Joined: Jul 09, 2009
Location: Portland, OR
I just went through one of if not the most painful experience of my life. I was making armadillo eggs (I'll post a link to the recipe at the bottom for anyone who's interested... they're delicious), and for them I quartered and de-seeded 6 medium to large sized jalapenos.
After finishing making them and throwing them in the oven, I took the insides of the jalapenos and started stripping the seeds off to save for planting. After spreading the seeds out on a towel to dry, I washed my hands thoroughly with soap and water, and figured I was in the clear. A bit later, I sneezed and covered my face with my hands, then grabbed a hanky and wiped my nose off. Within a minute, my nose was on fire... inside, underneath, and on top of my nose. I tried to grab a tissue and blow my nose, which I think only made it worse. I hopped into the shower and turned it on as cold as I could stand and stood there with my hands right above my knees (more on that later) with my face in the water, which did provide immediate pain relief. During this time, my girlfriend was looking up remedies on the internet and found something that said milk will neutralize the capsaicin. The only milk we had to try was some very fresh raw cow's milk we got from a nearby farm, so we tried it because I didn't want to wait. It worked wonders, and within about 5 minutes of holding my nose in a bowl of milk, the burning sensation was all but completely eliminated.
1) Make sure to wear gloves when seeding jalapenos. After reading the capsicum article on wikipedia, I learned in the section on capsaicin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capsicum#Capsaicin_in_capsicum) that the capsaicin is mostly concentrated in the placental tissue that holds the seeds, and in the white pith around the seeds. Wearing gloves while doing this is probably common sense to everyone else, but I'm foolhardy so I thought that gathering the seeds from only 6 peppers would be fine.
2) Milk works really well to neutralize the burn if you do accidentally expose your face/nose/eyes to too much capsaicin. Like I said, after holding my nose in a bowl of milk for 5 minutes, it was pretty much cured. In the same wikipedia article linked to above, it says capsaicin is lipophilic, meaning it's fat-soluble. This leads me to hypothesize that the raw milk I was using was pretty much the best possible option to use. The more fat in the milk, the more fat there is to quickly dissolve the capsaicin. Further, my girlfriend (who is in nursing school), explained to me that mucus membranes like those in your nose are like skin with all of the water-proofing of normal skin removed. Since milk is mostly water with some fats (whole milk is usually considered to be 4% milk-fat) the milk is able to get into the mucus membranes and go to work quickly.
3) Capsaicin won't penetrate really thick skin like your hands, feet, knees, etc. Unless you rub it in, you won't necessarily feel the burning in your hands. Keep this in mind before touching anything else if you decide to ignore the advice in lesson 1. Just because your hands aren't burning doesn't mean something else won't. In other places on your skin where there aren't as many layers of skin, just a bit of rubbing will penetrate the capsaicin into your skin deep enough to burn. So, remember earlier when I said I'd say more about putting my hands right above my knees? Well, I hadn't gotten all of the capsaicin off of my hands yet when in the shower running water over my face, and so I ended up exposing my skin there to a hefty quantity of capsaicin. The skin on my legs didn't hurt for a little while, in fact not until after my nose had already stopped burning. I think this is due to the fact that the skin there is thicker, though not as thick as my hands, and so it took a while to penetrate my skin. I think this fact also helps explain the next lesson.
4) Milk doesn't work as well on non-mucus membrane skin. We put a milk soaked towel on my knees, which I let sit there for about 10 minutes (double the amount of time it took to make my nose feel better). The burning sensation lasted for another hour or so before going away. My girlfriend and I hypothesize that the "waterproofy-ness" of my skin there kept the milk-fats from getting to the penetrated capsaicin and therefore didn't work well at neutralizing the pain entirely once the milk-towel was taken away. The milk did, however, provide temporary relief while cool and on my skin.
As I am writing this, I'm experiencing minor irritation on the backs of my hands as well. In an attempt to learn as much from this experience as I can without having to repeat it, I've rubbed olive oil into the skin on the backs of my hands. If it works in quickly neutralizing the burn, I think it lends further credibility to lesson number 4, and a solution if the burning happens to be in regular skin and not in a mucus-membrane area. I'll reply to this post with what I learn.
I know this is all very anecdotal with only minor wikipedia research and the words of my (very intelligent, but that's anecdotal to you I guess dear reader) girlfriend to back it up, but I hope this helps people avoid this problem themselves, or get themselves out of trouble if they don't heed lesson #1. Finally, here is the link to the recipe I found. Worth it? I don't know, but they are delicious... and maybe if this post helps some other people out then the experience will be worth it. http://ourlifeinfood.com/2012/05/14/armadillo-eggs/
And here are a last few links to read about if you're curious about the workings of capsaicin and how I came to some of the conclusions that I have:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pepper_spray#Deactivation_and_first_aid (This one mentions the "five often-recommended remedies," of which milk was mentioned. I can conclusively say that milk worked wonders on my nose, and not on the rest of me. It also mentions nothing about oil dissolving it. I'll share my olive oil experiment with you tomorrow.)
Joined: Jan 15, 2012
Location: Bay Area, California (z8)
Good luck with your further experiments! I married a Texan Pepper-Belly, so let me tell you from long and painful experience what i have learned:
Capsaican is an OIL. It is only dissolved by other oils or alcohol. That's why beer, milk, booze and icecream are so effective. EVEN MORE EFFECTIVE: BUTTER. I cannot tell you the number of times I have tried a tiny touch of pico at a restaurant and had my mouth blown clean off by the heat! One small scoop of butter on a tortilla chip fixes the problem completely and permanently.
The next time capsaican sinks through your dead dermal layer, try kneading it strongly with oils such as massage, olive, butter, etc to disperse the burning.