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.
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,
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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