Sign up

You deserve to feel great, look great & LOVE your body

Enter your email for your FREE starter kit to get healthy & lose weight without dieting:

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

The Habanero Experiment

by | Nov 9, 2009
Extra Hot Peppers

Extra Hot Peppers

Hot chili pepper season is one of my favorite times of year. But working with these little devils can be tricky and, if you’re not careful, really painful.

If you’ve made the mistake of working with spicy chili peppers without gloves in the past, you know what a huge mistake it can be. Not only will chili pepper burn your skin for days, anything you touch while the pepper oil is still on you (it doesn’t wash off) will also feel the burn. Just a couple weeks ago a friend of mine got jalapeño spice all over her face and didn’t recover for more than a day.

In an attempt to cure “Hunan hands” I tested several common heat neutralizing recommendations. One friend recommended I try mouthwash, which I thought might work through menthol, a substance with receptors similar to those for capsaicin–the active ingredient in chili peppers. In biology, sometimes some good old fashion competition can be enough to change an outcome. To test this hypothesis directly, I also tried a 2% menthol gel from the drug store.

But despite the theoretical plausibility of the menthol hypothesis, the skeptic in me went directly to the source for more information. I contacted UCSF professor David Julius, the scientist who discovered the sensory receptor for both capsaicin and heat to see if he had any ideas for alleviating pain from chili peppers. He didn’t know for sure, but directed me to an article where baking soda was used as a treatment.

In my research, I had also learned people recommend various solvents including rubbing alcohol and vinegar. I decided to try the powerful solvent acetone (nail polish remover) and lime juice as well.

You can watch my experiments below. I had to clear my camera’s memory card before the last shot, during which time the sun went down (lousy winter). Please accept my apologies for the obnoxious light reflection in the dark windows.

Since making the video I’ve discovered a few other topical treatments that may provide some relief from capsaicin burns. The first is a milk compress, though the degree of effectiveness is questioned. The most consistently reported relief is from the application of lidocaine jelly or oral analgesics (topical anesthetics)–treatments that block sensation in the affected area.

My #1 tip for preventing chili pepper burn is to prevent it in the first place by wearing gloves to handle them and being especially careful with the seeds.

Have you had any luck alleviating pepper burn? Do you have any capsaicin horror stories?

Tags: , , , , , , ,