Q: Hey Dave,
Several months ago my girlfriend was cutting jalapeños for salsa. Shortly after, she started getting intimate with me with her hand. To sum things up, I had a warm feeling in the southern hemisphere for about a day. We are new to the chile world and it wasn’t till a day later till I realized milk was what I’d needed to make the sensation go away. I have read many things, most of which say chiles cause no nerve damage, but I have also read that capsaicin can in fact cause nerve damage (though they didn’t mention the quantity). So–can you set the record straight? I’m sure I’m not the only one this has happened to, but maybe I am the only one dumb enough not to realize water and soap don’t do anything 🙁
A: Hello Sandburg:
Actually, soap and water does work to a limited extent, because capsaicin is miscible with the soap. Exactly what you describe happened to me after roasting and peeling green chiles, and caused chile interruptus. Washing, in the shower with soap and water helped somewhat, but there was burning for a long time. Of course, your girl friend, like mine at the time, should have worn gloves when handling chiles. Milk works in the mouth to kill the burn but doesn’t seem to work that well on the skin. Capsaicin does not cause nerve damage–it depletes substance P in the nerve endings, interrupting pain signals. So, if you applied a capsaicin cream to your elbow, say, to combat arthritis pain, the pain would go away but you’d still have the burn.