How Long Does Pepper Spray Last on Skin

Did you accidentally spray your skin with pepper spray and wonder how long it will last on your skin? Or are you planning on attending protests and now searching for remedies against pepper spray in case it gets on your skin? If yes, then you’ve come to the right place.

I’ll be discussing below some facts about pepper spray, remedies you can do to eliminate the burning sensation on your skin, and other things you should know about pepper spray. 

How long does pepper spray last on skin? The effects of pepper spray, such as burning or stinging sensations, can last as long as 45-60 minutes. The time it lasts on your skin depends on how potent the pepper spray formula is and how sensitive you are to capsicum. In other extreme cases, pepper spray can cause any of the following symptoms:

  • Temporary blindness for 15-30 minutes
  • Difficulty breathing for 3-15 minutes, especially if the person is asthmatic
  • Gagging
  • Mucous membrane swelling
  • Inability to speak
  • Coughing
  • Psychological effects

Read on to learn more about how long pepper spray lasts on the skin, including how to quickly wash it off your skin.

What Is Pepper Spray and How Long Does It Last on Skin?

The use of pepper spray as a weapon started way back in feudal Japan. A type of Japanese weapon known as metsubushi was used in 7000 B.C. It was described as similar to a box of chili, which also became popular in China and India. 

Allan Lee Litman invented the design of pepper spray in 1965. Pepper spray or OC (Oleoresin Capsicum) spray is commonly used in the United States by law enforcement agencies against people who are uncooperative or violent.

Others also use this spray to ward off violent attacks from people or animals such as bears. Pepper spray is legal in all 50 U.S. states. However, it is not legal in the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand. People at least 18 years old in the United States are allowed to use pepper spray for self-defense.

Nowadays, pepper sprays are available in various appearances, which mimic everyday objects, such as keychains, rings, lipsticks, and pens, among others. Pepper sprays also vary in the ranges they can reach. Of course, the higher the range, the farther its reach, which is useful in case you have an attacker, whether humans or animals.

So how long does pepper spray last on skin? As mentioned earlier, if you get pepper spray on your skin, it will last about 45 to 60 minutes before it stops burning. The time it takes for the effects of the pepper spray to go away depends on how strong the pepper spray is and how sensitive you are to it.

Some pepper spray brands are stronger than others. Their potency can make the burning sensation last for up to an hour or more. Some pepper spray brands dilute their formula with water, and this makes the spray last a shorter amount of time – only about 30 minutes at most. If you are considering buying pepper spray, it is important to choose a reputable brand with a potent formula that doesn’t contain any fillers or water.

How Does Pepper Spray Work?

Just as oil from plates can’t be washed off without soap, oil from pepper spray can’t also be washed away with only water. Its strength depends on the amount sprayed, the strength of the spray, and sprayed area. For the best results, make sure to spray your attacker’s face and eyes directly.

Pepper spray contains the active compound called capsaicin, which is a similar compound that makes peppers hot. This compound is the reason why pepper sprays last a while on the skin. The burning sensation when pepper spray comes in contact with the skin, eyes, throat, and other areas of the body. 

Aside from capsaicin, pepper spray also contains a propellant. Its pressurized mixture makes it easier to spray. In contrast to jalapeno, which has 8,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), pepper spray has about 500,000 to 5,000,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). 

Police-grade pepper sprays are stronger than commercially available ones. By comparison, police-grade pepper sprays measure about 5,300,000 Scoville Heat Units. Of course, the higher the SHU of the pepper spray, the more intense pain you’ll feel once it reaches your skin or eyes. 

Pepper spray is also a lachrymatory agent, which stimulates your eyes to produce tears. As a lachrymator, pepper sprays can also cause extreme pain, shortness of breath, temporary blindness for about 15-30 minutes, and swelling of the throat, which can last approximately 3-15 minutes. 

Another known lachrymator is tear gas. Pepper spray is effective for up to 2-4 years starting from the year it was produced. Expired pepper sprays will not be effective, so always check the expiration date. 

How to Make DIY Pepper Spray

You can make your very own pepper spray at home. You’ll need cayenne pepper or ground peppers, vegetable oil, and alcohol. Follow the steps below to make one: 

Steps:

  1. Mix cayenne pepper or ground peppers, vegetable oil, and alcohol. 
  2. Submerge the freshly ground pepper or cayenne pepper in alcohol and stir.
  3. Next, add a tablespoon of vegetable oil for each tablespoon of pepper added. 
  4. Let the mixture stand for 1-2 days before filtering it. 
  5. Finally, put the mixture in a spray bottle. You now have a homemade pepper spray!

You can test spraying the DIY pepper spray on a small part of your skin to see how effective it is. Remember, the pepper spray will last on your skin for about an hour if it is not properly washed off.

Can Pepper Spray Kill You? 

effects of pepper spray on skin

Pepper spray’s effect can be short-lived, making it one of the reasons why it is widely used today. Various studies have shown that pepper sprays do not have long-lasting health effects on people, except for frequent exposure. As I’ve said earlier, pepper spray burns can last from about 45-60 minutes and then disappear.

However, there have been reported cases wherein the use of pepper sprays has contributed to the deaths of individuals who are allergic to the spray, asthmatic, have a heart problem, and other health conditions. 

Its active ingredient, Oleoresin Capsicum, may be the cause of specific allergic reactions. The symptoms of life-threatening allergic reactions, also known as anaphylaxis, include airway obstruction and fainting. 

According to an article published in medicalnewstoday.com, pepper spray can cause cyanosis, which is a condition wherein the skin turns blue due to a lack of oxygen as well as blood flow. 

Furthermore, a study from the North Carolina Medical Journal, cited by medicalnewstoday.com, stated that people who inhaled pepper spray could experience acute hypertension. This condition increases the risk of stroke or heart attack in people who have pre-existing health conditions. However, there have been no reports of pepper spray being the only cause of death in people. 

In summary, here are the most common effects of pepper sprays: 

  • Burning and stinging sensation of the skin
  • Mucous membrane swelling (eye, nose, and throat)
  • Nasal and sinus discharge
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hyperventilation
  • Wheezing
  • Inability to speak
  • Gagging
  • Fear
  • Coughing
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attack

How Do You Get Pepper Spray off Your Skin? 

Whether you are preparing for an upcoming protest or if you accidentally spray your skin with pepper spray, remember these three most important guidelines: 

  1. Prevent the spread of pepper spray by not rubbing other areas of your body with contaminated hands. 
  2. Wash your eyes and skin first. 
  3. Monitor your breathing. 

If you don’t take these measures, the pepper spray will last on your skin for a while, up to an hour on average.

Below are the best ways to wash off OC (Oleoresin Capsicum) spray from your skin: 

1. Mix Dawn Dishwashing Soap with Water 

Wash the affected part using Dawn dishwashing soap and cold water (3:1). Allow the soap to interact with the oil by gently rubbing your skin. Repeat the process with another soap-water mixture until you feel that the pain is starting to go away. 

If you don’t have a dishwashing soap, you may opt to use shampoo or hand soap instead. Take note that this solution should not be used in washing or flushing contaminated eyes. 

2. Use Dairy Products on Your Skin

Because people have different types of skin, they might discover that a remedy or two listed here might not work for them. However, trying will not hurt. 

Using a dairy product to treat your pepper spray burn is simple. You either soak the affected area in an iced-cold dairy product or dab your skin with a cotton or towel previously soaked in an iced cold dairy product. Repeat the process until the pain disappears. 

3. Prepare a Saline Solution

A saline solution is a combination of salt and water. To make a saline solution, add 10 grams of salt to 1 liter of water. This solution is also safe to use when washing affected eyes.

Continue flushing your skin or eyes with this solution until the pain subsides. Alternatively, you can use a mixture of an unflavored antacid (Maalox) and water. A 50:50 solution will do.

4. Use Oil

Using oil, such as vegetable oil or olive oil, can help remove residual pepper spray. Use a cloth or paper towel to wipe pepper spray residues. Each affected skin area must have a cloth or paper towel. 

In theory, these oils will help dissolve the oil from the pepper spray. They also make it easier to rinse the skin with water and soap later on.

5. Flush Away with Diluted Baking Soda Solution

Prepare a baking soda solution by mixing baking soda and water. This solution can absorb the oil from the pepper spray. After flushing away pepper spray residues, wait for the baking soda solution to dry. Next, wash the affected skin area thoroughly with soap and water. 

6. Use Medicated Wipes 

If you have purchased pepper spray, it might be beneficial if you buy medicated wipes as well. Medicated wipes are designed to cleanse skin previously exposed to pepper spray residue. 

These wipes are usually available in pepper spray stores. If you don’t want to buy medicated wipes, then you can use a clean cloth, towel, or paper towel to clean the areas with residual pepper spray.

7. Use an Ice Pack

To help relieve the pain, I suggest applying an ice pack to the affected area. Hold it over your face or your eyes to ease the burn. If the weather is freezing, you may opt to use water to prevent hypothermia. 

8. Blink Rapidly

If your eyes are affected, try blinking rapidly to flush away the residue. 

Additional Tips for Pepper Spray Removal

duration of pepper spray on skin

Here are some tips you should take note of before or after pepper spray exposure:

  • Remove contact lenses (if you’re wearing one) and contaminated clothing immediately. If your hands are contaminated with the spray, try to ask for help from someone who can remove your contacts for you. Contaminated clothes should be put in a sealed plastic bag to avoid contaminating other things. 
  • If you’re attending a protest, and you’ve seen signs that pepper spray might be used, wear a pair of gloves immediately. This way, you’re hands will not be contaminated with pepper spray, and you can use them in treating the other parts of your body with pepper spray residue. 
  • Remember not to rub your eyes or face after coming into contact with pepper spray. Rubbing your eyes or skin will spread the intense burning sensation to other skin areas.
  • Don’t breathe in pepper spray. Cover your nose, mouth, and eyes as much as you can. 
  • Before attending a protest, inform your friends if you have pre-existing health conditions, such as asthma, allergies, or heart disease.
  • Do not use salves, lotions, or creams because these skin products can trap heat, causing your skin to have blisters and burns.
  • If you think you’re having trouble breathing or the burns are too much for you to handle, you should seek medical attention right away. 
  • If someone has blue lips as a result of lack of oxygen, call for medical assistance immediately. 

How Long Does Pepper Spray Last in the Air? 

There’s a difference between using pepper spray indoors and outdoors. Usually, testing or using pepper spray indoors with poor ventilation can make the spray dissipate slowly for about 30 minutes. However, if the windows are open and there is functional air-conditioning, then it’ll probably take only a few minutes before the spray completely vanishes. 

Testing the spray indoors is not advisable unless you need to use it in case of an attack. If this is the case, immediately vacate the area where you used the spray. 

If you accidentally sprayed your newly bought pepper spray indoors, I suggest that you immediately increase the ventilation in the room where you sprayed it. You can do this by simply opening the windows and doors. You should also turn on exhaust systems, ceiling fans, and air-conditioning systems. Next, leave the area for 30 minutes. 

In terms of cleaning, you can use dishwashing soap, hand soap, or shampoo in cleaning pepper spray residues from the walls, tabletop, furniture, and other contaminated areas. To rid the room of the smell from the spray, you may use an air freshener. In a breezy outdoor setting, pepper spray can dissipate in less than a few minutes. 

Conclusion – How Long Does Pepper Spray Last on Skin?

So to revisit our initial question, how long does pepper spray last on skin? The effects of pepper spray, such as stinging or burning sensations, can last as long as 45 to 60 minutes. The time pepper spray lasts on your skin depends on how potent the formula is and how sensitive you are to capsicum. In other extreme cases, pepper spray can cause any of the following symptoms:

  • Temporary blindness for 15-30 minutes
  • Gagging
  • Difficulty breathing for 3-15 minutes, especially if the person is asthmatic
  • Inability to speak
  • Mucous membrane swelling
  • Psychological effects
  • Coughing

To help wash the pepper spray off so that it doesn’t last as long on your skin, follow these tips:

  1. Mix Dawn Dishwashing Soap with Water
  2. Use Dairy Products on Your Skin
  3. Prepare a Saline Solution
  4. Use Oil
  5. Flush Away with Diluted Baking Soda Solution
  6. Use Medicated Wipes
  7. Use an Ice Pack