Self-Defence Tear Gas or Pepper Spray?

When it comes to personal safety, most consumers are unsure how to pick a self-defence spray that will be effective with minimal impact on the user.

In this blog, Werner van der Westhuizen, a security consultant with three decades of experience in the industry – and someone who has tested a variety of self-defence sprays (often at risk to life and limb) – shares his personal recommendations.

Understanding the difference between tear gas and pepper spray

Both tear gas and pepper spray are classified as non-lethal irritants, although incidences of death from pepper spray have occurred.

Pepper spray comes from the active compound in peppers, capsaicin.

Tear gas can be a combination of different chemicals, including a variant of capsaicin, but the gas most commonly used on protesters is “CS gas” or 2-chlorobenzalmalnonitrile, or more rarely, “CN gas” or phenylcyl chloride.  The commercial product mace contains different combinations of both capsaicin and either CN or CS gas.

Delivery systems

Although various delivery systems are available for both, the most common format for self-defence are hand-held spray canisters. Currently, there are various products on the market. However, after almost 30 years in the safety and security industry, when using CS Gas or pepper spray products I would recommend considering a number of aspects:

As its names suggests, the most common propellent of tear gas is a pressurised gas.  The effectiveness of tear gas varies from person to person.  It is important to know that tear gas has no effect on animals, however, the person using it can be affected.

Pepper spray on the other hand comes in gas and water base forms. It is recommended that the water-based form is used as the gas form can affect the user.  If you are buying a canister, it is important to note that for the best effect a ballistic stream system should be used and not the spray type because, again, the latter can affect the user – especially if used in windy conditions. The effectiveness of pepper spray depends on the percentage of capsaicin in the product. The higher the capsaicin content, the more effective it is likely to be.  Pepper spray affects animals although the user is seldom affected if using the product correctly.

For outdoor use, I prefer pepper spray – a small canister with a ballistic water stream delivery system and high capsaicin content that can be carried in your hand or placed in an easily reachable place (ideally not in one’s handbag).

For indoor use or use in a vehicle, I personally prefer an JPX Pepper Gun which is lightweight and easy to use. It is very effective in stopping any intruder and has a range of approximately 7 meters – although it is even more effective at close range. This product comes in single, double- and four-barrel types. I recommend the four barrel option for home use and the double barrel for use when in your vehicle or even outdoors. Remember, the key is to always know the percentage of capsaicin in the product you are using.

Ultimately, it is vital to understand that self-defence starts in your mind.  A simple acronym that can help with this is would be ODALOOP:

  1. Observe – Be aware of your surroundings
  2. Decision – Avoid or confront?
  3. Action – Act on your decision
  4. Loop back and start from the beginning

For more information or advice, contact:

Werner van der Westhuizen

+27 73 554 0299


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