You’ve believed in this your entire life, and now it’s time to take it to the streets. United, you march peacefully, fighting for the cause. Then, suddenly in a flash, you can’t see. You drop to your knees. You can’t breathe. You’re helpless. The pain is unbearable.
You’ve been pepper sprayed. What do you do?
Pepper spray is what some like to call, a chemical dispersant. It’s made from Oleoresin Capsaicin, giving it both heat and a burning sensation. Capsaicin comes from chili peppers after they are dissolved and concentrated into a liquid.
How hot is pepper spray? To put this in perspective, let’s look at the common jalapeno pepper. Some people will find this pepper very spicy. It has a heat rating of 5,000 Scoville heat units, compared to the top of the scale, the Himalayan ghost pepper. This firecracker of a pepper is rated at one million Scoville heat units. And the internet is full of videos of people foolishly taking the ghost pepper challenge.
Now, pepper spray can be up to five times the Himalayan ghost pepper’s strength, which would put it at a blistering five million Scoville heat units. The word ‘hot’ doesn’t even begin to describe this scorching jolt.
Although the risk of death from pepper spray is considered minimal, unless there are additional lung or respiratory conditions, the American Civil Liberties Union still found one death for every 600 times a police officer used pepper spray. And think twice before taking your chances to stand up to anyone with pepper spray, because the U.S.
Environmental Agency also classifies it as a harmful pesticide. But, what if you can’t avoid it and find yourself staring down the barrel of a pepper spray canister?
What’s the first thing to do? How can you get it out of your eyes? And, what should you never do in this situation?
Step 1: Get Out of There
Leave the area immediately. You want to get away from the action as soon as possible. If you’ve been hit by it, the last thing you need is more pepper spray. If you can’t leave and have to stay in the area, protect your face by covering it with clothing. And if you can, wear a face mask.
Step 2: Blink Quickly
You’ll want to get your sight back, so stop where you are and start blinking as fast as possible. This will help clear some of the oil out of your eyes. If you’re wearing contacts, take them out. But before you do, make sure to wash your hands.
Step 3: Wash Your Face and Eyes First
And after that’s done, wash everything else! You need to get this off your body and clothes, pronto. Some people use milk to break down the oils, but soap will work too. Especially baby shampoo, because it won’t further irritate your eyes or skin. But don’t just rinse affected areas with plain water. While this can provide instant relief, the oil from the pepper spray will not mix with the water, which means it will not totally rinse off your body.
Step 4: Try Not to Touch Anything Else
This stuff is oil-based, and it can easily spread around your body if you touch an affected area and then another. Especially your eyes, don’t rub them. It can make the effects worse and last much longer.
Step 5: Stay Calm
Besides blinding you, pepper spray can cause disorientation, making it more difficult to leave the area and find safety. This can be overwhelming and why it’s so important to try and stay calm. If you and others start to panic, you could find yourself blinded AND trapped in the middle of a human stampede. Certainly not an ideal predicament, that’s for sure.
- “What makes pepper spray so intense? And is it a tear gas? A chemical engineer explains”. 2020. The Conversation.
- “Tear Gas And Pepper Spray Can Maim, Kill And Spread Coronavirus”. Stone, Judy. 2020. Forbes.
- “Here’s What Pepper Spray Actually Feels Like, According To An Expert”. 2020. Prevention.
- “Maryland Teen Who Was Pepper-Sprayed By Police Shares Her Side Of The Story”. ABC News.
- “Video shows milk poured over face of child pepper-sprayed in Seattle protest”. 2020. FOX6 News Milwaukee.