Hunan Hand

There’s this thing called Hunan Hand. It happens to you when you work with hot peppers. The hotness in peppers is due to a chemical called capsaicin. This chemical can get on your hands (or elsewhere), and let me tell you, it is damn hard to get off. I cut up various kinds of hot peppers for some chili the other week, and my left thumb burned for days. I could taste spicy on it for about 6 days. I tried several things to get the shit off, including Goo Gone, ethanol, and acetone, which I’m sure can’t be good for your skin. The one recommended method for cooling things off involves rinsing your hands in bleach, and I’m not sure if that’s worth it.

It finally wore off after on its own after about a week. And to think that I didn’t even get it that bad.

13 thoughts on “Hunan Hand

  1. Bleach sounds like it should do the trick, since, from what I understand, the hot sensation is from acid reacting to the skin. I hear those food joints that serve dangerously hot sauces (the urban legend kind that makes you sign wavers in case you end up damaged) keep sugar around to neutralize the acid. Of course, I’m horribly at a loss when trying to find any net resources on this.

    Then again, soap should work well enough in the first place….you could try diluted bleach, which shouldn’t be dangerous.

    This one guy I knew down in the Indian Ocean on Réunion Island who had a ziplock bag of these extremely hot Indian peppers (of which I don’t know the English name) in the back of his car for months. The tropical sun meant that they pretty much cooked and the oils leaked out of the bag. While cleaning out the car, he found the oily spot that he had the misfortune to stick his thumb into. Misfortune of burning skin under the thumbnail (which burned for days) quickly turned into stupid folly when he stuck it in his mouth (which also burned for a good while).

  2. This, of course, is the same stuff the police use in pepper spray. The recommended treatment for a pepper spray attack (and hence regular pepper exposure) is:

    “…mineral oil followed immediately by alcohol. Some street medics refer to this procedure by the acronym “MOFIBA”.

    Thoroughly wet a 4×4 pad or similar material with mineral oil. Carefully avoiding the eyes, thoroughly rub the exposed skin with mineral oil. (You can use any vegetable oil in a pinch).

    Quickly wet another 4×4 pad with rubbing alcohol, and vigorously rub off the mineral oil. Be extremely careful around the eyes.”

  3. Whatever. I kind of liked having a spicy thumb. It was a little treat that was always with me for 5 days.

    On a semi-unrelated note, I also learned that one of the best drinks to have with a hot spicy meal is milk. Apparently works much better than water, etc. since it neutralizes the acid. I did see notice that sugar and alcohol help, but when I’m eating a big ass bowl of hot stuff, milk seems to be a better solution than shoveling down spoonfuls of sugar.

    Dick, when you come in 2 weeks, if you want to make a big pot of chili, bring up some crazy peppers for it.

  4. There seems to be a misconception that the heat in chilli peppers is acid. It is not: it is capsaicin which “burns” because it binds to the heat receptor nerves in our bodies that tell us that we are burning. Our bodies then tell us that something is burning us. It is not an acid.

  5. I used Eno’s antacid powder on my hand once and sprayed a little bit of water.After about a minute of excessive burning,the pain subsided

  6. I’ve heard that if you rub stainless steel on your affected areas, it takes the scent away. You can use this trick with onions & garlic, too!

  7. I have been eating Habaneros since I was 5 yrs old, and Dick first poster the name of those Chiles are either Bhut Jalokia or Naga Jalokia. AKA the Ghost pepper. They originated from India and I have been munching these for another 15 yrs. I purposely love Hunan Hand and Hunan Tongue, and anything else that can be Hunanised;). But it is an acid base thing Lactose the Sugar in milk and the coating nature of milk can be used to put out the fire…but why would you want to 😛 And Capsaicin is very clingy stuff. From hands, knives, unmentionables if working with Chiles and get a nature call…OUCH…but the stuff doesn’t come off easily. First time working with the Ghosties, I washed the knife in milk and then the dishwasher and still about a month later still had some residual bite. So I exhort ya’ll to go get your endorphins flowing, and enjoy the blessed pain.

  8. Yeah, they were hot but they weren’t Ghosts. They were smaller and thinner and I can’t imagine people eating them everyday like they did (and I did).

    But, wow, what a difference 7 years makes. I’ve since learned that I was totally wrong about the acid/base thing. Capsaicin doesn’t “burn” like an acid. It is, in fact, basic, but only slightly (less so than soap). Its effect is actually on the nerves. It’s a neurotoxin that only effects mammals. The idea is that peppers evolved the trait to prevent mammals from eating the fruits in favor of having birds eat them and spread their seeds farther.

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