How to Treat a Pepper Burn


Here’s the thing about me.  I injure myself at least 3 times a week.  I cut myself, burn myself and just generally maim myself.  I have bruises and no idea where they came from, scratches that seem to appear out of nowhere and this week for instance, my left butt cheek was so sore I could barely even sit down.  Just the left cheek.  And I have no idea why.  I was doing something, that’s for sure.  I could have been hopping on one foot for an extended period of time (which is totally possible).

Regardless, I injure myself.  A lot.  It’s not because I’m particularly clumsy or careless … I just do a lot.  Most of the time I just ignore these injuries and know they’ll go away in a few days.

But last week was different.

I had a self induced injury that I couldn’t ignore.  Nor could anyone who looked at me.


eye patch


It all began with a pot of chili.  I was home alone, making one of the last pots of chili for the season (I have a “no chilly, no chili rule).  It just seems weird to eat chili while looking at someone with tan lines and mosquito bites.

It was all done and simmering on the stove when I got an itchy eye.  That happens, you know.  People *do* get itchy eyes.  Now, I didn’t scratch my eye out due to itchiness … in fact I barely even touched my eye.  But as it turns out, when you have a finger full of hot pepper juice, that’s all it takes.

I scratched at my eye with a finger that had pepper oil on it.  I *had* washed my hands after cutting my peppers, and I was pretty careful while cutting the peppers too.  I didn’t wear rubber gloves or anything, ’cause …. well, who *really* does that?  Especially when cutting a pepper as innocuous as a California Chile pepper?  They’re normally pretty mild.   “Normally” being the operative word.

So I scratched at my eye and about 2 seconds later underneath my eye started to burn.  BURN.  I left it.  I figured it’d go away.  Because I wanted it to.  Funny, that technique never works with headaches or annoying visitors either.

This by the way, is the offending pot of chili and angry little pepper.



So I turned to a pretty reliable technique for getting rid of pepper oil burns.



Milk 2


To effectively get rid of a pepper oil burn you have to know a little bit about why it burns so much and why water will NOT get rid of it.

Hot peppers contain Capsaicin, a natural oil.  If you get it on your skin it burns.  A lot.  Just ask the makers of pepper spray.  You cannot wash the oil off.  So in order to get rid of the pain, you have the neutralize the alkaline oil.  And the best way to do that is with something acidic.  And believe it or not … milk is incredibly acidic.

So if you get a pepper burn anywhere on your body, including your eyes, your fingers, your mouth, your … um … private parts … the very best thing you can do is soak it in milk.

The tissue underneath my eye was burning as well as my actual eyeball and the corner of my eye.  So I felt my way around the kitchen to the fridge, poured some milk into a bowl, and then poured milk into my eye like you would with an eye cup, circa 1800.  I then soaked a makeup remover pad in the cold milk and pressed it on my eye.  I wanted to continue on with my day because burned eyeball or not, I had shit to do.

So I fashioned a little eyeball protector sling out of some gauze I found.  Then I fastened it to my head with one of those small butterfly clips that keep the orchid stem attached to a stick.  ‘Cause even if you’re injured, there’s no reason to lose all fashion sense.  I think my picture is proof that being in the centre of a medical emergency doesn’t mean you can’t look your best.

I left my eye sling on for 20 minutes total and I replaced the cotton pad with a freshly soaked pad every 5 minutes or so.  You should feel instant relief from the milk, but as the burn starts to come back, replace with new, cold milk.

When the burn seemed to stop burning, I removed everything and let the cats lick at my face.  No sense wasting good, dried up, crusty eye milk.

To reiterate …

list to do


Now if you’ll excuse me I have a  mystery scab that needs to be tended to.




  1. Alix Bouchard says:

    My ex boyfriend did that…. The private parts situation.. hah

  2. Karen says:

    So did someone I know! ~ k

  3. Rebecca says:

    If you’d only been wearing your onion chopping goggles, this never would have happened. You should probably just wear them any time while cooking, just for safety’s sake.

  4. robin says:

    Another trick… Use vegetable oil as a ‘wash’ for the area. It dilutes the capsacian oil.

  5. Teresa says:

    This is one of the many reasons I love reading your blog, truthful and real to the point of pain. As usual, thanks for the laugh, as well as the knowledge that I am not the only one who “knows better” but does it anyway, and who is too hard headed to let anything stop me from the shit I gotta do!

  6. Jamie says:

    Great tip! I have a tendency to hurt myself a lot too…I have a 6 inch scar now from tripping over a very large chunk of air. Yup air. And whats really really sad about that, it wasn’t the first time the pesky chunks had tripped me up.

  7. Brenda j says:

    A friend ended-up hospitalized due to this stuff on her hands…2nd degree. FOR THE LOVE!!!
    Please be careful Karen; if you have to start typing in braille..I wont be able to read your blogs. (that probably sounds nasty)Its all about me.

  8. Spokangela says:

    Well, now you know two people who’ve endured the private parts burned with pepper “situation”. Sure wish I’d have known about the milk thing then…
    I was making Thai… for the new boyfriend, took a shower, decided to “clean up the nether regions” and WHOA!!!! Well, needless to say he go NO ACTION that night.

    I love that you said you had “shit to do” I swear you are one of our long lost sisters 🙂 There’s four of us and we love dink jokes, doin’ “shit” ourselves and gnarly dogs from Ikea. And, we don’t have a Karen… It’s plausible!

  9. Vivienne Grainger says:

    Karen, you crack me up. Not for the situations you get yourself into (because I’ve done the same thing) but your reactions to them. You go, girl.

    As for dipping one’s private parts into milk, I’ve always wondered how guys reloaded that thing …

  10. Yikes! I was so wrapped up in your story I burned my breakfast. Sounds very painful. Hope you are ok now.

  11. Diana says:

    Poor Karen!

    I hope, you are fine again…

    And -ähhhm- I am the one who wears rubber gloves:o)
    I hate cutting cold and bloody meat.(Eating- yeah! feeling-no!)
    Or the smell of garlic on my fingers two days after cutting it.

    All the best for you

  12. Ginny says:

    I haven’t done that yet. Yet being the key word. But I always seem to end up with a bruise and/or scratch that I have no idea when or where it happened. I usually blame the cats for the scratches whether or not it looks like a cat scratch. I mean they get blamed for any of the strange noises that happen in the middles of the night. They don’t seem to mind. Hope your eye feels better!

  13. Arlene says:

    I had an eyeball burn from a mystery plant last week too…was leaving the house to run back to work _ looked out at my poor little chickens longing for something green from the yard to eat.. So I decided to grab whatever large and leafy plant I could – which included the identifiable dandelion and another larger and yummier looking plant that left an orange stain on my fingers when I picked it. I had second thoughts as I stuffed this mystery plant through the chicken wire ~ but it clearly did not stop me from just crossing my fingers and hoping I didn’t just kill them. Later in the afternoon I too had an itchy eyeball— and used the offending stained finger to scratch my eyeball. Needless to say it Burned Like Hell. Without my newly instilled knowledge (thanks for that) I suffered in vain. Birds are still alive — now just get this crazy burning sensation in my throat when ever I eat an egg 🙂

  14. Deborah says:

    OUCH! Love the new fashion trend you started, watch out Stella McCartney! LOL! And for the record, I don’t wear rubber gloves when dealing with peppers either…rubber gloves are for wussies. 😛

  15. cred says:

    I have burned my eyes with residual chili oil on my hands but clearly to a lesser degree than yours since it usually subsides rather quickly without milk. Needless to say, relief to be had sooner is welcome- so thank you for the milk remedy.

    btw- the chili looks delicious. My mom always says that her meals taste better when she’s burned or cut herself while preparing it- although, then she enjoys it less. The sacrifices women make!

  16. Kristin says:

    OMG!!! I hope you’re doing better today. Thanks for the great advice and the “oh so lovely” visual

  17. Mary Kay says:

    I did that once – canning hot peppers and rubbed my eye – man 15 mins later I thought it was going to burn right out of my head. I read somewhere about using milk and grabbed the gallon jug and starting washing out my eye – worked BRILLIANTLY!!

  18. Magpiebird says:

    This morning I gave myself a twine burn on the eye! (lid/corner area.) And thought about googling how to treat a twine burn to the eye, but figured even the internet wouldn’t know that one. And here you are with pepper burns to the eye advice. So weird.

  19. Magpiebird says:

    Also weird that a “You might also like” article on your site is treating a mild burn with the bleach method. O.o

  20. Mary Werner says:

    Great way to start my day – with a laugh from you. I got lost in past posts and am now ordering the hand pepper grinder which is just too much fun for the kitchen. May be a better bedroom device as a signal to spouse for what lays (no pun intended) in store for the evening. Or take with me in the car to provide appropriate driving scores to those around me! Wish they made a 3 foot one for when my mother-in-law comes over.

  21. marilyn says:

    charming look but at least it worked.

  22. Barbie says:

    So sorry about your eye! However now I know how to cure a pepper burn should I get one someday. We have dried chili peppers out in the warehouse that we use in production of herb “wreaths” and my toddler (yrs ago) got into them and then rubbed his eyes ….we just had to wait it out….wish I had known then about the milk….however….he is allergic to milk so that wouldn’t have worked either I guess….hmmmmm

  23. Karen says:

    Hahhh! ~ k

  24. Karen says:

    LOL! ~ karen

  25. Karen says:

    I am frightfully attractive, aren’t I? ~ karen

  26. Karen says:

    Hah! That works too. Nobody believes me, and everyone is scared of it, but it’s a fantastic cure for a mild burn. Apparently I burn myself a lot. ~ karen!

  27. Karen says:

    Mary – I would CARVE you a 3 foot one, if I could watch you use it on someone. ~ karen

  28. Karen says:

    Works like a charm. 😉 ~ karen

  29. Codi says:

    I love you (not in a stalker way), and I love your blog (in a stalker way), but this is the first time I’ve seen your facts be a little off. Milk? Only slightly acidic. It’s the FAT in milk that helps. I’d assume whole milk would work better than skim for your eye injury, or even better heavy cream – plus I think you’d get a better crust for the cats that way 😉

  30. Karena says:

    Karen you are too much! I hear Wendy’s has good Chili!

    Art by Karena
    The 2012 Artist Series

  31. Karen says:

    Codi – Sorry bout that. I’m not sure where you think my facts are off, but … sorry. ~ k

  32. Sara says:

    LOVE your site! found it during the homies 2012. a-mazingness! wish i knew about the above pepper burn remedy two weeks ago when i diced chillies, for the first time ever, and without gloves! my fingers were slightly cracked and the chillies seeped into those cracks… my poor fingertips burned for a LONG time! never doing that again!

  33. Melissa says:

    One word: goggles. Get yourself a pair of goggles – not only because they’re essential to swimming laps, but because they can do dual purpose for rinsing eyes. Or install one those eye washing sinks you find in chemistry labs.

  34. Karen says:

    Melissa – I actually own a few pair of onion goggles. I’m going to be honest with you. If my eye itched, I’d just pull up the goggle and itch it. I know I would. ~ karen

  35. Lisa says:

    eye drops, like visine, are also mildly acidic. You can also use a diluted vinegar solution to wash your hands. Pour 50/50 vinegar and water into a bowl and soak your hands for a minute.

    I grow jalapenos and cayenne peppers, and when I freeze/can them in the fall, I DO wear the hospital-style non-latex gloves that you can buy at the drugstore!

  36. Kristen says:

    For me it was a camping trip in a cabin in the woods, no running water, an out house, and spaghetti. A friend wanted his spaghetti extra spicy, so he added on some habanero pepper flakes, enjoyed his spagetti, then went to the outhouse for a wee….

  37. Sarah A. says:

    Hope you are feeling better, Karen!

    It makes me feel better to hear that you also get hurt but don’t let that stop you from getting stuff done. I also often am working around the house covered in a strange arrangement of gauze!

  38. Lucy says:

    NOW you tell me. A couple of decades ago I had the worst night of my life after making salsa with HOT New Mexico Green Chiles with my bare hands. Was up all night with both hands soaking in ice water, which only helped til I either took them out or the water cooled. Also tried baking soda to no avail – thinking that would help. I remember watching Mongolian Throat singing on some cable channel at 4 AM…at least I was on vacation but it was NO FUN.

  39. Shirley says:

    That tiny milk “tear” on your cheek was the piece de resistance of your sad picture. Now I’m not calling you a clown, but is that Pagliacci I hear playing in the background?

  40. Tracie says:

    Too funny! I wonder if your recipe for chili is around anywhere….I make a pretty good chili most of the time, but I always rely on the packaged chili-o spice. I doubt you do that, but then again, you do buy the seasoned nuts…..:)

  41. Karen says:

    Tracie – No, my chili recipe isn’t up on the site yet. One day. I didn’t even know they sold chili-o spice! U use oregano, pepper, salt, cumin, chili powder (only the dark kind … hard to find), a hot pepper (clearly) and a few other things. Tobasco, red pepper flakes …. bay leaf. A bunch of junk goes in it. ~ karen

  42. Tracie says:

    Thanks Karen, I am really looking forward to your recipe. Mine isn’t bad but ends up with that kind of pre-packaged taste. It does sound like a lot of stuff goes in, but I am more than willing to take the plunge! Love chili! I have even been known to make a pot or two in the heat of summer….yum!

  43. Dana says:

    teresa took the words right out of my mouth. i love you karen.

  44. Abbey T says:

    There are also enzymes found in milk that bind especially to capsaicin when not much else does, and it sweeps the capsaicin molecules away with the milk. =)

    At least… that’s what I learned from Food Detectives!

  45. Gayla T says:

    Karen, Karen, Karen! You may as well just pack it in now cause I can tell you that the rest of your life is going to be more of the same since you are in that same groove I’ve been in all these years. It’s that creative gene and it gets us every time. Oh, and please don’t encourage Mary with the grinder. One step up they call it a wood chipper and she could run her mother-in-law through that. As a MIL myself, although an much adored one, I have step in here in behalf of all MILs in the world. Now, as a mother, I have to say, “You better stop that before your face freezes and you look like that forever. Now, you can see how much good I do in the world and why my DILs love me so much. Love Cindy

  46. Kim says:

    I’m with you on the “no chilly, no chili” rule. Although if we get a freak, below 50 night in the Illinois late summer, I do find myself wanting to make it.

  47. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    Wow..don’t know if I can sleep tonight after seeing that your burn is all gone girl..

  48. Pixieskulls says:

    My mom always said that if you get chili in your eye you should eat a 1/2 teaspoon of salt. We’re hispanic, do I’m sure that we’ve had this remedy handed down generation to generation.

  49. Kate S. says:

    I’m really curious as to whether your fella saw this fashion statement? If this had happened to me, I would have rigged up a similarly ridiculous makeshift bandage and about the time I had it looking particularly rakish, my husband would suddenly appear. My life is a litany of my husband’s befuddled facial expressions . . . more’s the pity.

  50. Chau says:

    I got the picture, LOL

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