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It Could Happen to You: How to Remove Cactus Spikes From Your Skin

remove cactus spikes from skin
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by Leslie Farin

Are you a cactus lover?

I’m definitely a cactus lover, but our relationship is complicated. Years ago, I fell in love with the indigenous cactus plants in Texas Hill Country that grow big and beautiful on the hillside. Anyone can fall in love with cactus plants, especially when flowering. They survive easily with low maintenance, poor soil conditions and no water. What could be better?

Here’s what happened: Last week I was in Texas Hill Country and took the opportunity to admire the large cactus plants I saw everywhere. I bumped into one gently as I walked, then noticed a few of the cactus spikes remained stuck to the top of my shoes, which I pulled out. The top of my foot was sensitive to touch, even after I removed the cactus spines. I didn’t worry though; I assumed the pain would lessen as the day wore on and eventually go away. If you wonder how the needles went through my shoes into my skin, the shoes I wore that day, in preparation to take the kayak out that afternoon, were water shoes made of extremely thin waterproof material.

The trouble with cactus

I thought I eliminated the problem when I took off my water shoes later, but the story did not end there. When I examined the top of my foot, I saw small pieces of cactus needles still remained. More accurately, I felt them with my fingers. The tiny fragments still embedded in my skin were light in color and barely visible. I didn’t have tweezers with me and hoped they would work themselves out on their own as splinters often do.

The prickly needles found on cactuses, or cacti (both are correct for the plural of cactus), obviously hurt if you stumble upon one accidentally. Even more problematic is that, as a natural plant defense, cactuses release their spines to preserve the main plant; it then grows new ones, leaving the old needles behind. These spines are not poisonous for humans, but can lodge deep into your skin and even get into your collagen and muscles. If bacteria and fungi reside on its surface, as is sometimes the case, it may cause infections in your body. Before this incident I was blissfully unaware of these facts.

How to remove cactus spikes in skin

I attempted that night to pull out the remaining spines with tweezers. I removed some, but cactus needles are fragile and tend to break easily; it was extremely difficult to pull out the needles in one piece. By this time, I was in a lot of pain and it was difficult to walk.

Duct tape was my knee-jerk reaction to remove the small cactus spines left, but this strong adhesive pulled out only about one-third of those stubborn spines. Next I tried the glue method I found online that seemed to work for a lot of people. I had Elmers Glue and some gauze in the house, which was all I needed, so luckily I didn’t need to go out to buy materials. I applied a layer of glue to the area, then wrapped my foot in the gauze. I waited for the glue to dry, about an hour, then peeled off the gauze. I repeated the process one more time. After the second time, the pain subsided and I no longer felt any needles poking out of my skin. They peeled off with the gauze. Problem solved.

Good old fashioned home remedy

Who knew old-fashioned Elmer’s glue would come in handy to remove those pesky cactus spikes from my skin? I’m not even sure why it was in the house; it must be old, left over from when the kids were young. You may never have this problem – and I hope you don’t – but it’s good to know just in case!

image source: Miguel Urieta from


originally posted 8/20/2020
updated 10/18/1021

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