The secret antidotes to ‘hot pepper hands’
After chopping up chili peppers like jalapenos and poblanos, many a home cook has fallen victim to the intense burning sensation we like to call “hot pepper hands.”
The impulse reaction is to vigorously wash hands with soap and water — but that will inevitably fail, and here’s why: The burning feeling is caused by capsaicin, an active component in chili peppers that some people are extra-sensitive to. Water won’t remove it from the fingertips because it’s not water-soluble. And ice packs won’t do a thing because your fingers will still be coated in capsaicin when you’re finished icing them.
However, capsaicin IS soluble in fat and alcohol. So here’s what we suggest trying:
- Rub olive oil over your hands for about a minute, and then wash them with soap and water. Hopefully the capsaicin will dissolve in the olive oil and rinse away with the oil when you wash your hands. This isn’t a cure, but it should help reduce the pain to a tolerable level while you wait an hour or so for it to completely dissipate.
- Rub your hands with sour cream or yogurt, or pour milk on them. Sour cream will probably be the most relieving solution since it will stick, and these options might feel even better than sour cream since they also have the cool temperature contributing to your relief.
- If you happen to have aloe around, give it a shot. Some claim this helps reduce the pain much like it would with sunburn.
- Check the medicine cabinet for alcohol, and briefly douse your hands in it. As previously stated, capsaicin is soluble in alcohol, so the hope is that it will dissolve into the alcohol and be rinsed off when you wash your hands afterward.
- As a last-resort option, try giving your hands a QUICK dip in a diluted bleach solution containing five parts water and one part Clorox bleach. DO NOT soak your hands in it — this will worsen your problem and possibly cause burns. Simply give your fingers a quick dip in it every now and then, and rinse afterward with soap and water.
- Grab the Advil! Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever could help reduce the pain.
Best option: Prevention
If you’re reading this because you’re currently suffering from capsaicin-induced burning, you’ll curse us for writing this, but the best solution is obviously prevention. Use cheap, disposable latex gloves next time you handle hot peppers. If for some reason you refuse to do this, at least coat your hands in olive oil to help avoid unnecessary pain.
You can criticize us all you want for giving this obvious warning, but time and time again, people make the mistake of wiping their eyes or other areas of their body (sometimes VERY sensitive areas of the body) with their hands after handling hot peppers. Ignore the fact that your nose is itching, and don’t touch your skin until you’ve finished with the peppers and washed your hands thoroughly.
This is an important warning for those of you with contacts, too — don’t try to take them out too soon after handling hot peppers, and make sure you’ve washed them as well as you possible could. Maybe even douse them in some olive oil and wash them with soap and water again before dealing with your contacts.
Finally, take precautions if you’re rinsing the chili peppers or grinding them in a food processor or blender. If you wash them under hot water, the steam can actually cause a burning sensation when inhaled — and in your eyes. When processing them, small particles can become airborne and cause the same reaction in your lungs and eyes.