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What Are Jalapeño Hands And How Do You Prevent Them?

We love eating Mexican food - who doesn't, really? – both at restaurants and at home. For us, one of the cuisine's most addictive qualities is its heat, imparted by various spicy chiles including Scotch bonnets, chiles de árbol, and, of course, the humble jalapeño pepper. When preparing Mexican food at home, these chiles are indispensable. But it's best to proceed with caution in order to avoid the dreaded jalapeño hands. 

What are jalapeño hands, you ask? Well, anyone who's ever sliced and diced a hot pepper will most certainly know. It's that subtle – sometimes, not so subtle – burning sensation that you can feel after handling a hot pepper without wearing gloves (via Taste of Home). While jalapeño hands are usually pretty mild and non-intrusive, it's best to avoid them because after cooking with the peppers, you could touch your eye or other much more delicate parts of the body and cause a severe and painful burn. So let's take a look at how to prevent, and treat, this common pitfall of spicy cooking.

What causes jalapeño hands and how to prevent them

To better understand and avoid this phenomenon, it's a good idea to know what causes jalapeño hands in the first place. That would be due to a chemical compound found in hot peppers called capsaicin. When you handle cut peppers, capsaicin transfers to your skin, where it can cause a mild feeling of heat. Capsaicin triggers pain signals in the body but actually reduces them afterward, and can be used medicinally in the form of creams and gels to address the pain of headaches, joint issues, and skin disorders (via University of Michigan Medicine). 

If you're more interested in eating delicious food than in stimulating your pain signals, there are ways to prevent and alleviate jalapeño hands. The best method is to slap on a pair of gloves before you even approach a spicy pepper (via Taste of Home). They can be disposable, as University of Michigan Medicine recommends, or reusable cut-resistant gloves that can be found on Amazon, as suggested by Taste of Home. That way, when you cut open the pepper flesh and expose the seeds, your hands will be entirely protected from the capsaicin.

Damage control

Did you forget to wear gloves and now find yourself in the spicy territory of jalapeño hands? Never fear: there are several methods to help alleviate the pain. One option is to take a look in your fridge and see what dairy products you have on hand: not to snack on, but with which to bathe your inflamed skin. Pour some milk or yogurt into a bowl and soak your hands in it: the casein found in the dairy can help counteract the burning of the capsaicin (via Taste of Home).

No dairy on hand (pun intended)? Your second option is to give your hands a good scrub with hot, soapy water. Using a clean kitchen brush or washcloth, lather up your hands repeatedly until the capsaicin is removed and you've relieved the burning. You can also moisturize your hands with olive, vegetable, or coconut oil, which should also help ease the pain. And never fear: time heals all wounds, including jalapeño hands: over the next few hours, as the capsaicin on your skin breaks down, the burning will subside and you'll feel right as rain again – ready to dig into the spicy food for which you paid the price of admission.