What Happens When You Rub Your Eyes After Touching Hot Peppers

Onions often take front and center when it comes to foods that make you cry. But there are plenty of other frequently used food items in the kitchen that can leave one teary-eyed, or worse, in pain. Enter the hot pepper. Habanero, jalapeño, chili, and cayenne peppers are all popular ingredients used to up the spice and flavor factor of any number of dishes. But what they pack in spice is not limited solely to our taste buds. If you reach for your face after handling hot peppers, they can also pack quite the punch to the eyeball.

Hot peppers contain capsaicin, a natural compound and oil found in the placenta surrounding the inner seeds of hot peppers (via PBS). Depending on the type of pepper, their natural levels of capsaicin will vary. Much like a physical injury, capsaicin's effect on the body is so strong that it actually prompts the body's natural alarm system for sensing pain (via Science News for Students). Out in nature, this serves as a defense mechanism for the peppers in order to safeguard against any nearby hungry critters.

Whether from direct skin contact or from having been ingested, the effects hot peppers have on the body can include physical irritation, redness, pain, discomfort — or in the case of the eyes, tearing up (via WebMD).

How to stop the sting of a hot pepper

According to Food Safety Superhero, not even a standard pair of latex cooking gloves is guaranteed to keep us safe from the power of capsaicin. As the chemical can permeate the glove's surface, the thicker the rubber the better. Should you still manage to fall victim to the burn of a hot pepper, the best thing you can do is limit the spread of the oil on yourself and others. Refrain from touching those around you, as well as frequently touched surfaces like your cellphone, clothing, or jewelry. The reason being is that capsaicin cannot be fully washed away with soap and water alone. The oil will remain on your hands for some time after cooking and can be passed to others through direct contact.

Speaking of frequently touched surfaces, your face is also one of them. If you touch a hot pepper and then go to brush a lone strand of hair out of your eye, you'll likely experience the pain and burning of the capsaicin oil having made direct contact with your eyeball.

Avoidance is advised, of course, but if you do happen to touch your eye after handling hot peppers or other spicy foods, make your way over to the sink. "If a chemical has splashed into the eye or if you touch your eye after handling chili peppers, rinse it immediately with water," Medical News Today advises.