After chopping up chile peppers like jalapeños and poblanos, many a home cook has fallen victim to the intense burning sensation we like to call "hot pepper hands."
The impulse reaction is to vigorously wash hands with soap and water — but that will inevitably fail, and here’s why: The burning feeling is caused by capsaicin, an active component in chile peppers that some people are extra-sensitive to. Water won’t remove it from the fingertips because it’s not water-soluble. And ice packs won’t do a thing because your fingers will still be coated in capsaicin when you’re finished icing them.
So your best option? Prevention. If you’re reading this because you’re currently suffering from capsaicin-induced burning, you’ll curse us for writing this, but the best solution is obviously prevention. Use cheap, disposable Latex gloves next time you handle hot peppers. If for some reason you refuse to do this, at least coat your hands in olive oil to help avoid unnecessary pain.
Some other precautions: You can criticize us all you want for giving this obvious warning, but time and time again, people make the mistake of wiping their eyes or other areas of their body (sometimes VERY sensitive areas of the body) with their hands after handling hot peppers. Ignore the fact that your nose is itching, and don’t touch your skin until you’ve finished with the peppers and washed your hands thoroughly.
This is an important warning for those of you with contacts, too — don’t try to take them out too soon after handling hot peppers, and make sure you’ve washed them as well as you possible could. Maybe even douse them in some olive oil and wash them with soap and water again before dealing with your contacts.
Finally, take precautions if you’re rinsing the chile peppers or grinding them in a food processor or blender. If you wash them under hot water, the steam can actually cause a burning sensation when inhaled — and in your eyes. When processing them, small particles can become airborne and cause the same reaction in your lungs and eyes.
However, capsaicin IS soluble in fat and alcohol. So click through our slideshow for a couple of suggestions to get rid of those "hot pepper hands."
— Melissa Valliant, HellaWella
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