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Learn from my pain

Rebecca Firkser
July 03, 2018

Last week, I did something very dumb. I seeded a jalapeño with my bare hands. Usually, slicing jalapeños isn’t an especially dangerous undertaking. The exterior of the pepper is not much spicier than a bell pepper, but its ribs and seeds pack a lot of heat. Capsaicin, the active chemical compound present in chili peppers, is incredibly irritating to human skin. While a bit of capsaicin from a jalapeño on your tongue may leave your mouth and lips on fire as you quickly chew and swallow, the burn is typically pretty manageable, especially if you chug a glass of milk right after. But say you don't want your dish to be super-spicy, and instead of using a knife to slice around the heat-packing seeds, you stupidly decide to remove those seeds and ribs with your fingers. From my experience, the only way to soothe this kind of burn is to submerge your stinging hands in a bowl of Greek yogurt.

About 15 minutes after I’d gotten deep into that pepper, my hand was on fire. I’m talking pretty dang painful, like I’d grabbed onto a hot sheet pan, but more sunburn-level stingy. It wasn’t good. Most online remedies for jalapeño and other hot pepper burns involve immediately washing your hands with rubbing alcohol, dish soap, or olive oil to dissolve the capsaicin as quickly as possible. Of course, I didn’t realize how bad it was going to be until I’d already rubbed the capsaicin pretty deep into my hand, so none of these remedies did much. A thick paste of baking soda and water did next to nothing, and the only reason a mixture of baking soda and water was soothing was because the water was cold. One website recommended coating the skin with a layer of yogurt, or submerging your hands in milk. I decided to combine the two, and stuck my hand in a big container of Greek yogurt. I’d been saving it for breakfast, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

The Greek yogurt was thick and cold, and it soothed my burn like yogurt sauces have cooled my tongue after an especially spicy bite of a main dish. After leaving my hand submerged in the yogurt for two hours, I started to feel a bit better.

Ultimately, it still took over five hours for the burn to subside, and over 12 for it to fade pretty completely. In hindsight, I’m just really thankful that after cutting the pepper, I didn’t rub my eyes.

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