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.

Chili

 

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

Milk.

 

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.

 


 

112 Comments

  1. Madeleine Whitfield says:

    Here’s another DIY recipe for home-based medicine hacks. When looking after a child infected with pin worms, I discovered they had migrated to me. But it was the middle of the night! What to do? I quickly googled a “natural remedy” and came across a site recommending a paste made of raw garlic. You apply this paste to the, ahem, wormy area, and the theory goes that the worms disappear. They certainly do, but the host will be peeling herself off the ceiling. Not recommended! (It works though).
    Medical professionals get a laugh out of this.

  2. Kim Parker says:

    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! My nine-year-old got hold of some bear spray (broke into my locked basement to get it), sprayed it and it got all over his upper body. He was screaming. I thought I’d have to call 911, but I quickly found your post. It took TWO gallons of milk, but it worked! I think he might think twice before using a spray he’s unfamiliar with in the future. But ***sighhh***, don’t think it will stop him from trying to break into places he’s not allowed (he’s extremely drug affected, thanks mom – brain damage!) Anyway, you are an angel – thought I’d have to take him to the hospital, and you solved that for me – you are truly the angel we needed!

    • Karen says:

      Wow! I’m glad it worked Kim. I probably wouldn’t have even thought of using it for bear spray myself! I’ve heard Olive Oil works as well but I haven’t tried that method myself. ~ karen!

  3. Megan says:

    Thank you for that I had a bad day and you just made it so much better so funny and helpful thanks

  4. Brigette says:

    I was in need of fast relief and your advice came to the rescue quick! Thanks.

  5. Guillermo says:

    Hi Karen, it did work and it brought me back to life. At one point I was watching in case I’d get hives in my skin, as I thought I was having an allergic reaction, it was that bad. I’ll never look at chilli peppers the same way. Your blog is great and your story is well written, with a lot of humour, so I’ll check your site from time to time. Thank you and enjoy Thanksgiving.

  6. Guillermo says:

    Thank you Karen, you just saved my life, or at least my lips and nose. Being Latin American and living in Europe I often laugh at Europeans threshold for Chilli, so I was preparing a recipe to treat my work colleagues, thinking that I would spice it up a little, I cut up a very innocent looking Scotch Bonnet and before adding it to the recipe, I put a tiny speck of it in my mouth to try it. After an hour of incredible pain and not letting up, I googled it and found your article. Thank you as I will be able to go to bed and sleep, something I thought impossible half an hour ago. Needless to say, I now have a new found respect for innocent looking chilli peppers and of course milk.

    • Karen says:

      HI Guillermo! I’m glad it worked! (I’m guessing it worked otherwise you’d be cursing me not thanking me, lol). And yes … BEWARE of the innocent looking scotch bonnet! Welcome to my site. Hope you stick around. 🙂 ~ karen

  7. Jenn says:

    Pepper in the eye can be serious business. I onced worked at a restaurant where we carried over 100 different hot sauces. One was so outrageous that you had to sign a waiver before we could let you use it. One of the servers I worked with had someone that was going to use it, so he pulled it down, and for whatever reason opened the bottle for the customer. The lid popped up a bit and a tiny drop flew up into his eye. He’s been blind in that eye ever since.

    I’ve dealt with enough issues in restaurants that I simply have a box of disposable exam gloves in the kitchen – raw meat or peppers, onions or garlic get the gloves. Cheap and you can find them everywhere! Walmart even has them in boxes on the shelves.

  8. ckdesigner says:

    That milky tear is poetic! As the recipient of nearly every rare skin affliction that can possibly happen to a hyper-cautious person, I have considered starting my own line of Rescue Wear. Your design is superior and dare I say, Trending.

  9. logan says:

    burned my nose today and thank god you had this up here cause if not i might have burned to death and want to know if the burning will just go away

  10. Liz Lyons says:

    Thank you for your advice. I burned my hands preparing jalapeno poppers for my step-son and his friends. I heard that just the seeds of the pepper burns your skin so I was extremely careful coring the pepper. Well not careful enough, very painful burn which lasted for hours. My step-son’s friend who was watching me prepare the peppers told me later that he kinda knew I would burn my hands but he didn’t say anything. I replied, is that your confession? Can you imagine someone so sadistic?

    • Karen says:

      Oh dear. That sucks. Did you get to my advice in time? Or is it stored in memory for next time? ~ karen

      • Liz Lyons says:

        Thank you for your empathy. No, unfortunately I did not get your advice in time. I am educating people, like you do. Yes it is burned in my memory; however, there will never be a next time, because I am now aware.

  11. LInda says:

    I mixed with a hot pepper once and I found that solarcaine worked wonders. We were on vacation and i didn’t have milk and didn’t know that would work. I tried alot of stuff but the only thing that did work almost instant was the solarcaine.

  12. Jill says:

    Karen, my daughter and I were de-seeding what we were told were mild peppers for drying. About five minutes into it our faces started swelling. Seven minutes into it our lips were on fire and we couldn’t see. : O My fingernails hurt. The skin underneath my fingernails hurt.

    After realizing that just having these peppers IN THE SAME ROOM AS US caused us these injuries, I removed the offending veg to the front porch. If I hadn’t, we were doomed. I think our brains were slightly charred too.

    We had never touched our faces.

    Went online and sought advice where I read that Pepto Bismal helps. We applied pink masks. It helped. Needed more relief so we we tried sour cream AND Pepto.

    As the pain subsided (it took over an hour), my husband walked in the house and saw us. He just shook his head and retreated to his man cave. That says a lot about the shit he witnesses around here (usually involving me).

  13. Krista says:

    Karen, another remedy is hair. When I lived as a student in Mexico I got jalapeno juice in my eye. My host kept yelling at me “pelo,pelo!” (hair, hair) and i was Like NO my EYE! my EYE! Next thing I knew she grabbed a handful of my hair and rubbed it over my eye. Pain gone instantly! I’ve made sure to keep my hair just long enough ever since. However, for you I would advice not cutting peppers unless the fella was around to rub on. I have no idea why it works but it is instant.

    • Grammy says:

      Okay, this is years later, but I somehow just read this post because Karen referred to it in 2016 and I came over to look and couldn’t stop. I have found all the information about milk enormously interesting, but kept wondering why no one had ever, apparently, heard about rubbing hair over your eyes.

      I grew up in Southern California, and learned to cook Mexican food from an old woman (she was in her fifties then, so if I met her today I would classify her as a youngster) named Antonia. Preparing for a party once when I was a teenager I touched my eyelid after cutting jalapeño and was scared to death I’d be blind forever in addition to the pain. Antonia just instantly reached to her head and pulled out a single hairpin that was holding her very long hair in a tidy bun, then pulled me to her and rubbed her hair over my eyes. The relief was instant.

      I wore my own hair very long for most of my life, so have always used her technique to good effect, but have never found anyone else who has heard of it. I cut my hair short about 15 years ago, so now I use those little plastic “food service” gloves when I have a lot of peppers to prepare, but I always think of Antonia and wish I had enough hair to wear in a bun. And that she was still with us.

      • Karen says:

        Hair??? Really? I wish I’d read this before cutting up my jalapeno peppers tonight. I’d have sacrificed some eye skin for that experiment. ~ karen!

        • Grammy says:

          I don’t know if your hair is long enough, Karen. Mine isn’t any more, that’s why I wear gloves for peppers nowadays. But, if you have someone else in the house with hair long enough (and willingness to keep you from pain and suffering) you can use their hair.

          I always assumed that the hair absorbed the capsaicin, but after reading the comments here it appears that maybe it’s the oil in hair that does the job. Long hair would normally be free of any sprays or gels and have a greater supply of natural oils even when clean. So maybe you should keep your adorable hairstyle and go forward with gloves (for prevention) or milk (for treatment).

  14. Summer says:

    Us chemists have a joke.. it’s pretty terrible, but here it is: Only chemists and pepper pickers wash their hands BEFORE they go to the bathroom!

  15. Justine says:

    THERE IS A BETTER WAY!!! (Am I allowed to say that?) But f’real. Banana peels. or banana in general. Mush that stuff all over pepper burns for some much quicker relief.

    • Karen says:

      Justine – You’re only allowed to say it if you write a post about it and prove it, LOL. Just joking. Kind of. Actually, I only post things on my site that I have tested and have proven actually work. Milk really is the best thing for this particular burn, and the other thing is most people always have milk in the house but might not have bananas. If the chance arises again and I have a banana on hand, I’ll do a post amendment. 🙂 ~ karen!

  16. cynD says:

    malox helps with the burn of peppers the eyeball well maybe not so much but other parts of a body.. yep good ol’ malox. I found this out with a Kelliblu event cutting peppers with out gloves or with abandon ugh! mercy.. malox did the trick for me. I was ever so grateful. I am not in to pain of any kind. The Eye patch thing WOW how creativev and useful is that with the butterfly clip and every thing! woo hoo

  17. amy mills says:

    been there. washed my hands, went after my diva cup… wow, that’s a whole different kind of pain and i could figure out how to get milk there:(

  18. Charli says:

    My skin is really sensitive to capsaicin. I recently got some on my hands and face (thankfully not my eyes)… I knew I’d heard milk was supposed to help. I don’t remember if I was out of milk or what, but I ended up slathering plain, full fat yogurt on my face and hands. It seems like it was even more effective than milk, and I didn’t have to change it out as often.

  19. Meg says:

    You’re too much, Karen– my right cheek is hurting, so if one of us figures out what causes bilateral butt soreness we’ll have to let the other know!

    I was cutting some habanero peppers for dinner one night and one of them was (don’t ask me how) juicy and squirted me in the eye. That was awesome. My next door neighbor (yaaaay!) was an ER nurse and told me to keep rinsing my eye with room temperature water in addition to the milk patch. So, an addendum, don’t be afraid to rinse with water between milk applications AND don’t think you’re the only person who ever managed to get a stinking hot pepper in their eye…

    (My husband once, on accident, snuffed a nosefull of cayenne pepper– dried and ground. His sinus trouble cleared right up, but I have never heard him yell like that!)

  20. Cat says:

    I wear gloves. Because no matter how mild the pepper I end up with burning hands about two seconds after I start cutting them up and it lasts for hours. Plus I can just pull them off, throw them away and not have to worry about touching my eyes or nose or whatever.
    I’m not a wuss, I’m practical.

  21. Hannah says:

    Also, I imagine we like milk best because it is cool, which helps to calm the burning sensation, sort of like a cold cloth on a sunburn. We need to change a ‘milk bandage’ to get more unadulterated fat molecules around the capsaicin bonded cells. Milk also has a protein called casein that acts as a detergent against capsaicin.

    • Karen says:

      Hannah – Thanks! However, there is something specific in milk that helps. It’s not just the cold. I’m gonna stick with this exact method because it worked perfectly. Definitely cut through the pepper oil. Plus I like the milk tears. ~ karen

      • Hannah says:

        Oh definitely, milk is best. I was just trying to clarify that it wasn’t the acid/alkaline nullification, but other properties in milk that makes it work so well.

        • fACEpALM says:

          There may or may not be something in Milk that works. But this website states it backwards, pepper is acidic which is what makes it burn, like all acids. Alkaline is is “cut” by acid, but the acid is neutralized as it mixes with the dissolved acids. Thus relieving the burn.

          They say whole milk helps, so what you’re referring to is likely in the fat which makes sense because butter is often used for heat-burns.

        • George says:

          “You cannot wash the oil off.” (That’s correct. Capsaicin is hydrophobic so water merely spreads it.) “So in order to get rid of the pain, you have the neutralize the alkaline oil.” (Capsaicin is an alkaloid but it is not alkaline.)
          I know this post is 4 years old, but it comes up in Google searches so it’s still in play.
          I grow and process Trinidad Scorpion peppers and have gotten capsaicin in my eyes, on my boy parts, and all over my hands and can tell you that the only thing that gets rid of it is time and your body’s natural processes of removing toxins.
          I cover my hands with olive oil, and wear two pairs of thick rubber gloves, and wash my gloved hands frequently in first straight bleach then with dish soap and water while I’m processing them (500± every three days). Then I don’t touch myself (or I try not to) for 24 hrs.
          The pepper you messed with is rated at 500-2500 Scoville Units of heat. The Scorpion is 1.2-2 million.

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