an item as an aircraft carry-on when you’re on the go.

Pepper Spray and Tear Gas Treatment

When it comes to combating the effects of pepper spray and tear gas, it’s important to know how to administer aid, either for yourself or someone else who has been hit with either of the agents.

For pepper spray – water is not your friend. As it’s largely oil-based, water is only going to dilute, but not wash off the mixture.

Instead, victims are encouraged to blink continuously to encourage tears to help flush the system.

Milk is often used to help nullify the effects of pepper spray – but it won’t work with tear gas.

Water can help flush cs gas and is a go-to first aid option when it comes to eye irritants. The removal of clothing and contact lenses is also advised.

Moving away from the area of attack is also extremely beneficial to whoever has been affected – particularly with tear gas, as there is no specific antidote.

Countermeasures include the wearing of gas masks, wet cloths, or other PPE – and/or not being in the vicinity of the agents in the first place.

Method of Application

While both agents provide similar, effective results, the main difference between pepper spray and tear gas (aside from the formula) is in the way they are administered.

Most commonly, a pepper spray canister isn’t so much a spray as it is a stream – firing a jet of  liquid compound for an accurate strike on a target.

This is the best method for keeping the most distance between you and a potential assailant.

Foams, gels, mists, pepper balls, and other methods of dispensing pepper spray are also available – although not as popular or recommended for self-defense purposes.

For use by the authorities, tear gas is commonly dispersed by firing “grenades” which will burst and release the compound into the air.

However, it is available in smaller canisters for personal use and will dispense a mist in the direction it’s aimed when the button is pressed.

soldier with chest rig

The Verdict – Which is Right For You?

For personal self-defense against a single assailant, I would say this is a no-brainer.

Pepper spray is hands-down the best option. Pick up a small canister, and keep it in the pocket of one of these cool tactical jackets.

However, you can purchase three-in-one canisters these days, which contain pepper spray, gas, and a UV marking dye which can be very useful for forensic identification.

Pepper spray is going to be much more accurate than gas, and won’t be affected by the wind even remotely as much.

There’s always a chance you can get the agent right back in your face, depending on how and when it’s fired – so be aware of this, even if using pepper spray.

Pepper spray also allows you to maintain a greater distance from your attacker, so that’s something else to bear in mind when deciding between CS gas and OC spray.

Furthermore, tear gas might not affect an individual who is buzzed on drugs or alcohol, but pepper spray should take them down like a sack of potatoes, regardless.

For more information, check out the video below on choosing pepper spray for everyday carry.


Can civilians use pepper spray?

It depends on the country and state, but in the US, for the most part, pepper spray is perfectly legal for use by civilians. However, you need to be over 18 to purchase it.

Is it illegal to walk around with pepper spray?

Again, in all 50 states, it is perfectly legal for anyone to walk around with pepper spray. For more on the legalities of self-defense and protection, take a look at this article on wearing body armor in public.

Pepper spray isn’t legal for EDC in many other countries, however, and you should check the local ordinances where you are.

Can tear gas kill?

Unfortunately, there is a possibility of serious harm from the use of tear gas – including permanent blindness, and even death.

However, this is very rare and has only been reported when the agent has been used in large quantities – such as the break-up of rioting and protesting by police.

Unless there are underlying health concerns from the victim, death from the result of a small canister of tear gas is highly unlikely.


As a means of self-defense, a non-lethal assailant can be extremely effective at buying you a window in which to escape.

And when it comes to tear gas vs pepper spray, I hope this article has helped you choose the right one for you.

Hint – it’s pepper spray.

Still, let me know in the comments which you’ve gone for and why.

Stay safe out there!