I’ve been there before.
Being a little too brave with that latest ghost pepper sauce.
Forgetting to put on food prep gloves before chopping up some hot peppers.
…and I wear contact lenses. Trying to take out or put in contacts when you have even the tiniest amount of pepper oil on your fingers is not fun.
Why is it so hard to stop the burn?
Capsaicin is an active component of chile peppers and is an alkaline oil. Washing with soap and water doesn’t stop the heat because oil-based capsaicin does not dissolve in water.
The key to stopping the heat is to neutralize the pepper oil.
I know hindsight is 20/20. So one tip to prevent the burn in the first place is to always wear gloves when chopping up any type of hot pepper to avoid the dreaded BURN.
Below are a few solutions that I hope work well for you.
ON YOUR SKIN:
Water only spreads the fire so don’t wash your hands until you neutralize the heat. The burning sensation after cutting chile peppers comes from oils that coat the skin and are very hard wash off. Soap and water alone doesn’t always do the trick. Below are some solutions to neutralize the hot pepper oil.
(1) Rubbing Alcohol/Dish Soap Combo: I’ve had the most success with rubbing alcohol & dish soap. Isopropyl alcohol is a solvent, meaning it is a dissolver of dirt and OIL. What I do is douse my hands with rubbing alcohol, then wash them with dish soap. Repeat 2 times. This never fails me!
(2) Dish Soap or Hand Grease Cleaner: Wash your hands with a dish soap or hand degreaser. Both have oil-dissolving properties above and beyond regular hand soap.
(3) Soak in Corn Starch: Starch draws the oil out of the skin and can help to neutralize it.
(4) Vinegar: Rinse your hands with vinegar, which is an acid.
IN YOUR MOUTH:
(1) Food & Drinks that are Acidic: Drinking tomato juice or eating fresh lemon, lime, pineapple, or avocado are recommended. Acidic foods and drinks can neutralize some of the activity of the alkaline capsaicinoid. Milk, which is acidic, works well. Vinegar is supposed to help as well–but no need to drink it–just swish and spit!
(2) Dairy works to bring down the heat. Milk, yogurt, and sour cream are acidic. Capsaicin also dissolves easily in the fats found in dairy products, so when you put a dab of sour cream in your mouth along with (or after) a bite of hot stuff, you’re creating a pretty effective dilution. The capsaicin and dairy fats mix together, keeping some of the capsaicin molecules from finding the pain receptors on your tongue. Remember, it’s the fat that provides the relief, so low-fat sour cream or nonfat yogurts won’t be as effective. This antidote tones down many spicy cuisines, from the use of sour cream with Mexican food to the yogurt condiments eaten with Indian meals. In Thai cuisine, rich coconut milk serves much the same purpose.
(3) Sugar/Honey: I’ve heard sugar helps. I can’t say I’ve tried this, but some say honey is a miracle worker.
IN YOUR EYES: This is the worst. I wear contacts, so I have to touch my eyeballs at least twice a day and I cook with a lot of hot peppers. For this reason, I always wear gloves. Even if I feel zero burning on my hands, the eyes always know! Eyes are very sensitive to even the tiniest amount of pepper oil. If I’ve chopped peppers without protecting my hands, and then go to take those contact out at night, it’s not pretty!
If you get pepper oil in your eyes when wearing contacts, take them out as soon as you possibly can. Throw them away: getting the pepper oil off them will be practically impossible. I’ve found that my tears tend to get rid of the burn, but here are some additional solutions I’ve come across. Some are solutions for removing pepper spray from your eyes, which should work just the same for hot pepper oil.
(1) Blink fast to tear up the eyes: Blinking will cause an influx in tears and help in flushing out the capsaicinoids.
(2) Apply milk to reduce the burning sensation: While milk does not remove the oily particles, it will reduce the sting. Milk contains dairy fat which eliminates the capsaicin’s ability to produce heat. To apply this method, take a large bowl and fill it with cold whole milk and then soak the affected area for relief. You can also use a spray bottle to make it easier to rinse the eyes especially if you don’t have access to a bowl. If you don’t have whole milk around you can use any cold dairy product.
(3) Use saline solution: Saline will help flush out any extra pepper substance in the eye after the burning sensation has subsided. Be sure to continually blink after applying the solution to help get rid of any remaining oil in your eyes.
Hopefully, like me, you enjoy more than a little bit of heat when you’re eating. But even the strongest of us can run into trouble. These tips should help out when you’ve stepped over the line, or got caught by surprise.