How to get rid of hot pepper burn on hands

Short version. Wash hands with warm water and soap. Dry them and cover with olive oil. Massage the oil in (1-5 minutes). Wash with warm water and soap. Repeat.

Sometimes when making food I add 1-2 serrano peppers to food. Sometimes I get a burning sensation on some fingers after 1-2 hours. Usually it goes away in another hour or so.

But not this time.

One evening I decided to make a hot sauce which included blending about 20 serrano pepers. I cut them in half, removed seeds and then cut into small pieces - all with bare hands. After about 10 minutes I started getting a mild burn, but I thought it’s ok as it was similar to previous times. I just washed my hands with soap. From there it just got worse. In 1 & 1/2 hours my hands would burn so bad that if not kept under cold water, it would feel like a real burn.

Burning hands

Why does it burn?

Chili pepers contain a chemical called Capsaicin. It is a chemical irritant for humans (and other mammals) and produces a sensation of burning in any tissue with which it comes into contact.

It doesn’t actually damage the tissue (like a burn from contact with hot objects) but rather stimulates sensory neurons.

Chili peppers in a bowl

General strategy of how to get rid of burn

There are few steps to be taken to get rid or minimize the burn and its duration:

Don’t spread it

First thing you want is to not spread it more. Don’t touch your face or genitals. Also if any clothing got contaminated, put it in airtight bags.

Remove non-absorbed capsaicin

Hand washing Because capsaicin is hydrophobic (meaning it doesn’t dissolve in water) you whould wash your hands with soap, shampoo or dish liquid. Dish liquid may work even better as it’s better at removing oils.

n.b. Plain water is ineffective at removing capsaicin. Same goes for vinegar, bleach, sodium metabisulfite and topical antacid suspensions.

Deal with absorbed capsaicin

If capsaicin got absorbed, simply washing your hands will not work. What can help is:

  • Washe your hands with warm water (to open pores) and soap
  • Dry your hands
  • Bath them in oily compounds (olive oil or any other vegetable oils, paraffin oil, Vaseline, creams…) and massage them in
  • Repeat

Ease the discomfort/pain

While you’re dealing with absorbed capsaicin, you can also take Ibuprofen or some other pain killer. It will help a lot with washing your hands under warm water as otherwise it may feel like pouring lava on your hands.

You may also have some topical pain releaver (like lidocaine) which can help.

Other methods to try

Other people claim these methods to be efficient in other cases (most of which didn’t work for me):

  • Rubbing or dipping hands in alcohol (I used a bucket of Vodka for 20 minutes, and it didn’t help me)
  • Bleach
  • Water dissolved in baking soda
  • Backing soda paste
  • Yogurt, milk or sour cream (caseins found in dairy have a detergent effect on capsaicin)
  • Lime juice or freshly squeazed lemons
  • Riped tomato
  • Honey and lime juice mixed together into a salve