How to Prevent and Treat the Burning Pain of "Jalapeño Hands"
I was recently making EatingWell’s White Chicken Chili and decided to sub out the canned green chiles for fresh jalapeños for a little extra heat. I diced and seeded my jalapeños and put the peppers into my pan to cook down a bit. Even though I had thoroughly washed my hands with soap and water after handling the peppers, I started to feel a crazy burning sensation on my hands a few minutes later.
The burning got worse as the night progressed. I kept washing my hands, but it felt like the water made it burn more intensely (side note: how?!). I finally reached a breaking point and started searching online for DIY remedies. I found that my “condition” wasn’t unique—it’s called “jalapeño hands,” but can occur after prepping any type of hot pepper.
The culprit to blame is called capsaicin, which is the chemical compound found in peppers that makes them taste spicy. According to the American Chemical Society, “when capsaicin is applied to your skin, a steady stream of neurotransmitters is sent to the brain, stimulating pain signals in the body.”
Learn from my mistake and check out these do’s and don’ts for preventing and treating jalapeño hands. Here’s what you should know:
How to Prevent "Jalapeño Hands" When Handling Hot Peppers
1. Do: Wear Gloves
If you already have jalapeño hands, you’re thinking, “No duh, Jaime.” Because I thought the same thing as I frantically Googled remedies to stop the intense burning on my fingers. But if you’ve never had this happen and want to prevent it, wear disposable gloves while chopping hot peppers to prevent the capsaicin from irritating your skin.
2. Don’t: Touch Your Eyes or Nose
Don’t be like me and try to remove your contact lenses when you have jalapeño hands (I had washed my hands about 10 times and thought I was in the clear. Spoiler alert: I wasn’t.). The University of Michigan Health System says, “Don't let capsaicin come into contact with your eyes and other moist mucous membranes. After you touch capsaicin (or hot peppers), use vinegar or soap to wash your hands so you don't accidentally spread capsaicin to your eyes, nose or mouth.”
3. Do: Try Dunking Your Hands in Dairy
Turns out, washing your hands can help get some of the capsaicin off your skin, but it doesn’t block the pain. Paul Bosland, a New Mexico State University Regents Professor and director of the Chile Pepper Institute, told Science Daily that the best remedy is actually cow’s milk.
"Milk has a protein in it that replaces the capsaicin on the receptors on your tongue. It's really the quickest way to alleviate the burning feeling." While Bosland was referring to drinking milk after ingesting hot peppers, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to support that dunking your hands in milk, yogurt or sour cream can help block the capsaicin. Not to mention, the American Chemical Society says, “Casein molecules [which are found in milk] attract capsaicin molecules. They surround the capsaicin molecules and wash them away, in the same way that soap washes away grease.” If only I knew this a few days ago!