Self Defense Guides

Mace, Pepper, and Bear Spray: What Are the Differences?

One of the most effective ways to incapacitate an attacker is to use a defensive spray on them.

Defensive sprays, when placed in the eyes, can immediately stop an attack and allow you to get away. Even if the attacker continues forward, the blinding action of a defensive spray can allow you to disable them further so you can remain as safe as possible.

Three popular defensive sprays are mace, pepper spray, and bear spray. Each has some differences that you’ll want to consider before deciding which spray is right for your defensive needs.

What Is Mace and Is It an Effective Spray?

Mace is a trademarked defensive spray that is made from a pepper solution. It is included in a variety of products, from gels to keychain sprays, and has been part of the self-defense industry since 1970.

Chemical mace is usually classified as an irritant, even when it is offered in the form of a pepper spray. That is because the solution is typically 10% capsaicin or less in the product being used. It would be fair to categorize this product in the same category as tear gas or another crowd dispersal agent.

Chemical mace does not cause inflammation around the eyes. Mace-branded items that contain pepper sprays or gels will cause swelling.

It is important to note that chemical mace is not sold over-the-counter. 

It was discovered that chemical mace was ineffective against attackers who were under the influence of alcohol, narcotics, or psychotics. Since most people who become attackers are under these influences, chemical mace is not recommended for self-defense.

That is why Mace-branded products have been pepper sprays for 40+ years.

What is Pepper Spray and Is It Effective?

Pepper spray is a lachrymatory agent. This means that it causes tearing when applied to the eyes. It will also cause pain and swelling based on the amount of capsaicin that is found in the pepper that was used to create the spray.

What is a little ironic about capsaicin is that if it is ingested, it can help to control inflammation within the body. When it is applied to the eyes, it can cause inflammation.

Hot peppers have a higher heat unit rating, which creates a more effective pepper spray. A bell pepper would have a zero heat unit rating. Jalapenos have a rating of up to 5,000. In a commercialized pepper spray, you might have a rating of 5.3 million for a law enforcement product.

Pepper sprays that are used for self-defense purposes usually contain 10% capsaicin, which is similar to Mace-branded products right now.

Law enforcement pepper sprays can be up to 30% capsaicin. At this strength, the product is classified as a riot control agent.

It may be illegal to own pepper sprays with up to 30% capsaicin in some jurisdictions. Check your local laws before attempting to purchase this type of product, even if it is for self-defense.

Deployment of a pepper spray is extremely effective. The reaction is almost immediate and the swelling, pain, and blindness can last for minutes. It only takes a small amount to create results and you don’t need to get it directly in the eyes for it to work.

What Is Bear Spray and Is It Effective?

Bear sprays are another form of pepper spray. It is often made from the same peppers as all the other sprays that are on the market. The only difference is the strength of the spray itself.

A standard self-defense spray might have up to 10% capsaicin. A standard bear spray will typically have up to 2% capsaicin.

This product is a good option to use for jurisdictions where higher concentrations are not allowed. It may still be restricted, but because the concentration is relatively weak, there are fewer consequences to using the product.

A full-strength pepper spray has the potential of getting into the throat, restricting air passageways, and raising blood pressure at the same time. This increases the chances of a heart attack or stroke, which could put you in legal jeopardy if you use the spray in a jurisdiction where ownership is restricted.

Be sure to review our guide on defending yourself legally to understand more about what your rights and responsibilities happen to be.

Knowing what mace, pepper spray, and bear sprays happen to be can let you choose the best product for your needs. You have the right to defend yourself. These sprays make that possible.

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