As tear gas floods the Gaza Strip, international attention has once again been turned toward the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Protests have erupted against the U.S.’s relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem, a move approved by the American congress in the 90s, but not enacted until now. Reports say over 60 have been killed, one of which was a baby who perished upon inhalation of tear gas. The baby, eight-month-old Leila Anwar Ghandoor, may have had a pre-existing condition making her more susceptible and vulnerable to the tear gas, though that has not been confirmed yet.

What is tear gas?

Tear gas is a chemical weapon that is generally non-lethal (notwithstanding cases like Leila Anwar Ghandoor), used to incapacitate its targets. Despite the name, the gas is actually an aerosolized solid, and depending on the type it can have a number of negative effects on the human body. It profoundly irritates the mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, lungs and mouth. People exposed to the weapon are sent violently coughing, sneezing with labored breathing and crying. Often sight is temporarily lost.

Pepper spray is different from tear gas, depending on where you’re getting your pepper spray. They are both known as lachrymator agents, but the main difference lies in pepper spray’s active ingredient, capsaicin — a component of chili peppers.

While there are some variants of tear gas that utilize capsaicin, the most popular is CS Gas, which new military recruits are often exposed to during basic training in the U.S. military. This is typically used for combat operations or in many cases, riot control; it was also used during the Waco Siege in 1993. CS gas is made using synthetic organic halogen compounds, unlike naturally occurring capsaicin. Just because something occurs naturally doesn’t necessarily make it any less deadly or effective in combat, however in this case CS gas is certainly more potent than pepper spray.

Mace often contains a combination of elements from CS gas (or the older CN gas) and pepper spray. However, sometimes people casually refer to any kind of irritant like this as mace, though that would be technically inaccurate.