Please be aware that there are many different kinds of tear gas and pepper spray, with different chemical properties, concentrations, and reactions. Different people may react differently to different remedies, and different kinds of tear gas or pepper spray may react differently to different remedies. The following is intended as a guide but is by no means definative. As we learn more we will attempt to keep this section updated.
To learn more about different kinds of tear gas and pepper spray, click here.
To learn more about what is known about the health effects of tear gas and pepper spray, click here.
If you have questions or concerns about the information below, or have more information we should be aware of, please, contact us.
How Tear Gas and Pepper Spray May Affect You [excerpted from/ partially based off of Starhawk's website, Activism Resources section, although we will update as we get more feedback]:
Both tear gas and pepper spray are skin irritants, causing burning pain and excess drainage from eyes, nose, mouth and breathing passages. Pepper spray is more popular with authorities as an agent of control because of its immediate pain-causing qualities. It is harder to remove from the skin and has the capacity to cause first degree burns.
If you are exposed to either, you may experience:
- stinging, burning in your eyes, nose, mouth and skin
- excessive tearing, causing your vision to blur
- runny nose
- increased salivation
- coughing and difficulty breathing
- disorientation, confusion and sometimes panic
- intense anger from pepper spray exposure is a common response
For most healthy people, the effects of tear gas and pepper spray are temporary. However, for some people the effects can be long-lasting and life-threatening.
People with the conditions listed below should be aware of these risks and may want to try and avoid exposure if at all possible. Please be aware that police behavior is unpredictable, and avoidance is not always possible.
- Folks with respiratory diseases, such as asthma, emphysema, etc. risk exacerbation, or permanent damage if exposed.
- Vulnerable people such as infants, the elderly, and the immune compromised, risk intensified and possibly life-threatening responses.
- Anyone with chronic health conditions or those on medications that weaken the immune system, (ie: chemotherapy, Lupus, HIV, radiation, or long-term corticosteroids such as prednisone) risk exacerbation of illness, intensified response and possible delayed recovery.
- Women who are or could be pregnant, or who are trying to get pregnant, may be at risk of spontaneous abortion, or increased risk of birth defects.
- Nursing mothers risk passing toxins on to their infant.
- Folks with skin conditions (ie: severe acne, psoriasis, or eczema) and eye conditions (ie: conjunctivitis or uveitis) risk an intensified response.
- People wearing contact lenses may experience increased eye irritation and damage due to chemicals being trapped under the lenses. CORRECTION: One of our contacts has informed us that tear gas exposure may cause contact lenses to FUSE to the eyes and cause PERMANENT BLINDNESS
- Avoid use of oils, lotions and detergents because they can trap the chemicals and thereby prolong exposure. Wash your clothes, your hair and your skin beforehand in a detergent-free soap (such as Dr.Bronner's or most eco-friendly products).
- Don't put vaseline, mineral oil, oil-based sunscreen or moisturizers on skin as they can trap chemicals.
- Don't wear contact lenses, which can trap irritating chemicals underneath.
- We recommend using a water or alcohol-based sunscreen (rather than oil-based). If your choice is between oil-based or nothing, we advocate using the sunscreen. Getting pepper sprayed on top of a sunburn is not fun.
- We also recommend minimizing skin exposure by covering up as much as possible. This can also protect you from the sun, as can a big hat.
- Gas masks provide the best facial protection, if properly fitted and sealed. Alternatively, goggles (with shatter-proof lenses), respirators, even a wet bandana over the nose and mouth will help.
How to deal:
- STAY CALM. Panicking increases the irritation. Breathe slowly.
- If you see it coming or get a warning, put on protective gear, if able, try to move away or get upwind.
- Blow your nose, rinse your mouth, cough and spit. Try not to swallow.
- If you wear contacts, try to remove the lenses or get someone to remove them for you, with CLEAN, uncontaminated fingers.
- DO NOT RUB IT IN.
We have been doing trials with pepper spray to find good remedies and have found some things will definitely help minimize the discomfort. None of these are miracle cures; using these remedies will help people to feel better faster, but it will still take time.
- CORRECTION: One of our contacts has warned that using antacid on the eyes may actually worsen the effects, and that only water should be used as an eye flush. We are looking into this. For the eyes and mouth: We recommend a solution of half liquid antacid (like Maalox) and half water. A spray bottle is ideal but a bottle that has a squirt cap works as well. Always irrigate from the inside corner of the eye towards the outside, with head tilted back and slightly towards the side being rinsed. It seems from our trials that it needs to get into the eye to help. This means that if the sprayed person says it's okay you should try to open their eye for them. They most likely won't be able/willing to open it themselves, and opening will cause a temporary increase in pain, but the solution does help. It works great as a mouth rinse too.
- For the skin: We recommend canola oil followed by alcohol. Carefully avoiding the eyes, vigorously wipe the skin that was exposed to the chemical with a rag or gauze sponge saturated with canola oil. Follow this immediately with a rubbing of alcohol. Remember that alcohol in the eyes hurts A LOT. Anyone whose eyes you get alcohol in will not be your friend.
- Secondary treatments can include: spitting, blowing your nose, coughing up mucous (you don't want to swallow these chemicals!), walking around with your arms outstretched, removing contaminated clothing, and taking a cool shower. In fact, it is essential to shower and wash your clothes (using a strong detergent) as soon as you are able. This shit is toxic, and will continually contaminate you and everyone around you until you get rid of it. Until then, try not to touch your eyes or your face, or other people, furniture, carpets etc. to avoid further contamination.
- Remember, its effects are often only temporary, and we are extremely strong.
A Few Tips About Gas Masks and Other Tools/Gear:
The best protection against chemical weapons is a gas mask. Prices range from $25-50. The filters are harder to acquire. Any kind of mask should be tried on and sized.
When paired with goggles, respirators make an excellent alternative to gas masks. It is necessary to do some homework beforehand and find goggles that don't fog up and that fit tightly on your face with the respirator. Respirators can be purchased at safety supply or welding supply stores. Ask for filters for particulates and organic chemicals and tell the clerk what you're filtering to double check. Costs between $18-24.
A bandanna soaked in water or vinegar and tied tightly around the nose and mouth is a last resort. It is far better than nothing, but remember that it is merely a barrier and not a filter and so won't do much for long-term protection. You can keep it soaking in a plastic bag until ready to use. Bring several, as multiple uses will render a bandanna as gassy as the air around you.
For protecting your eyes, swim goggles work well, as they have a tight seal. Shatter-resistance is another nice quality for goggles to have. Most goggles have air holes to prevent fogging--fill these with epoxy. Covering these holes with duct tape can work in a pinch against an initial attack, though not for long term protection. Try them on with your respirator or bandanna to ensure that they are compatible and that both will provide a tight seal.
You should be aware that whatever protection you choose will be visually quite powerful. Gas masks work the best; they also look quite scary and intimidating and can be alienating to others. They can also make us targets of police violence. Think carefully about your impact on others when you decide how to protect yourself.