The Best Ways to Soothe a Hot Pepper Burn

Cooling Cures for Burning Capsaicin

Pepper on fire
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Hot peppers can add a kick to spicy foods, but if you get it on your hands or in your eyes or eat one that's just too hot, you should know how to take away the burn.

Why Hot Peppers Burn

In order to soothe the burn of a hot pepper, it helps to understand why it feels hot. The sensation of heat comes from capsaicin, the active compound in hot peppers, binding to the sensory receptors in your mouth or skin that detect heat. These neurons fire off a painful warning when they detect a temperature hot enough to harm tissue. Your body reacts to capsaicin the same as it would to a high temperature, even though no actual heat is present. To stop the burn, you have to remove the capsaicin from the binding site or dilute it so the sensation isn't as intense.

How to Make Hot Peppers Stop Burning

The key is to either absorb the capsaicin or dissolve it. If you have hot peppers on your hands, you'll just spread it around if you try to rinse it with water. You can remove capsaicin by wiping it away using vegetable oil or butter or you can use dishwashing soap to lift it off the skin. Rinsing your hands in dilute bleach solution also helps.

Any food that acts like a sponge due to sheer bulk will help absorb the heat and mellow it. You can dissolve capsaicin in alcohol, but it can't be too diluted. A shot of tequila might help, while a sip from a margarita would be pointless. Food that's high in oil or fat dissolves the capsaicin, so it can't continue to bind heat receptors. Your best bet? Full fat sour cream or ice cream.

  • Dairy (sour cream, milk, cheese, ice cream): The fat helps dissolve the capsaicin.
  • Oil or oily foods: If you can stand it, swish oil around in your mouth and spit it out to clear the burn. For a tastier option eat a spoonful of peanut butter or honey.
  • Acidic food: Acidic foods, like lemons, limes, and tomatoes, help to neutralize some of the activity of alkaline capsaicinoids.
  • Bulky food, like chips, rice or bread: Starchy foods act like sponges, soaking up excess capsaicin. These foods won't cool the burn, but they'll keep it from getting worse over time.
  • Sugar: The Scoville scale, used to measure the heat of a pepper, was based on how much sugar water it takes to dilute a pepper to where it doesn't burn.

How to Make It Even Worse

If you've eaten a spicy pepper and you think the heat is unbearable, depending on what you eat or drink to soothe the burn you can make it a lot worse! Foods that are mostly water just spread the capsaicin around, sort of like an oil spill on water. Even if your food or drink is icy cold, it won't help the problem. Liquids that will only make the burn worse include water, beer, coffee, and soda.

The alcohol in beer or wine won't dissolve the capsaicin, but if you ingest enough alcohol, the burn from hot peppers won't be as uncomfortable. That's simply intoxication dulling your senses and not any reaction with the hot pepper.

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Your Citation
Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "The Best Ways to Soothe a Hot Pepper Burn." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2021, February 16). The Best Ways to Soothe a Hot Pepper Burn. Retrieved from Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "The Best Ways to Soothe a Hot Pepper Burn." ThoughtCo. (accessed August 2, 2021).