Uh oh – you did it again. You cut hot peppers without wearing gloves and now you’re paying the price. I know all too well what it is like to have jalapeño peppers in the eyes. Thankfully, this means I also know how to soothe the burn, fast.
In this article, I’ll share what has worked best when we have had the unfortunate experience of a hot pepper burn in the eyes. After your burn is relieved, we can move on to avoiding it in the future!
Cold Milk (Fast Relief)
I know this sounds strange, but the best remedy for all pepper burns is milk. However, you don’t want to pour milk directly into your eyes – I would not recommend this!
Instead, soak a paper towel or cloth with ice cold milk. Then, press the cloth onto your closed eyes. Keep your eyes shut to prevent too much milk from seeping in.
The milk should give an instant sense of relief from the hot pepper burn. However, this pain relief is temporary. As the milk warms up against your skin, the burn will gradually come back.
Tip: Keep the milk cold by pouring it into a bowl with some ice cubes. Then, each time the burn comes back, you can re-dip your paper towel into the cold milk, and apply it to your eyes again.
There is a protein in milk products called casein, which helps to break down capsaicin (the compound that causes the burning sensation). This means that other milk-based products can help too, such as yogurt, ice cream, or sour cream. However, I wouldn’t recommend using these for jalapeno pepper in the eyes, only on the skin or mouth.
Keep in mind, you’ll likely need to keep applying milk for at least 15 minutes as the burn subsides. Just keep the milk cold and keep applying fresh paper towels to your eyes until the pain becomes bearable.
Does Almond Milk Work?
Unfortunately, non-dairy milk substitutes do not work nearly as well. They do not contain the compound casein which helps break down capsaicin in the pepper juices.
However, that it not to say that you won’t get a bit of relief from almond, oat, or other non-dairy milks. As long as they are cold, you will get at least a small sense of relief.
Another tip to help dissipate the capsaicin from your eyes is to allow your eyes to water naturally. When a foreign substance enters the eye, they will naturally produce tears to help flush them out.
When you have hot pepper juices in your eyes, the best way to flush them out is to open your eyes and blink rapidly. This will likely be painful, but it will cause the eyes to water, helping remove the capsaicin oils from your eyes more quickly.
I have to admit, this technique is not fun, but it certainly seems to reduce the amount of time that you have to suffer. This technique is also taught to law enforcement to relieve the burn from pepper spray.
Wash Hands With Dish Soap
When you touch your eye with jalapeno juices on your hands, you usually feel the burn immediately in your eyes. While it may be hard to focus, try to make your way to the sink to wash your hands with dish soap.
Dish soap is a detergent, meaning that it can help break down oily substances, such as capsaicin. However, do not apply dish soap to your eyes! This can be harmful to your eyes.
To remove any remaining capsaicin oils from your hands and skin, apply a good amount of dish soap to your dry hands. Then, scrub them with just a drop or two of water. This will allow the detergent to do its job most effectively.
Rinse off your hands, and repeat the process a few more times to help remove as much as possible. All the while, be sure to avoid touching your eyes again with your fingers.
Wear Gloves Next Time
If you fail to wear gloves, be careful of what you touch. Not only can you burn your eyes, but you can also end up with a burn on your skin. This is very common on the hands, but also any other more sensitive areas you may have touched.
Nitrile gloves are the best type of rubber glove for avoiding pepper burns on the skin. These are extremely useful for handling hot peppers, whether you are growing hot peppers, or just slicing them in the kitchen for jalapeno poppers.
How Long Does the Burn Last?
If you’re suffering from a hot pepper burn in your eyes, your first question is likely, “How long is this going to last?!”
Depending on the severity of the burn (ie. how spicy the peppers you cut were), the pain can last anywhere from 15-45 minutes. With proper treatment (applying cold milk and blinking to produce tears) this time can be reduced.
What Causes Jalapeños to Burn?
If you’re curious why peppers have a burning effect, it is caused by the compound capsaicin. This oil-like substance is contained in many chile peppers in varying amounts. Heat ranges from none, to the mild poblano, to the superhot 7 pot peppers from the Caribbean.
It is thought that pepper plants have developed this as a defense mechanism against fungus, pests, and mammals. The only animals that can enjoy hot peppers without the burn are birds. Birds cannot feel the burn from capsaicin, and have played a major role in spreading wild pepper species around the globe.
I hope this article helped you find some relief from hot peppers in your eyes. Of all the pepper burns, the eyes are probably the very worst. The pain can be striking and induce panic, but if it happens again, you’ll at least be prepared!