Updated on  May 3, 2024
5 min read

What Should You Do If Jalapeño Gets In Your Eye?

6 sources cited
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You’ve probably heard of jalapeño peppers if you enjoy cooking hot and spicy foods. Due to its spicy nature, you may be in trouble if your eyes come into contact with jalapeño.

Although jalapeño eye burns can be very painful, it’s not a medical emergency, and the pain often subsides with time. However, if the pain is more than you can handle or persists, even after flushing with a sterile saline solution or tap water, consult your doctor for professional assistance.

It’s essential to know what to do if jalapeño comes into contact with your eyes. This article will review the immediate relief methods and how to prevent getting jalapeño contact in the eyes.

Immediate Relief Methods for Jalapeño in Eye

The best method for quick relief after getting jalapeño in your eye is saline solution or eyewash. If you can’t access a saline solution, tap water can help.

Woman wiping irritated eyes near chopped onion on chopping board in the kitchen

Although tap water isn’t bacteria-free, it’s recommended in emergencies. It’s easier to determine its cleanliness/sterility based on its source.5

If your eyes come into contact with jalapeño, rubbing them is a bad idea as it will worsen the situation. Follow these basic first-aid steps below for better recovery: 

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and clean water several times to get all the capsaicin oil off your fingers.
  2. Flush your eyes continuously (5-10 minutes) with a sterile eye wash solution.
  3. If you have no access to a sterile solution, use tap water.
  4. Use artificial tears or eye drops to soothe the pain.6

To be ready for such an emergency, especially for spicy food lovers, stock up your first aid kit with artificial tears and sterile eyewash solutions.

Does Milk Relieve a Jalapeño Burn in the Eye?

You may come across some articles claiming that cow milk and milk-based products such as yogurt and ice cream are good remedies. However, this isn’t entirely true. 

Healthcare professionals discourage using milk in treating jalapeño burns. When it comes to your eyes, the risks of milk coming into contact with your eye outweigh its benefits.

Milk contains casein molecules that can surround and wash off the fat-soluble capsaicin molecules in the same way soap washes off grease from jalapeño.4 While this can relieve the pain and heat associated with chili, milk may still contain bacteria that are harmful to your eyes, especially if you can’t determine the milk’s level of sterility.

How Effective is Blinking Rapidly and Washing Hands with Dish Soap?

Blinking rapidly is very effective in washing away capsaicin from your eyes. Although it may be painful at first since it enables the capsaicin molecules to spread, rapid blinking will make your eyes produce more tears, which will help wash the molecules away.

Your hands also need to be capsaicin-free after handling hot peppers. Thoroughly wash them with soap and water.

The type of soap you use also matters a lot. According to experts, grease-cutting dish soap best removes the oil-based capsaicin molecules.

Why Does Jalapeño Contact Cause Pain in the Eye?

Jalapeño contact causes pain in the eye due to the presence of capsaicin oils. When capsaicin comes into contact with your eyes, it interacts with nerves and pain receptors to cause a sensation of pain and heat. The irritation may also cause tearing and redness

What is Capsaicin?

Capsaicin (CAP) is the active ingredient in pepper that produces a burning sensation when it comes into contact with any body tissue. In chili plants, capsaicin plays a role in seed germination and defense against parasites and fungi. 

Let’s look at the use of capsaicin in different areas: 

  • Food. Capsaicin in food attaches to receptors on the taste buds, producing a hot or burning sensation that triggers a sense of heart-pounding excitement in spicy food lovers.1 
  • Medicine. Capsaicin is used as a pain reliever and an anti-inflammatory in conditions like osteoarthritis and peripheral neuropathy (often sold as cream). It works based on the concept of “treating like with like” or a “counter-irritant”.2
  • Deterrence and control. Due to its irritating effect, capsaicin is used in animal repellents and police-grade pepper spray. 

What Makes Jalapeño Peppers Particularly Painful?

Jalapeño peppers are particularly painful because of the high concentration of capsaicin oil. This medium-sized fruit of the Capsicum pod type measures 2,000 to 8,000 on the Scoville Scale.3 The Scoville Heat Units (SHU) measure how spicy or hot a chili pepper is and are based on the concentration of capsaicin.

However, jalapeño isn’t the hottest pepper. Its familiar cousin, Cayenne pepper, measures 30,000 to 50,000 SHUs. Even hotter than that is the Carolina Reaper, which is one of the hottest peppers, measuring about 1.5 million to 2.2 million SHUs. 

How to Avoid Jalapeño in the Eye

Washing your hands is very important after handling jalapeño peppers. However, you can take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones from jalapeño eye burns.

  • Wear gloves. Disposable gloves can protect your hands from contact with capsaicin oils when handling jalapeno peppers in the kitchen or farm. Discard them properly after use to avoid contaminating other surfaces.
  • Wash dishes thoroughly. After using knives and other utensils to handle jalapeño, wash them thoroughly with soap and water to wash off the capsaicin oils. 
  • Avoid touching surfaces. Touching door knobs, drawer handles, and other frequented surfaces may put others at risk of getting jalapeño juice into their eyes.
  • Wear glasses. If you handle large amounts of jalapeño peppers, glasses can shield you from jalapeño juices accidentally squirting into your eye.


Jalapeño eye burns can last hours. However, there are safe and proven at-home remedies, such as flushing your eyes with sterile saline solution or tap water. Blinking rapidly also helps produce more tears to flush out the eye. 

You can prevent getting capsaicin in your eyes by wearing gloves when handling jalapeño peppers. You should also wash your hands and all contaminated surfaces after touching this pepper.

Capsaicin (CAP) is the active ingredient in chili that produces a burning sensation when it comes into contact with any body tissue. Jalapeño peppers are particularly painful because of the high concentration of capsaicin oil (2,000 to 8,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHUs).

Updated on  May 3, 2024
6 sources cited
Updated on  May 3, 2024
  1. Fattori et al., “Capsaicin: Current Understanding of Its Mechanisms and Therapy of Pain and Other Pre-Clinical and Clinical Uses.” Molecules, 2016.
  2. Chang et al. “Capsaicin.”  National Library of Medicine, 2023.
  3. How Do You Measure the ‘Heat’ of a Pepper?” National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), 2022.
  4.  Rohrig, B. “Hot Peppers: Muy Caliente.” American Chemical Society, 2013.
  5. Preventing Water Borne Germs at Home.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),  2023.
  6. Boyd, K.“Pain-Relieving Eye Drops,” American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), 2019.
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