Photo: Randy Mayor

If you've ever made the mistake of cutting a pepper bare handed, you know how painful the experience can be. 

July 18, 2017

As I stared at my bowl of quickly deteriorating tomatoes, I tried to conjure up a fool-proof way to enjoy them before they went bad. A friend had mentioned the week before that she liked to whip up a quick salsa with old tomatoes, so I figured I'd give it a try. I stuffed my immersion blender chopper with sliced grape tomatoes, onion, garlic, and red chili pepper, and I let it work its magic. Moments later I had a container full of delicious, fresh salsa. I was thrilled. 

But, a while later, I touched my eyes, and the hot pepper burn began to spread. Of course, I wear contacts too which in itself was a disaster to remove. I'll spare the details, but it took a full 12 hours before the burning sensation had left my eyes and hands entirely. I'll never make that mistake again. 

Chili peppers hold a ton of heat, mostly in the seeds and membranes, from the alkaloid oil capsaicin. This oil spreads like wild fire (literally) along whatever it touches, and water won't help in the slightest. A good rule of thumb is to always wear gloves when cutting a hot pepper, and if you don't have any on hand you can coat your skin with vegetable oil

If you make the mistake I did, don't touch anything else on your body and especially don't try and remove your contacts or go to the bathroom before using these remedies to rid yourself of the oil. 

Milk

Many of our staff swear by this classic burn-diminishing method of relieving the pepper burn. Pour yourself a glass of milk to blot your eye with or fill a bowl to submerge larger body parts, like your hands. Keep the burning area submerged for as long as you can, or until the sensation subsides. This is the only alternative method to water that we recommend using for your eyes. 

Yogurt

You'll often see spicy dishes at restaurants served with a cool yogurt sauce, like this curried cauliflower salad with yogurt. Yogurt does an excellent job at calming a fiery pepper burn, on your tongue or your skin. Spoon some yogurt into a bowl and submerge your hands into the creamy product. The burning sensation should subside soon, but we recommend keeping your hands submerged for up to an hour. 

Oil

If you missed the memo to coat your hands with oil before you start cutting, try washing your hands with vegetable oil when you're done. Hot pepper oil is more soluble in other oils than it is in water, so it should help wash away the spicy stuff residue. 

Dish Soap

Though this method didn't quite do the trick for me, it definitely helped calm the majority of the pain. Dish soap is specially designed to remove oil from dishes, unlike regular hand soup, so scrubbing this on and rinsing under hot water should help remove some remaining oils. 

Baking Soda

Almost everyone has baking soda in your kitchen cabinet or fridge. Mix up a solution of baking soda and water and submerge your hands into the paste. Once the paste has dried, wash it off along with the hot pepper sting. Repeat as needed until the burning completely subsides.

Stainless Steel

An old wives' tale says that if your rub your hands on stainless steel it will remove the scent of stinky foods like onion and garlic. In the same way, stainless steel should have the ability to remove painful pepper oil as well. Try rubbing your hands on a block of stainless steel to help remove the oils, then wash your hands with dish soap when you're done. 

Alcohol

There's more use for that leftover bottle of vodka in the cabinet than just this pasta with vodka cream sauce. Pour a high proof alcohol like vodka or a regular rubbing alcohol over the burn for instant relief. High amounts of alcohol help to absorb the oils, keeping your hands pain free.