Food & Drink Magazine

Burn Baby Burn (or Heathcliffe's Chilli Burn Odyssey: a Cautionary Tale)

By Rachel Kelly @MarmadukeS

burn baby burn (or heathcliffe's chilli burn odyssey: a cautionary tale)

dried chillies, used for illustrative purposes only!

What do you do when one of your dearest friends phones with a problem? Of course you listen, while trying to work out whether they are laughing or crying, and try to make sense of the stream-of-conscious excitable babble from the other end of the phone. You're a good friend, and a shoulder to cry on when necessary. Except, of course, this time you can't help and you are desperately trying not to guffaw with laughter.

What follows is a story for entertainment purposes only. Neither I nor Heathcliffe are providing any kind of medical advice. This is merely a whimsical (and hopefully amusing) story of one man's stupidity (namely Heathcliffe's) and his painful adventure with some fresh chillies. (He doesn't mind me saying that, since, as he pointed out himself, he does like to serve as a warning to others.) Should you find yourself in a similar situation and in pain, you should seek genuine medical advice. Should you decide to replicate Heathcliffe's soothing solutions; you do so at your own risk. You have been warned. Just so as we got that clear!
So here is my dear friend, Heathcliffe's story; (I hope I'm not a bad friend, but I am still laughing . . .)
Let’s try a thought experiment.
Let's imagine that the only way you could buy chillies in Dalston (east London) is by the bowl from street side market stalls, and you didn’t know what color of chilli to buy so you bought three bowls of differing colours. Let's imagine you have ambitions of being thrifty so you have decided to dice them all up and freeze them 'till you needed them before they went ‘off'. Let's imagine that you tried to chop three bowls of fierce chilli by hand.
Let’s imagine that you were that naive and stupid.
Let's imagine that a bowl and a half through chopping the chillies, your hands were on fire and there was nothing you could do.
As it gets worse, here’s a thought experiment.
Let's imagine I just did that. I am that naive and stupid and my life is now a cautionary tale; my hands are burning like fire. Bad fire . . . not the comforting "welcome-home-and-hearth-and-warmth-after-a-long-day" kind. Not homely and cottagey fire. Let's imagine it’s the kind of heat they used to torture heretics with.
Let’s imagine that it might be useful to share the experience.
Here’s how this might read.
Firstly: Wear gloves* before you start cutting any quantity of chilli (hunting plural).
You won’t feel chilli burn on skin until the chilli chemicals are well into your skin. By the time you feel it, you have a problem. Adding gloves won’t fix it. Welcome to my adventure.
Oh. Bonus . . . it gets worse over time. Even if you stop.
Don’t try washing. Water makes it worse. STOP.
If there’s one useful take-home here, it’s that if you can, wear gloves and avoid this. If you’re reading this having Googled ‘chilli skin burn’, it’s too late. We’re now in Triage. Read on.
Assuming you skipped gloves and went straight to the inquisition heat stage, here’s what worked for me. It’s like a review of pain relief. Hope it helps someone.
Milk. Milk is awesome. Fill a big jug or ice bucket with whatever you have to hand and plunge your hands in. Fresh from the fridge is cold and good. That helps. Milk won’t fix it, but it’ll take away the burn and buy you time while you work out what to do next. Fill, plunge, and take stock. You've now got an excuse to buy full fat and own an ice bucket.
I read that bleach with water or lemon juice is good. That’s somewhat like telling a starving man that the 5:2 diet has merit and vinegar’s a good tonic. Really not what you want to hear. I skipped that option.
How did the ice turn out? Results were mixed . . . it hurts like hell when you stop. And you really need to plan the ice ahead of time. You’ll need freezer shelves assigned for this just in case you chop chilli. It melts fast. And it’s messy and stupid. If you did plan ice, you win. You probably didn’t. It’s stupid anyway.
(Damn, this hurts.)
My advice? Keep your hands in milk and skip the ice step. Even if you have ice, it’s a bit shit as a solution. It’s the kind of thing your gran would suggest and you’d do out of politeness. Your hands are on fire and politeness isn’t the best use of time.
Milk. Do that. Now. Get milk.
And DON'T TOUCH YOUR EYES. And be wary of toilet breaks.
Your hands are now chemical weapons. Everything they touch burns. You’re that guy in X-Men who shoots inferno from his eyes and hasn’t learn to control it yet. Imagine that impacted on toilet breaks. Via hands. That’s you.
If you get an allergic reaction or blistering, seek help. That’s important. If not, keep your hands in the milk and plan like there’s a fire and you need a safe exit.
It might feel slightly ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ interesting at its best, but it’s probably going to get worse as the bad chemicals sink in.
So the active ingredient is - if I remember right - an oil. The majority of advice suggests using Vaseline or detergent. Vaseline or oils might dilute it so you can wipe some off, but they’ll also make it mobile within your skin so it may burn some as the bad stuff that was out of the way starts wandering through the outer skin layers to the bit that feel pain. At least that’s what I found.
(Hands still burning.)
But oil on hands and a clean tea towel - for me - probably helped. Get out what you can. Use oil or Vaseline. Rub in and wipe it off with a tea towel. Avoid water. Don’t use the towels to dry your face with or anything else for that matter. A few loops of this and I might have helped you.
Touching your mouth still burns lips like hell. Probably don’t do it. Just saying.
Detergent dissolves oil. Rubbing with dish washing detergent didn’t hurt but seemed to ease it long term. It got some out. Try it. It doesn’t hurt. No harm. I’m now following Fairy Liquid on Twitter.
Yoghurt? That just annoyed it. If you eat chilli it calms it in your mouth, but on hands it was rather pointless. Like throwing elastic bands at wasps. You can see the reason it might work, but in my case it genuinely didn’t. Yoghurt is a shit solution. Like when people tell you that crème fraiche is a good substitute for anything the BMA have on this week’s hit list. It isn’t. It’s what people say to sound clever. Don’t bet your burning hands on it.
If there’s a chemist shop nearby, I can tell you that Voltarol Pain-eze Gel worked brilliantly. I don’t know if its science but it’s a topical pain relief that seemed to do the job. I think it targets the same nerves as the chilli hits. Mainly, I can type again. I have my world back. Water feels good rather than for forcing more confessions. I’m all out of confessions. I’m spent.
I think that from here on I’m a cheerleader for Diclofenac pain cream. If there’s a costume for that, I'm in. Diclofenac cream is my new ally against chilli skin burn.
So my take-home lessons… anything more than a few chillies, then take precautions. Wear gloves. There’s a reason they make pepper spray out of this stuff. But it’s fixable.
Milk is your friend. We may also have friend in science and pharmacy pain relief. Keep milk on hand. Wear gloves. Gloves avoid this. Milk buys you time.
And stay safe. This has been the worst kind of public safety announcement.
Please never do this. If you ever do, I hope this story helps.
* Latex or rubber gloves do the trick, rather than using winter woollens or your finest leather ones. (In desperation, I have also wrapped my hands in plastic bags! Ed.)

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