How To Get Rid Of Pepper Spray

What does pepper spray feel like?

If you’ve ever chopped peppers and then touched your skin or accidentally rubbed your eyes, you’ve experienced a mild form of the pain that pepper spray causes. The active ingredient in pepper spray is highly concentrated capsaicin (the compound responsible for a pepper’s heat), which incapacitates people by blinding them, inducing breathing issues, and causing a great deal of pain to affected skin.

Jordt says you’ll feel like your skin and lungs are burning—but there’s no way to express the intensity of the pain until you’ve actually been pepper sprayed.

While the reaction is immediate, it’s possible to treat your symptoms with one essential: cold water. If you’re gearing up for a protest, you should know exactly what to bring to reduce your exposure to pepper spray, plus the steps to take if you do get pepper sprayed by police.

How to Stop Chili Pepper Burn on Hands and Skin

Don’t worry, you can stop the burn fast if you follow our instructions. You essentially want to remove the chili oils from your skin and soothe the existing pain.

Remember, capsaicin is the spicy ingredient in peppers, and it is an oily substance. This means that we have to use some sort of detergent to remove it from the skin.

Water won’t work! Scrubbing with water will only make things worse. So follow these tips to stop the chili burn fast.

1. Scrub With Dish Soap

Lemon dish soap.
Lemon dish soap.

Dish soap is a detergent. It is formulated to remove grease and oils from your dishware, and it is also safe for use on skin. This makes dish soap the perfect ingredient to remove oils from your skin.

Start with a healthy amount of dish soap and scrub your hands with just a drop or two of water. Allow the pure detergent to emulsify with the capsaicin as you lather the affected skin. Then, rinse off the soap with cool water.

Repeat this process multiple times if the burn does not seem to be soothed after one wash. The more intense the burn, the more scrubbing will be required to remove all the oils.

Tip: Use a soft toothbrush or a gentle sponge to scrub under your fingernails with the dish soap.

We do not advise that you use dish soap in your mouth or on your lips. Many dish soaps are toxic when ingested, so only use dish soap externally.

2. Don’t Shower!

Most people tend to notice the hot pepper burning their hands or skin after showering. This is because the capsaicin on your skin is oil-based, and massaging it with warm water will spread it out rather than wash it off.

This, combined with the pore-opening effect of steamy water causes the burn to increase. Ouch.

Make sure you have dealt with the capsaicin before you go to take a shower. We’ve had the experience of spreading the hot pepper burn to…other sensitive locations. No fun.

While we’re on the topic of no-nos, there’s another big one we don’t want to miss. Don’t touch your eyes. Dealing with a spicy burn in your eyes is terrible.

The solution is usually to wait and cry it out (see below). You can flush with water or saline, but this is only minimally effective. If you’re suffering from spicy eye burn, your eyes will eventually flush out the oil with tears.

3. Dip It In Milk

Milk is by far the best solution for spicy pepper burn in the mouth. However, it can also be very effective at treating it on the skin. The fats in milk help to break down the pepper oils and provide immediate, though temporary relief.

Glass of cold milk.
Glass of cold milk.

Use cold, full fat milk for the best effect, and feel free to submerge for as long as you want. The milk will not cause any damage to your skin, so fill up a bowl and let it sit.

As the milk warms up, the effect will wear off and the burn will return. Add some ice cubes to the milk to prolong the relief.

4. Apply Aloe Vera Gel

Similar to a sunburn, you can try applying some aloe vera gel to your spicy pepper burn. Aloe can help increase blood circulation and provide some temporary relief for chili burns on the skin.

Aloe vera can be used after all of the other methods have been tried first, or if you don’t have any of the other ingredients on hand.

5. Give It Time

Unfortunately, the only thing left to do is wait. No method is effective at completely removing chili oils from the skin. Eventually, your skin will shed and the oils will be flushed from your tissue, providing complete relief.

Until then, learn the best way to avoid spicy pepper burn: wear gloves!!!


What do you feel when youre sprayed with pepper spray?

Since it’s an irritant, it will cause burning in your eyes and throat, which leads to watery eyes, a cough, and even gagging.

How much does it hurt? In one study of people voluntarily getting sprayed with pepper spray as part of police or military training found that people rated their eye discomfort between a 9.6 and 9.7 out of 10, but that decreased to between 8.7 and 7.2 in 10 minutes. Pain and irritation lasted 15 minutes or more. Most experts say that you’ll continue to feel the burn for a lot longer than that.

These are the most common effects of pepper spray, although Dr. Glatter also notes that there can be more serious effects—people with asthma or other respiratory issues are especially vulnerable. “People with a significant or prolonged exposure have died after contact with pepper spray,” he has explained to Men’s Health (see our guide to protesting safely). Although the physician authors of Responding to Terrorism write that deaths are rare, usually occurring with severe and prolonged exposure in enclosed spaces.

You were pepper-sprayed: now what?

Most of the time, pepper spray is not used to control a crowd, but to deter or incapacitate a person in a one-on-one situation. The weapon’s sole purpose is to stop an attacker by inducing an almost-immediate burning sensation on their skin and in their eyes, nose, and mouth.

It’s similar to how you may feel when you’re chopping onions—your eyes immediately become irritated and you start to tear up. If you’ve been unfortunate enough to actually touch your eyes after slicing up a hot pepper, you’ve probably experienced another common pepper spray reaction—a blepharospasm.

That’s when your eyes shut tight and you have no control over your eyelids, so you can’t open them up. This is an automatic bodily response that aims to protect your eyes from whatever is irritating them, but it’s a bit counterintuitive—your eyes produce tears to wash away the irritant, so not being able to blink makes it harder to flush out. And that’s not the only problem.

“You can’t keep your eyes open, which often causes disorientation and agitation,” says Rohini Haar, an emergency physician and a research fellow at the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

Wearing tight swimming goggles or even big ski goggles may help protect your eyes, but recent videos from the protests against police brutality show law enforcement getting really close to demonstrators. Some officers have even pulled down protective equipment such as face masks or glasses before they spray. If this happens to you, goggles may not help, but they might redirect some of the spray or give you an extra second to duck.

Even if the spray doesn’t go directly into your nose and mouth, the agitation will make you breathe harder. This will make you inhale the spray, spreading the irritation and burning sensation into your airways and lungs. You will start to cough and your nose and mouth will produce extra saliva and mucus as your body tries to get rid of the OC. This might trigger a suffocating feeling that can lead to panic.

“The whole point is to get people to disperse,” says Harr. “But getting pepper sprayed has never caused people to calmly and safely disperse.”

Because OC spray is an oil, it’s hard to wash off and its effects last longer. The best way to eliminate it is to wash the area thoroughly with soap and water. Baby shampoo is a less-irritating alternative, says Harr. Milk has also been reported to help with symptoms, but there’s no scientific evidence to back this up. Also, oil repels milk, so dumping dairy on your face won’t help get OC spray off your skin.

If you ever get sprayed, first find help from somebody who can be your eyes and then immediately move somewhere safe where you can wash your face. Afterward, stay in an open space and wait it out—the air will help you recover. Psychologically speaking, having a particular goal or task in mind has been proven to help people fight through the effects of pepper spray despite the discomfort. Just keep thinking about the next step you need to take—to find water or get to a quieter place—and focus on that.

Sadly, once your skin, eyes, and airways are irritated, there’s not much you can do about it. Soap, fresh air, and even commercially available pepper spray relief will help prevent further contamination but won’t soothe your pain. Ingesting pepper spray affects your body differently, but you’ve still got to wait out the effects.

Rohini says she’s had to treat pepper spray victims in the ER. Those who were sprayed directly in the mouth experienced severe gastrointestinal distress, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain that lasted hours—sometimes days. Unfortunately, there’s not much doctors can do to stop the source of those problems, she says.

“I could give you something for your nausea and something for your pain, and some fluids,” she says. “But it’s just to treat your symptoms. You can’t fix that irritation.”

It might be hard not to scream while you’re being pepper-sprayed, but you should try to keep your mouth closed as much as you can to prevent ingestion. The less OC there is in your digestive system, the better.

No matter where the spray hits you, seek medical attention if any symptoms last for more than 45 minutes or if you find the situation is unbearable even before that time.

Why You Should Not Dump Pepper Spray Directly into the Trash

Pepper spray is considered to be a household hazardous waste product. Hazardous materials can have any of the following properties:

  • Combustible
  • Ignitable
  • Reactive
  • Toxic
  • Corrosive

Since pepper sprays are contained in an aerosol canister, they are highly combustible. This is why you should never throw your pepper spray canister into the trash directly.

You run the risk of the canister exploding. Similarly, you can’t incinerate the canister either as it will explode and cause damage.

You also can’t throw it into the trash directly due to the risk of exposure. You don’t want an unaware sanitary worker to get exposed to the spray. This is why it’s best to dispose of the spray as safely as possible.

About This Article

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