Help! I Have Cactus Needles Embedded in My Skin
I’m definitely a cactus lover, but our relationship is complicated. Years ago, I fell in love with the indigenous cactus plants in the 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: Recently, when in the Texas Hill Country, I 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 remained sensitive to touch though, even after I removed the cactus spines, I didn’t worry however as 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 our kayak out that afternoon, were water shoes made of extremely thin waterproof material.
Why are Cactus Needles in Skin So Hard to Remove?
I thought I eliminated the problem when I took off my water shoes, 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 sometimes happens, they may cause infections in your body. Before this incident I was blissfully unaware of these facts about cactus needles.
How to Get Tiny Cactus Needles Out
By evening I felt a lot of pain and walking became quite difficult. I also worried about developing an infection. Desperate to remove the cactus needles embedded in my skin, I decided to soak my foot in warm water to see if that would dissolve the cactus needles. Unfortunately, this did not work. At all. I learned later that cactus spines are made of tough, fibrous material such as cellulose or lignin that do not easily dissolve in water or other liquids. However, soaking the affected area for 10-15 minutes did soften my skin and help relax my muscles which I thought would ultimately make the needles easier to remove. Unsure of the next best step, I spent a few minutes searching online for ways to remove cactus needles embedded in the skin. Here are the methods I tried based on my research:
1. The Tweezer Method to Remove Cactus Spines from Skin
I found some fine-pointed tweezers in the house that I sterilized by heating them with a flame until they were red hot. After cleaning the affected area with mild soap and warm water, then patting it dry, I got to work. I attempted to grasp the needles as close to their entry point as possible. Slowly and steadily with a firm but gentle grip, I tried to pull the needles out in the same direction they entered the skin. I successfully removed a few of the needles, but some of the fragile cactus spines broke easily. It was extremely difficult to pull out the needles in one piece.
2. The Duct Tape Method to Get Cactus Needles Out of Skin
Next, I tried the duct tape method to get the cactus needles out. I cut a small piece of the tape, just enough to cover the area with the embedded needles. Then, I pressed the sticky side firmly onto my skin making sure it adhered well. After a few seconds, I quickly and firmly pulled off the duct tape in one swift motion, similar to how one might remove a bandage. This strong adhesive pulled out some of the superficial cactus spines but left many still in my foot.
3. The Glue Method to Remove Cactus Needles Under the Skin
I tried the glue method next to remove cactus needles under the skin. I had Elmer’s Glue in the house, but apparently, any non-toxic water-soluble glue works. I found some gauze, which in addition to the glue, was all I needed. After making sure my foot was clean and dry, I applied a thin layer of glue over the affected area, then wrapped my foot in the gauze. I waited for the glue to dry for about an hour, then peeled off the gauze in the opposite direction of the needle entry. Some of the needles came out, but it felt like some remained, so I repeated the process. When I peeled off the gauze this time, it seemed the remaining needles came out with it and the pain subsided. Problem solved.
4. The Pantyhose Method for Removal of Cactus Spines
As the glue method worked well for me, I did not need to continue trying different methods to remove the cactus spines. However, I am sharing this method in addition to the others since using pantyhose is commonly used for cactus needle removal from the skin. You need a pair of clean pantyhose that are free from any snags or tears that could further irritate the skin. Depending on the area you need to cover, cut a six- to eight-inch-long section of the pantyhose. Press it against the skin gently so the spines stick to them. Slowly and carefully peel off the pantyhose in the opposite direction of the spines. The spines should stick to the pantyhose and pull out of the skin when removing it.
Why Is It Harder to Remove Some Cactus Spines Than Others?
The difficulty of removing cactus needles can vary depending on the type of cactus and the specific characteristics of the needles. However, some cactus needles are generally known to be more challenging to remove due to their specific properties. Here are a few examples:
1. Barbed needles
Certain cacti, such as the Cholla cactus, have barbed or hooked needles. These needles have tiny backward-facing barbs or hooks along their length, which make them prone to sticking in the skin and can make removal more difficult and potentially painful.
2. Fine and tiny needles
Some cacti have very fine and thin needles, known as glochids. These needles are usually found in clusters and can be difficult to see and remove individually. Glochids can be particularly irritating to the skin and may require special techniques or tools to remove them effectively.
3. Brittle or breakable needles
Some cactus needles, especially older or dried-out needles, can become brittle or break easily when attempting to remove them. This can make it challenging to remove the entire needle without it breaking off in the skin, potentially leading to more difficulties and potential complications.
4. Needle length and depth
The length and depth of the needles can also impact the ease of removal. Longer or deeply embedded needles may require more precision and care during the extraction process.
When to Seek Medical Assistance for Cactus Needles in the Skin?
You may be able to remove the cactus needles from the skin on your own, but if not, it’s best to seek medical assistance promptly. If the needles are deeply embedded, numerous, or causing significant pain or bleeding, a healthcare professional can provide the necessary expertise and tools necessary to safely remove the needles. They may clean the area, administer local anesthesia if needed and use specific techniques to get the embedded cactus spines out. They will also guide you on wound care and necessary follow-up. It’s essential that you keep an eye on the affected area for signs of infection, such as increasing redness, swelling, pain, warmth or discharge. If you see any of these issues, notify your healthcare provider immediately. Your safety and well-being when dealing with embedded cactus needles must be a priority. Seeking professional assistance ensures proper removal and reduces the risk of complications.
How to Prevent Getting Cactus Spines in Your Skin
If at all possible, it’s a good idea to do what you can to avoid getting cactus needles embedded in your skin in the first place. Below are a list of recommended precautions:
1. Wear Protective Clothing
When working or spending time near cacti, wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and closed-toe shoes to minimize exposure to the needles. Choose fabrics that are thicker and less likely to allow the needles to penetrate.
2. Use Gloves
Wear thick, sturdy gloves when handling or working with cacti. Gloves made specifically for cactus handling or gardening can provide additional protection.
3. Be Cautious and Aware of Your Surroundings
Pay attention to your surroundings when near cacti. Avoid brushing against or leaning into cacti, as it can cause the needles to embed in your skin. Stay at a safe distance from cacti to minimize accidental contact.
4. Handle Cacti With Care
When necessary to handle cacti, use caution and gentle movements. Avoid squeezing or applying excessive pressure, as this can cause the needles to detach and potentially embed in your skin.
5. Use Tools
When pruning or working with cacti, use appropriate tools such as long-handled pruners or tongs to minimize direct contact with the plant. These tools can help you maintain a safe distance from the cactus while performing necessary tasks.
6. Be Mindful of Clothing and Accessories
Check your clothing and accessories for any cactus needles or glochids before putting them on or wearing them. Be cautious when removing or handling items that may have come in contact with cacti, such as blankets or outdoor gear.
7. Educate Yourself
Familiarize yourself with the specific types of cacti in your area and their needle characteristics. This knowledge can help you understand how to handle them safely and avoid unnecessary contact.
By taking these preventive measures, you can significantly reduce the risk of cactus needles embedding in your skin. However, accidents can still happen, so it’s essential to be prepared and know how to remove the needles safely if they do become embedded.
How Common Do Cactus Needles Become Embedded in Skin?
The frequency at which people get cactus needles in their skin can vary depending on factors such as geographical location, individual activities, and exposure to cacti. However, it is relatively common for individuals who spend time near or work with cacti to experience incidents involving cactus needles.
In regions where cacti are prevalent, such as desert environments, encounters with cactus needles are more likely to occur. People who engage in outdoor activities like hiking, gardening, landscaping, or handling cacti for decorative purposes may encounter cactus needles more frequently.
It’s important to note that the severity of incidents can also vary. Some encounters may involve a few superficial and easily removable needles, while others may involve deeper or barbed needles that require more attention and care for removal.
Ultimately, You Will Get the Cactus Needles Out One Way or Another
Who knew old-fashioned Elmer’s glue would come in handy to remove those pesky cactus needles from my skin? I’m not even sure why it was in the house; it must be old, leftover from when the kids were young.
You may never have a problem with cactus needles embedded in your skin. I hope you don’t. However, as random as this information seems, you might find yourself in a situation where you need to know how to protect yourself from getting cactus spines in your skin in the first place, what to do if it happens, and when you need to seek medical attention.
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originally posted 8/20/2020