Experts Guide to Ending Chili Pepper Burn (Hand & Mouth)


We have all been there—you ate too much of a chili pepper, accidentally or on purpose, and you are now having a five-alarm meltdown in your mouth. You start frantically looking around for anything to douse the inferno in your mouth, but you’re not quite sure what to reach for. Chili peppers are notorious for burning the tongue, mouth, lips, skin, and eyes. So how to you get rid of the burn?

Pro tip: don’t go for the water! Whether your tongue is burning from chili pepper or your skin is scorching in pain, do not use water. Drinking water will, perhaps counter intuitively, only spread the pain in your mouth, and washing your hands with plain water won’t help in reducing the pain. So, if we can’t turn to water, what should we turn to reduce the chili pepper burn? 

The best method to stop a chili pepper burn in the mouth is cutting the active chemical, capsaicin, with dairy or acidic liquids. The same applies for skin and hands, but for eyes, stick with milk and/or saline solutions to reduce the burn from hot peppers.

Surface Area AffectedSuggested Remedies
Mouth, lips, and tongueDairy, acidic drinks, alcohol, sugar water
SkinMilk; rubbing alcohol; oil; warm, soapy water; dish soap; baking soda; corn starch, Vaseline, calamine lotion, vinegar
EyesMilk, diluted baby shampoo
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There are multiple remedies that you can use to relieve your pain using items that most people have at home.

Tips for Getting Rid of a Chili Pepper Burn in the Mouth

DON’T DRINK WATER! As we will explain in the next few sections, the capsaicin causing your burn has an oil-like consistency and therefore is hydrophobic (repels water). This means that water is ineffective at fully washing the substance away and is more likely to spread it around making the burning sensation worse.

Some of the best remedies for reducing the hot pepper burn in the mouth is drinking milk, yogurt, sour cream, or even ice cream. Below are more details on why these solutions work best:

Dairy

Drink milk or eat a spoonful of yogurt or sour cream! Milk has a component called casein which will bind to the capsaicin molecules to inhibit the binding of the chemical to the pain receptors in your tongue, which will help to subdue the pain.

Why milk? It may seem odd, but the milk’s slight acidity helps to cut the oil-like capsaicin. Additionally, milk is cool and thick, which helps alleviate some immediate pain in the throat and mouth.

Other dairy substitutes include yogurt, sour cream, ice cream, and cottage cheese if you don’t have milk on hand.

Acidic drinks

As mentioned previously, acid helps to cut through the active spice component, capsaicin, which causes the burning sensation. Citrus juices such as lemon or lime juice are therefore helpful in reducing the burn. Although they may be extremely sour and not taste great, the acidity will quickly cut through the capsaicin and relieve the chili burn.

If you don’t have lemon or lime juice, some other acidic-based options are tomato juice, pineapple, or pineapple juice.

Alcohol

Alcohol is another alternative method to acidic and dairy drinks when it comes to chili burn.

Alcoholic drinks such as beer or liquor will help dilute the capsaicin compound, so might be good options If you’re over 21 years of age in the United States.

Sugar Water

Sugar water will help with short-term relief. Mix some sugar in a glass of cool water and gargle the mixture. Be warned that this remedy provides only short-term relief and the pain will return quickly. This is a less popular method, but some folks say that the sugar helps absorb the capsaicin, but just not as effectively as acidic or dairy alternatives.

Things to avoid doing when your mouth is burning from chili pepper burn

These are a few popular methods that many people use when trying to alleviate the burn from chili peppers, but are actually ineffective.

Water

Water will not help you solve the problem of chili burn, and in most cases, will make it worse as it pushes some of the capsaicin around in your mouth, spreading the burn.

Oil

Although oil is a great solution for other types of chili pepper burns (see next section for relieving chili pepper burns on your skin), it isn’t as effective for the mouth. If you gargle with oil it will more likely spread a diluted version of the capsaicin throughout your mouth.

Tips for Getting Rid of Chili Pepper Burn on the Skin, Hands, and Fingers

As with most things, the best cure is prevention, so it is best to always remember to wear gloves when you slice chili peppers. If you have ever worked with chili peppers gloveless you know all about the burn that ranges in intensity from a tingling sensation to an intense burn.

But, if you forgot to wear your gloves, and experience chili pepper burn, then here are some steps you can take to alleviate the pain. Again, your first impulse when your hands are burning may be to put your hands under water or in a bucket of ice to ease the heat, but this isn’t the best method. You will most likely find the heat and burning sensation coming back, often with even more intensity, after you’ve taken it out of the ice bath.

The following are the top remedies for chili pepper burns on the skin, such as hands, fingers, arms, etc. 

#1 Friend, Milk

The best method for chili pepper burn in the mouth is also the best for the skin.

To relieve the pain, pour a bowl of cold milk and place your hands in the milk for a few minutes to feel significant relief. Dairy products such as milk will help by binding with the capsaicin chemical and will aid in washing it off when you run your hands under water after.

If you experience the burn on your forearm or a part of your body that cannot easily soak in milk, wet a paper towel or a cotton swab in milk and place over the spot burning from the chili pepper. Replace the warming towel and refresh it with cold milk frequently and as needed for the burn.

Rubbing Alcohol

This can be an addition or an alternative method to submerging your hand or dampening your skin in milk.

Use rubbing alcohol to remove the burning oil before soaking in milk or dairy product. Much like drinking a beer to alleviate the pain from a chili pepper burn on the tongue, the rubbing alcohol will help dissolve the capsaicin.

If you can’t find rubbing alcohol, a high-proof liquor could help, and you might even want to take a quick sip to calm the nerves as well!

Oil (Vegetable, Olive, etc.)

Although capsaicin will not mix with water, it will bind with other oils such as vegetable, sunflower, and olive oils. The capsaicin will be soluble in the vegetable oil, and upon contact, it will help to dilute it.

Friendly note: be careful to keep it on spots that are already affected to avoid spreading the oil farther. Oil can act as a carrier and move the diluted capsaicin to more places (this is why gargling with oil is not recommended, plus it sounds gross).

Soap and Oil

To make the step more efficient, first, wash the oil off with warm water and soap. Then, dry your hands and leave hands in oil and rub it in. Let it sit for a few minutes, then rinse.

Again, if it is a part of the skin that cannot be easily soaked in a bowl, use paper towels and cotton pads.

Dish Soap

This is like the above method but substitutes regular hand soap with a skin-friendly dish soap. Dish soap is specially formulated to break down oils, whether they are on your dishes or your hands, and will be more effective at washing the capsaicin off the skin than regular hand soap.

If you still feel a burn after using dish soap, try using the oil or milk method to relieve the pain.

Baking Soda or Corn Starch

Another method is using baking soda or corn starch. When you use baking soda or corn starch, mix it with a bit of water to create a paste, which you can spread on the affected skins. The starch paste helps extract the capsaicin from the skin, after which it can be washed off.

Additional Options

These are other, less popular options, which might be worth trying as you look for relief!

Vaseline and calamine lotion

Some argue just a few applications of Vaseline or calamine lotion works like a charm! Just apply it like a cream after washing the affected area with soap and water.

Vinegar

Vinegar is acidic so it breaks down capsaicin. You can rinse your hand or skin with vinegar to break down the capsaicin. It won’t smell great afterward, but your burn will feel better and you can wash off the vinegar after.

Tips for Getting Rid of Chili Pepper Burn in the Eye

Your eyes are extremely sensitive, so if you touch your eyes after cutting chili peppers you are in for a world of hurt! The following are remedies to help ease the pain, but talk to a healthcare professional for full guidance if you feel that the burn is severe.

Use Milk

For the same reasons as all the previously mentioned chili burn remedies, many folks recommend applying milk to the eye. This is tricky and should be done cautiously. This method is also used for pepper sprays, but always be cautious and rinse thoroughly afterward.

How to Apply Milk to Eyes

Method 1 – Dampen a cotton pad with fresh milk and use like an eye patch. This will give you quick relief. Don’t let the milk get too lukewarm.

Method 2 – Use a shot glass or an eye bath to let the milk contact the eyes directly. You can also run milk on your eyes like water, but this can get a bit messy!

Although we’ve said to avoid water, it is a good method to wash out the milk from your eyes after the burn has subsided. Use only saline or water and let the water run for a few minutes.

Baby shampoo

If you can’t stand the idea of milk in your eyes, try using a baby shampoo. Make sure your hands are completely clean. Scrub any dirt or debris off and be sure you don’t have more chili pepper residue on your hands before you start to scrub.

Start with some water and a drop of baby shampoo, and if possible, apply the shampoo with the back of your fist.

Do not use your fingers! The key is to not scratch your eye because it will be easier to make a mistake when you are struggling with a burning cornea. To avoid using the fingers, form a fist, and only use the back of your hand to apply the water and baby shampoo.

Rinse with water after the burn subsides and rinse with saline as needed.

What is Chili Pepper Burn?

Now that the pain has subsided and you’re feeling better, maybe you’re a bit curious about what just happened? What is chili pepper burn and why does it happen? Chili pepper burn comes down to the main component in chili peppers we’ve mentioned a few times, capsaicin.

The compound is an irritant on the skin that causes burns that feel like a sunburn, a throbbing or prickling feeling, and oftentimes, a hot pain. Ultimately, a chili pepper burn is your body reacting to this irritant.

What is Capsaicin and What Causes Chili Pepper Burn?

Chili pepper burn is caused by the chemical capsaicin (8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide). Capsaicin is a phenolic compound that is also responsible for the taste and pungency of the chili pepper, but also the burn.

All plants under the Capsicum genus, such as Bell peppers, Jalapeños, Habaneros, etc., produce capsaicin. They have been commonly used as spices in the human diet for 6,000 years and more.

The role of capsaicin is mainly to act as irritants to predators, including us! They protect plants from parasites, insects, and mold. Although they may protect themselves from us, we also use them to protect and preserve our food.

It is assumed capsaicin was produced as a deterrent by peppers against animals and fungi. Their main role is in seed germination to protect against parasites. Too bad, some of us love these spicy peppers too much and keep coming back for more!

Interesting fact: birds, the biggest consumers of pepper seeds, cannot feel the spicy taste of capsaicin in peppers!

How to Avoid Capsaicin

Capsaicin is not present throughout the whole fruit, but is highly concentrated in the seeds, which are the “placental tissues” for these peppers. This supports the assumption that the capsaicin is protecting the seeds.

That being said, to remove the most concentrated spice center, we must remove the seeds and the direct tissue around the seeds from the chili pepper, all while wearing gloves, of course!

What does Capsaicin do in the Tissue? Why is it Hot?

Capsaicin excites the sensory receptors in your skin and tissue that signals to the brain that there is pain. It is simply pain-stimuli. As capsaicin excites these receptors, your body is alerted about a pain that you need to draw your attention to.

More importantly, we have termed the word “hot” chili peppers quite frequently, but have you realized your burn actually feels like there is some heat on there? Like an actual burn?

This is because the capsaicin receptor is the same receptor that is activated by the increase in temperature. All in all, your body is just trying to protect you by informing you of a disturbance in the environmental stimuli.

How Long Does Chili Pepper Burn Last?

Usually, the burn can last anywhere from a few minutes, to 1-3 hours, and at the worst, for up to 24 hours. The length of the burn depends on a number of factors including the type of chili pepper, the amount of time your skin had contact with the pepper, and the sensitivity of your skin. Some people may also have an allergic reaction to the burn in worst cases.

To get rid of the burn fast, apply milk or other methods that were mentioned above as soon as possible. The faster the capsaicin molecule is mixed with other compounds, the less of it will bind with your skin and pain receptors, which results in less severe, shorter periods of suffering.

Closing Thoughts

TL;DR, always wear gloves and have milk on hand when you are consuming hot chili peppers!

Here is a final cool fact to top off your knowledge on hot chili pepper burns.

Capsaicin is currently used to relieve pain! As much as it induces pain, formulations of capsaicin are used for controlling peripheral nerve pain. So, don’t hate it too much! It may help you one day.

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