It's good to know a defense pepper spray antidote, in case spray is ever blown back on you, or in case you accidentally spray yourself or someone else. Since pepper spray is oil based (derived from oleoresin capsicum) it simply won’t wash away with just water unless applied over an extended period of time (say 30 minutes or more). We have discovered a couple of antidotes that work better than any of the OC decontamination treatment products on the market.
VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: If you have been contaminated with pepper spray (especially in the face) DO NOT RUB the contaminated area because it will not remove or stop the side effects. Resist this urge as much as possible.
Pepper spray is an inflammatory agent. It is designed to inflame your capillaries and cause a horrific burning sensation. When you touch a contaminated area you aid the pepper spray in opening up the capillaries. And the instant you do this the burning sensation will increase ten fold and it will spread.
Stopping the Burn . . .
There is no easy or pain free way to cure pepper spray contamination and different people react differently to pepper spray. So what removing techniques work for some may not work for others. But through our experience the how to steps below will help you get through the experience with the least amount of discomfort possible.
Our first aid recommendation for pepper spray removal is to start with applying whole milk to the affected area. You can apply it to the effected area via a spray bottle, splash it directly on your skin, saturate a clean towel and lay it over the effected area or submerse the effected area. The milk should help take the burn away. However, this will not remove the oils in the pepper spray. For getting the oils off we recommend using the below antidote.
Removing the Pepper Spray Oil from Your Skin
Use a solution of 25% “Dawn” (noticed we mentioned a brand name) dishwashing detergent and 75% water. You can probably get away with using less detergent but we have always used this formula. Use cold water and make up at least a gallon because you are going to have to wash the effected area at least 7 to 8 times.
If your face is contaminated mix the detergent in a bowl that that is deep enough to immerse your face in for 10 or 15 seconds at a time. Let the detergent start to do its job of breaking down the oils. Do not use your hands or a cloth to wipe the solution away. Just let it sit. Once you have done this a few times you can start lightly using your hands (after they have been dipped in the solution) or use a solution-saturated towel to work the detergent into your skin. This is most likely going to activate your capillaries and the pepper spray. This is normal so try to remain calm and patient. Decontaminating your self from pepper spray can take as little as 15 minutes to as much as 45 minutes before symptoms subside. Recovery depends greatly on your skin type.
Once you can readily touch your face without too much discomfort your can use a little more pressure to work the solution in. Once you are to this point rinse your face between the applications of the solution. You may even wish to make up a new smaller batch of solution that is clean and does not have any oil residue in it. Because your skin will absorb some of the oils you will not be able to completely wash it out. But by this time at least the effects will be tolerable.
If you get pepper spray in your eyes when wearing contacts, take them out as soon as you possibly can. Throw them away: getting the pepper spray off them will be practically impossible. Blinking helps wash the capsicum from the eyes, which isn't much comfort to someone who has to spend the next half hour waiting for the pain to diminish. You can also try flushing eyes with saline solution.
What Happens When You Have Been Sprayed with Pepper or Defense Spray
Unlike tear gas, which wears off fairly quickly and can be (to some extent) washed off, pepper spray's main ingredient hangs in there, causing serious discomfort for more than a half hour after exposure and even after attempts at washing away. Capsicum creates heat and minor nerve irritation, actually reducing other signals sent from nerves to the brain. The debilitating effects last for more than 30 minutes, and lessen over several hours.
When you spray an attacker with pepper spray, the body's reaction is immediate. The eyes shut automatically, causing temporary blindness, and the sprayed person, unable to see, often panics. The mucus membranes of the mouth, nose, eyes and respiratory airways react defensively to the capsicum burn, producing tears, a running nose, saliva and coughing as the irritated cells in the airways and lungs try to rid themselves of the chemical. The sprayed person may try to rub his eyes, but rubbing pepper spray tends to spread it around a bit more, and can make the burning worse as it further penetrates the skin. As well as irritating the face, pepper spray causes the same burning sensation you get when you bite into a hot pepper masquerading as a green bean in that innocent-looking Thai dish. It hurts everything it touches, and yet it doesn't kill you, or even leave you maimed. (There have been a few reported, but unsubstantiated, deaths from pepper spray. These events have usually occurred when law enforcement officers fail to follow after spray procedures. Some asthmatics have suffered anaphylactic shock from pepper spray. However, the reported instances of death from pepper spray are very few and very unusual).
Pepper Spray and Allergic Reactions
Although there are no known specific lethal dose or lethal concentration listed on the Materials Safety Data Sheet for OC it has been implicated in the deaths of some individuals sprayed with it. These people had a violent allergic reactions that was life threatening known as anaphylaxis. Symptoms of this condition include obstructed airways as a result of swelling, fainting and shock. Those with a higher risk of an adverse reaction to pepper spray are asthmatics. Recently reported in a history of violent behavior and confrontations with law enforcement was another bizarre risk factor, although this may be because the people had a higher probability of exposure or a higher probability to have multiple exposures to give allergic sensitization. If you have asthma but would like to carry tear gas for self-defense then you may want to consider a formulation that doesn’t contain oleoresin capsicum if you are worried about the possible wind blowback or at least get a foam type spray to avoid the risk of airport OC particles. However, the use of foam does not reduce the risk of a bad reaction should the assailant take the spray and use it against you. This shows the importance of using the spray only in defense of people and not property because of this reaction. In these litigious times it also adds potential liability.