How to Ease the Burn of Jalapeno Hands

jalapeno

 

How to Ease the Burn of Jalapeno Hands: A Cautionary Tale

By: Dr. Peggy Malone

 

Ok, so this may be a little outside of the topics that I normally cover but I feel compelled to share my recent harrowing culinary experience so that it might offer some preventative education for some poor soul out there.

 

Over the summer, I shared with you how I had been experimenting as a beginner gardener in my backyard with my awesome vegetable garden.

 

I harvested some amazing broccoli, tomatoes, onions, beets, sweet peppers and….jalapeno peppers.

 

John and I have been enjoying the jalapeno peppers through the summer stuffed with cheese and cooked on the barbeque.  Up until this week, it was John that handled the peppers, took the seeds out and prepped them for the barbeque. (Without any problem I might add)

 

This week, I harvested the last of my peppers from the garden and I spent an hour or so cutting them all up and getting them ready for the freezer.

 

When I was handling the jalapenos, my first mistake…and one that I’ll never make again….so long as I live…for definitely sure….is that I didn’t wear gloves.

 

About 30 minutes after the peppers were all cut up, in freezer bags and in the freezer and I was getting dinner ready, I started to feel tingling in all of my fingers. 

 

The tingling quickly intensified to burning which intensified over the next 20 minutes to the point where it felt like my hands were literally on FIRE!!

I immediately went to the sink and washed my hands with soap and water….no relief.

 

That’s when I went to the all-knowing source of answers…GOOGLE.

 

Through various websites and forums, I came across some hilarious stories of people with burning hands (and other sensitive body parts) as a result of a mishap with hot peppers as well as some extremely interesting and alternative solutions for the problem of burning Jalapeno Hands.

 

Before I share with you some of the suggested solutions, it’s worth knowing a little bit of the science behind the active ingredient in hot peppers like jalapenos.

 

This knowledge helps to understand why some of these seemingly bizarre things are presented as solutions and what is most likely to work.

 

Capsaicin is the active ingredient in hot peppers like jalapenos that causes the ‘hot’.

 

Painful exposures to capsaicin-containing peppers are among the most common plant-related exposures presented to poison centers. 

 

They cause burning or stinging pain to the skin (I can totally attest to this being true…wow it’s true), and if ingested in large amounts by adults or small amounts by children, can produce nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and burning diarrhea. Eye exposure produces intense tearing, pain and conjunctivitis. (sad red eyes)

 

Capsaicin is hydrophobic which means it is insoluble in  water, but freely soluble in alcohol and vegetable oils (which are hydrophobic too)

So that said, plain water will be ineffective at removing capsaicin but anything that is oily, alcohol or interestingly, milk should help. Milk contains casein, a lipophilic (fat-loving) substance that surrounds and washes away the fatty capsaicin molecules in much the same way that soap washes away grease.

 

Now these things definitely help to cool the burn after you’ve eaten hot peppers but will they work on jalapeno hands?

 

Here’s what I tried after my initial google ‘research’:

 

-I soaked my hands in vinegar

-I soaked my hands in vodka (alcohol)

-I wrapped my hands in milk soaked cloths and sat on the couch looking sad for a half hour while John laughed at me.

-I dipped my hands in yogurt and sat there for a half hour…same laughing from the peanut gallery.

-I took Advil (which I never do….I was in pain)

-I rubbed a baking soda paste on my hands

-I rubbed olive oil on my hands

 

All of these things helped while my hands were in them but as soon as I took my hands out, the intense burning sensation returned within 2 minutes.

 

Then, I decided to use reasoning instead of just looking for a quick fix.

 

Several people in my google search had talked about using hot water to open pores.

 

The last thing I wanted to do was stick my hands into hot water when they were scorching hot but it made sense to me that I had to open pores to get at the capsaicin in my skin.

 

So…I had John test the water to tell me if it was too hot.  (it felt like it was burning me when he said he could keep his hands in it all day)  Then I used soap and scrubbed my hands under the hot water.  It was extremely painful when I had my hands in the water at first, but it started to get better.

 

After a good scrubbing with hot water (as hot as I could stand) and soap.  I rubbed olive oil all over my hands.  The hydrophobic oil picked up some of the hydrophobic capsaicin in my skin and removed it.

 

Then I repeated the process 3 times.  Hot water, soap, scrub, then oil.

 

And amazingly…..relief.   

 

Not 100% but down to a 2 out of 10 pain instead of an 8 that I had been dealing with for 5 hours.

 

I slept well and the next morning I felt normal except for slightly tender hands from the scrubbing.

 

Sidenote:  I think that the reason John never experienced Jalapeno hands even though he handled peppers many times, is that his hands are rough and calloused from his work….less chance for the capsaicin to get into the skin.

 

Other interesting facts about the active ingredient in jalepeno peppers:

 

Capsaicin's toxicity makes hot peppers more than just a food. They can also be a weapon. The Mayans burned chile peppers to create a stinging smoke screen and threw gourds filled with pepper extract in battle. Nowadays, capsaicin is the active ingredient in pepper sprays used to ward off attacking muggers, dogs, and bears.

 

After my unfortunate jalapeno experience, I can now completely understand how hot peppers can be used to hurt others.

 

But they really are delicious aren’t they?

 

So here’s the recap:

 

Prevention: Wear gloves anytime you are handling hot peppers like jalapenos.  I read stories of poor people that suffered the jalapeno hands from handling and cutting just one jalapeno.

 

If you suffer jalapeno hands, run them under hot water (as hot as you can stand) and scrub with soap.  Once you have done that, rub with oil (olive or vegetable).  Repeat.

 

For some cooling relief at any time during your jalapeno hands adventure try ice, cold water, cold milk or yogurt. 

 

Oh, and don’t try to take your contact lenses out….that would lead to tragic sad sad eyes.  I slept with my contact lenses in that night.

 

Also, if you happen to have an itch in any sensitive areas of your body, make sure you are careful what you are touching with those hot pepper hands. :)

 

Until next time,

 

Peggy

 

 

 

 

 










Dr. Peggy Malone is a Chiropractor and an Athlete who helps other athletes to overcome injury and get back to their sport. Her weekly Television Series 'Living Well" inspires people from all walks of life to take control of their health to be as happy and as healthy as they can be.

A former varsity Basketball and Rugby player, she has since entered the world of endurance athletics where she has completed 2 Ironman Triathlons, 3 Marathons, several Half Marathons and many other Triathlons, Road Races and Off-Road Adventure races of varying distances.

Her own athletic endeavors and injuries have given her valuable insight into working with athletes in her practice for both the care of injuries as well as for the improvement of athletic performance.

 

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12 Comments
  • Angela Brooks
    October 20, 2011

    First of all – I am glad your hands are feeling better – What a day! I was reading the story as I normally would until I got to the part about the "peanut gallery" and I cracked up – I could just hear the short little remarks of humor. He was not thinking well… you could have become the tester for pepper spray since you had enough on your hands to apply to his eyes …. even though I know you would never do such a thing even though the gallery was in rare form. LOL – glad your well and thank you for the laugh….John…behave! The KY Cowgirl~
     

    • Dr Peggy
      October 21, 2011

      Thanks Angela!
      I’m glad that my story is both educational and amusing :)
      It really was funny despite the terrible pain.
      I will definitely tell John to behave himself or he’ll have the KY Cowgirl to contend with :)

  • Dan
    January 29, 2012

    After spending hours reading through ridiculous remedies, yours finally worked.   I too figured that putting them under hot water seemed necessary.  After all, the burn didn't kick in until after a while (probably once it absorbed through the pores of my hands).  I tried sour cream, milk, vinegar, alcohol, and nearly pissed on my hands.  And then I found this.  Perfect.  And the pain has subsided to about 20% like you said, nothing I can't handle.  Brilliant.  Of course it's only been 20 minutes,  the pain could always come back.  Maybe I just burned them beyond and feeling.  That hot water on the burn was some intense amount of pain!  Cheers. 

    • Dr Peggy
      January 30, 2012

      Dan, I’m so glad that you got some relief!
      The hot water definitely makes the difference despite being extremely painful at the time.
      I’m glad you didn’t resort to peeing on your hands :)….but I totally understand the desperation of
      thinking it might be a good idea because jalapeno hand is soooo unpleasant.

  • Eve
    October 11, 2012

    Wonderful advice on how to treat burn from the peppers. I used gloves but theres always a chance of getting the oil on the skin. Good to know what helped you, incase people come in contact with peppers. Thank you!

    • Dr Peggy
      December 17, 2012

      You are welcome Eve! It was definitely a terrible experience for me so I hope that my story helped in some way :)

  • melysa martinez
    October 19, 2012

    OMG, THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for this. My fingers were dying. I didn't have any rubbing alcohol, but read online for many that it didn't work. I did exactly as you said, washing with scalding hot water with soap, then olive oil, repeat. I added white vinegar for good measure because I had it. Finished with greek yogurt. Oh … man … what a relief! I can go to sleep now. That homemade mango salsa with tomatoes, cilantro, lemon juice, and jalapenos was awesome on the cod fish, and almost worth the two hours I've been in pain since, but not really. Thank you for this! :)

  • spagirl
    December 20, 2012

    Completely, totally, 100% worked!!!!

    • Dr Peggy
      January 17, 2013

      Yay! I’m glad you found the relief you needed. I remember how terrible the burn was.

  • kim
    November 20, 2013

    I used aloe vera. You know the kind you buy at the regular store (lime green colored) that you use after a sunburn. It worked right away. I reapplied when it felt like it might be coming back and that was it! The cheap kind from the dollar store. What a scary feeling that was. I too will never ever deal with those without gloves again!

  • jennifer
    February 17, 2014

    You just SAVED my hands! Make guacamole tonight and added a jalapeno; everything was fine. Took a hot shower later, which I am guessing opened up my pores to let the hot in: WHEW! They were on FIRE! Never experienced this until tonight. Thanks for the tips!

    • Dr Peggy
      February 17, 2014

      Great to hear Jennifer!! I’m glad you are feeling better :)

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