There’s a reason that you often see chefs chopping hot peppers with gloves. Beyond basic hygiene, gloves protect you from a condition commonly referred to as “hot pepper hands”.
Read on to learn what causes hot pepper hands, how long the burning will last, and home remedies for reducing the burn.
What are “hot pepper hands”, or “jalapeño hands”?
“Hot pepper hands” is not an official medical condition. Sometimes it is used interchangeably with the term “jalapeño hands”. Either way, the expressions tend to mean one of two different things:
- A burning sensation that you feel on your hands after you handle hot peppers
- The transfer of burning sensation from your hands to your eyes, genitals, or other body parts after you handle hot peppers
Capsaicin is a chemical compound commonly found in chili peppers. It’s the active ingredient that makes most spicy foods and hot sauces hot!
When you cut hot peppers, oils containing capsaicin are released, and can irritate the skin on your hands or be transferred to other surfaces. This is the reason that your eyes will burn and water if you rub them after handling spicy foods.
Unfortunately, because capsaicin is an oil-like substance, getting rid of the sensation is not as easy as rinsing your fingers.
How long do hot pepper hands last?
For most people, the burning sensation of hot pepper hands will last between a few hours, or up to a day. However, in some cases, such as if you are particularly sensitive to capsaicin, or if it gets underneath your nails, the burning sensation can last for days.
How to get rid of hot pepper hands
In order to get rid of hot pepper hands, you need to break up or neutralize the oils causing the sensation. Rinsing your hands with water is not the best way to do this, and in some cases can worsen the burning by spreading the capsaicin over a greater surface area of the skin.
Prevent burning hands by using gloves
Prevention is the best medicine when it comes to hot pepper hands. If you know that you’ll need to remove your contacts soon, if you’ve got itchy eyes from allergies, or if you know your skin is sensitive, it’s best to wear gloves any time you handle chili peppers. That way, none of the hot capsaicin oil gets on your skin, so you don’t have to worry about removing it.
Because I’m lazy, I actually use the produce bag that jalapeños come in as a barrier to the spicy oil rather than using real gloves.
Just like cleaning oil drips from your garage floor, or pulling out an oil stain from your favorite shirt, baking soda can help remove the spicy oil chili peppers deposit on your hands. Create a paste of baking soda and water, and apply it to the skin that is burning. Then, rinse away the baking soda and you should notice a reduction in the burning sensation.
It’s well known that sipping milk or eating yogurt can help neutralize the spicy feeling in your mouth when you eat a hot pepper. The same is true if the skin on your hands are burning after handling hot peppers. Dairy is effective at reducing the burning sensation because the casein found within it can help rinse away the capsaicin.
Hot water and dish soap
While rinsing your spicy hands in water may worsen the burning, dish soap is designed to help wash away grease and oil. This makes it more effective in washing away the burning feeling on your fingers.
What to do if you touch your eyes after handling peppers
One of the biggest risks associated with spicy pepper hands is that you may accidentally rub your eyes, which will cause severe burning.
If you’ve accidentally rubbed your eyes, rapidly blink as much as you can so that your own tears can flush out the pepper oil. You can also use saline eye drops to help clean them out more quickly.
Decontaminate your hands using one of the methods above: dish soap, baking soda, or dairy. If you are wearing contact lenses, carefully remove the contacts once you’re certain that your fingers no longer carry any capsaicin.
When cutting chili peppers, taking precautions is the best way to ensure that you don’t burn your skin or your eyes. But if you forget, or if your glove is punctured, there are plenty of effective home remedies for neutralizing the burning you’ll experience.