Nothing beats the spicy flavor that hot peppers add to your favorite dishes. Unfortunately, the chemicals in peppers that give your dishes that wonderful heat can also cause a burning sensation if they come into contact with your skin.
After cutting hot peppers like jalapeño or cayenne peppers, your hands may feel like they're burning up and irritated. To relieve this burn, you'll need to get the pepper chemicals off of your hands and take precautions when cutting peppers in the future.
Chemicals in Peppers That Cause Hands to Burn
Hot peppers of all families contain a chemical known as capsaicin. When capsaicin comes into contact with your skin, it triggers pain receptors, resulting in an unpleasant burning sensation.
Although capsaicin won't actually cause chemical burns, it will make your skin feel like it's burning up. Capsaicin is an alkaline chemical that's oil-like and not water soluble, so simply rinsing your hands with water won't remove it from your skin.
Removing Oil-Based Chemicals From Skin
Because capsaicin is oil-like, you'll need to use something other than water that will break it down to remove it from your skin. Dish soap has grease-cutting properties, and you can use it to help remove oils from your skin.
Rubbing alcohol or high-proof liquor like vodka can also break down oil-like chemicals like capsaicin. Rinse your hands in a small bowl of alcohol for a few minutes, rubbing them together to remove as much of the oil as you can.
Neutralizing the Capsaicin From Hot Peppers
Capsaicin is alkaline, and soaking your hands in something slightly acidic will neutralize the effects of the substance on your hands. Citrus-based juice like orange or lemon can neutralize the capsaicin.
Tomato juice and apple cider vinegar are also acidic liquids that will work in the same way. Pour these substances over your hands after removing as much of the capsaicin as possible with dish soap.
Milk and dairy products like yogurt and butter are slightly acidic and contain casein, a substance that helps rid your hands of capsaicin. Soaking your hands in milk for five minutes or covering your hands with yogurt or butter can calm irritated hands and remove the capsaicin.
Afterwards, wash your hands with dish soap.
Preventing Hot Pepper Burn
The best option to prevent hot pepper oils from getting on your hands in the first place is to wear gloves. Latex gloves or regular rubber kitchen gloves are a great option to protect your hands when you are cutting peppers.
Don't forget to wash off the gloves thoroughly, though, because the capsaicin can remain on the outside of the gloves and get on your skin when you remove them.
Another option is to cover your hands with vegetable oil prior to cutting the peppers. The oil prevents the capsaicin from sticking to your skin.
It also makes it easier to remove the capsaicin with soap and water.
Capsaicin can remain on hands for several hours after cutting peppers, even if you don't feel any irritation. This is why it's so important to remove it from your skin, especially before touching other parts of your body. Keep in mind that capsaicin is also the active ingredient in pepper spray, so you definitely don't want this on your skin.
Never touch your eyes, mouth, nose or other mucous membranes with hands that have come into contact with hot peppers. The capsaicin can cause extreme pain in these sensitive areas. If capsaicin has gotten in your eyes, use water or a sterile saline solution to thoroughly flush the area.
Avoid handling contact lenses if you have not completely removed any capsaicin residue from your skin. Even if the capsaicin doesn't burn your hands, it will burn your eyes.