How to Get Rid of Jalapeno Hands

When you've been prepping spicy chili peppers like jalapenos or habaneros, the oil on the chilis will burn the skin on your hands if you aren't careful. The burning sensation caused by the peppers is referred to as "jalapeno hands" or "hot pepper hands". It can be very painful and may last for several hours, which is a distraction you don't need on a busy prep day. We'll cover the best ways to soothe your jalapeno hands so you can get back to bottling your own hot sauce or preparing your signature spicy salsa recipe.

If you haven't started cutting yet, take our word for it and wear gloves!

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Hands Burning From Peppers

Why do peppers burn your hands? Peppers like jalapenos get their spiciness from a compound called capsaicin. The problem with capsaicin is that it's oily and sticks to your skin. You don't even know it's there because it can't be seen with the naked eye. If that isn't bad enough, water alone won't remove the capsaicin from your skin and can even spread the oil around to make the pain worse.

How to Neutralize Capsaicin on Skin

Thankfully, there are some simple remedies to help dissolve and neutralize hot pepper oil on your hands. Most of these methods can be performed with items you already have in your kitchen. Keep in mind that you may need to perform these techniques more than once to remove all the capsaicin oil. Check out our tips for how to stop hot pepper burn on your skin:

1. Wear Gloves

gloved hand holding a red chili on a cutting board and slicing the top with a chef knife

If you're already experiencing the pain of a hot pepper burn, this won't help you now. But keep it in mind for the next time! Wearing gloves is the best way to avoid this whole situation. Jalapenos, habaneros, and any peppers that rank highly on the Scoville hotness scale can even penetrate through some types of gloves. Instead of latex or vinyl, make sure to use disposable nitrile gloves and throw them away after your chili prep work is complete.

2. Vegetable Oil

When you've been dicing hot peppers and you start to feel a burning sensation on your fingers, reach for some vegetable oil. You can also use coconut oil, olive oil, or canola oil to remove the chili oil from your skin. This method works better than handwashing alone because the oil from hot peppers is more soluble in fat than water. Pour a teaspoon of oil into your hands and rub them together for about a minute, coating your skin. Then wash your hands with soap and water. The vegetable oil dissolves the capsaicin on your skin and washing rinses it away.

3. Dish Soap

If you just handled a hot pepper and the burn is setting in, your first thought will probably be to wash your hands at the sink. Try the oil method mentioned above first, but if you don't have vegetable oil on hand, you should wash your hands with dish soap instead of hand soap. The capsaicin oil left behind by jalapenos and other peppers won't dissolve easily with regular hand soap, and you may end up spreading the painful oil to other parts of your skin. Dish soap, on the other hand, is made to break down oils. You can also use a degreasing soap made for handwashing but stay away from chemical degreasers that irritate the skin.

4. Dairy Products

Using dairy products like milk or yogurt to relieve a jalapeno burn is an old method that actually works! The protein in milk, called casein, interacts with the capsaicin molecules in chili oil to break them down and wash them away. Try dipping your hands in a bowl of dairy milk to soothe the pain. The science behind this remedy is the reason that a glass of cold milk relieves the burn from eating spicy foods as well. One thing to keep in mind, there is no casein in non-dairy milks, so they won't be as effective. Make sure to properly wash your hands after the burning subsides.

5. Alcohol

chef adding chopped up peppers to a bowl of ingredients

Rubbing alcohol is also effective at dissolving capsaicin oil on your skin to heal your hot pepper burn. Rub a small amount of alcohol between your hands, or if the burn is intense, dip both your hands in a bowl of rubbing alcohol to eliminate the chili oil. If you don't have rubbing alcohol on hand, any high-proof alcohol will work. Pour a small amount of vodka into your hands and rub them together to dissolve the capsaicin on your skin. Follow up by washing your hands with dish soap.

6. Baking Soda

Baking soda is a product you most likely keep stocked in your kitchen. It's also inexpensive, so if you don't want to waste other products like milk and oil, baking soda makes a great solution for hot pepper hands. To soothe the burn, make a slurry with baking soda and water. Dip your hands in the paste and let it dry on your skin. When the burn starts to subside, wash your hands with dish soap. If you still don't feel any relief, repeat the process.

7. Vinegar or Tomato Sauce

Believe it or not, the spicy capsaicin in hot peppers is not acidic. Chili peppers are an alkaline food because capsaicin falls on the base side of the pH scale. This is why acidic foods like vinegar or tomato sauce can be used to neutralize capsaicin oil on your skin. Dip or rub your hands with an acidic food like vinegar, tomato sauce, or lemon juice to find relief. Wash your hands and repeat until the effects have worn off.

What to Do If You Get Pepper in Your Eye

gloveless hand holding a green jalapeno pepper

Accidentally getting hot pepper oil in your eyes is more serious than just getting it on your hands. Capsaicin on your hands doesn't start burning right away and can be unknowingly spread to everything you touch, which could include your eyes and face. As soon as you notice a stinging sensation in your eyes, try these methods:

  • Wash Hands - First of all, you'll need to wash your hands with one of our methods above to remove all capsaicin from your skin. You don't want to accidentally add more fuel to the fire by spreading more capsaicin into your eyes.
  • Rinse with Sterile Saline - Saline solution works better than water at flushing the irritants from your eye. Rinse your eyes continuously for several minutes until you feel relief.
  • Use Baby Shampoo - Normally you wouldn't apply soap or shampoo directly to your eyes. In this case, baby shampoo or "no tears" shampoo can be used to dissolve the capsaicin in your eyes. Follow up by rinsing with saline solution.
  • Cold Milk - Some experts caution against using milk or dairy products in your eye because of the risk of a bacterial infection. If you don't have saline or baby shampoo on hand and you need relief fast, try dabbing the eye with a milk-soaked napkin or paper towel. Rinse thoroughly with water afterward.
  • Eye Wash Station - Installing an eye wash station is an important safety measure. Many irritants in a commercial kitchen can cause damage to the eye, including hot pepper oil. But water alone won't dissolve capsaicin, so try the other methods above first. You can follow up by flushing your eyes at the eye wash station.

The best way to avoid burning your hands or eyes when you handle hot peppers is to wear high-quality disposable nitrile gloves. Even then, capsaicin oil will be present on the outside of your gloves, so handle them carefully and throw them in the trash after you're done. If you missed the memo and didn't wear gloves, try our tips for soothing your jalapeno hands. Some methods may work better for you than others, and you may need to repeat them more than once.

Posted in: Kitchen & Cooking Tips|By Michale LeRoy
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