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Tear gas in use in France
Exploded teargas canister on the fly

A lachrymatory agent or lachrymator (from lacrima meaning "a tear" in Latin; commonly referred to as tear gas) is a chemical compound that stimulates the corneal nerves in the eyes to cause tearing, pain, and even blindness. Common lachrymators include OC, CS, CR, CN, nonivamide, bromoacetone, phenacyl bromide, xylyl bromide and syn-propanethial-S-oxide (from onions). Lacrymators often share the structural element Z=C-C-X, where Z = carbon or oxygen, and X = bromide or chloride.

Effects and use

Tear gas works by irritating mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, mouth and lungs, and causes crying, sneezing, coughing, hard breathing, etc. Lachrymators are thought to act by attacking sulphydryl functional groups in enzymes. One of the most probable protein targets is the TRPA1 ion channel that is expressed in sensory nerves (trigeminal nerve) of the eyes, nose and mouth. First used in 1915, xylyl bromide was a popular tearing agent since it was easily brewed.

Lachrymatory agents are commonly used as riot control agents and chemical warfare agents. For example, tear gas and pepper spray are commonly used for riot control. During World War I more toxic lachrymatory agents were used. Certain lachrymatory agents are often used by police to assist in bringing targeted persons under control, most notably tear gas, but also in some countries (Finland, Australia, and the USA) another issued substance is mace, which is used as a personal attack repellent.

Other use

Although lachrymatory agents are commonly used as riot control agents, the most common use of some is in laboratory synthesis, where their lachrymatory properties are an undesirable side effect. Common examples include benzyl chloride, thionyl chloride and acetic anhydride.


Simple English

Tear gas is the name for a number of chemical compounds. These compounds are gas that are designed to incapacitate anyone deemed to be a threat. They cause pain in the eyes, and will cause temporary blindness for up to 45 minutes. Tear gas is commonly used by police to keep rioting crowds under control. Substances commonly used for this include Phenacyl chloride (CN) and CS gas. Pepper spray is another chemical compound that acts very similarly and that is sometimes also used as a riot control agent.

An example use of tear gas was in the Arab World Protests of 2010 and 2011

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