What’s the Difference Between Mace and Pepper Spray?

Pepper spray and Mace are both self-defense products available in hand-held canisters that are used by individuals, police, and security officers to incapacitate violent assailants or to control crowds during a riot. However, they are two entirely different substances.

The Mace – Often Confused with Pepper Spray But Different

Mace is a brand name for a type of chemical irritant, often referred to as tear gas. This spray is no longer used due to its ineffectiveness against assailants under the influence of drugs or alcohol. However, there is a spray currently on the market called Mace, which is a version of pepper spray and not tear gas, although some Mace sprays are a combination of pepper spray and tear gas.

Mace is the brand name for orthochlorobenzalmalononitrile, abbreviated as CN, which was introduced to the market in 1962. Chemical Mace was developed in 1965 as a self-defense weapon for police officers. This product is a type of tear gas combined with aerosol spray designed to incapacitate an attacker. Because the gas did not work against individuals using drugs or alcohol, police officers who used Mace were often injured because of its unreliable effects.

During World War I, nerve or mustard gas was used, which had negative long-term effects. Tear gas was created for military use during World War II and as a means of crowd control during riots. This gas was made from a white crystal and other chemicals, and caused painful watering and burning of the eyes. Breathing tear gas can also cause choking.

Tear gas was further developed and refined in order to be used on civilians and is now referred to as CN gas or Mace, however it does not have the same concentration of the original tear gas.

What is Pepper Spray?

Pepper spray contains a chemical compound that derives from chili peppers, known as oleoresin capsicum, often referred to as OC. When the chemical comes into contact with the eyes and skin, the result is extreme inflammation of the mucous membranes and swelling of the eyes and throat. Sometimes panic sets in due to labored breathing caused by the spray.

OC spray can result in temporary blindness, even to individuals under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and its effects are short-term. The intense burning caused by pepper spray is a similar sensation as biting into a spicy taco made with hot peppers. The active component in chile peppers that causes irritation, known as capsaicin, is found in the white pith of chili peppers near the seeds. Despite being odorless, colorless, and flavorless, pure capsaicin can cause an extreme burning sensation.

The discomfort from pepper spray can last up to an hour with short-term blindness occurring for approximately 15 to 30 minutes. The spray can be removed by splashing the skin with whole milk, and then rinsing with a soap and water solution of baby shampoo or detergent. After 4 to 6 hours, in most cases the burning sensation of the pepper spray will have completely subsided.

Today’s self-defense sprays are nearly all made of pepper spray, and some combine tear gas and a UV dye agent. The product currently on the market sold as Mace is primarily a pepper spray although some versions include CN tear gas.