Removing cholla cactus spines from the skin

Even lightly brushing a piece of teddy bear cholla will attach the pad firmly to your hand.

Although the teddy bear cactus (Cylindropuntia bigelovii), also known as the jumping cactus, makes a hardy and attractive addition to a desert garden, it’s also vicious. Its long, golden spines have tiny hooks on their ends, which means they’re harder to remove from the skin than other cactus spines. The cholla’s form also makes it particularly nasty. The spines are long and many, and go into your skin at various angles. Even if you only brush up against the cactus, you may get an entire pad stuck along a large expanse of skin. Touching one with your hand may mean you get the pad stuck on several of your fingers at once. Getting the spines out successfully will be slightly painful, but here’s the best method I’ve found, based on, unfortunately, painful personal experience.

Step 1
Cut the spines off the cactus near the cactus pad. Use sharp kitchen scissors, if you can. Leave the spines as long as you can so you have adequate length sticking out from your skin to grab with tweezers. It’s a lot easier to remove the spines when you have the cactus pad removed.

Step 2
Pick up the cactus pad with kitchen tongs. It will stick you if you use cloth, rubber, paper, etc. Pliers might work, too. Get it well away from you while you work on the spines (believe me, you’ll want it far, far away).

Cholla cactus spines in the skin.

Look closely at the angle the spines go into your skin and pull them out at the same angle.

Step 3
Examine each spine separately. Look at the angle from which it goes into the skin.

Step 4
Grasp each spine individually with a pair of tweezers. Pull it out at the exact same angle it has gone into the skin. If you don’t get the angle right, the hook on the end will grab onto the flesh. If this happens, you may see your skin seemingly being pulled away from the flesh beneath (yes, it does look that scary). If it is pulling a lot, stop and try again and adjust the angle. The spines come out fairly cleanly when you get the angle correct. Although the spines are sturdy, take care that you don’t break them off, which will leave part of the spine under your skin. Continue until you have removed all the spines.

Step 5
Wash the affected area well and apply an antiseptic cream or spray. Usually, the wounds heal quickly and without problems. Always seek the help of a medical professional if you suspect an infection or develop any kind of symptom.

Disclaimer: This should not be construed as medical advice. Always seek qualified medical help if you have a problem with cactus spines you feel you cannot deal with, or if the cactus spines are on a sensitive area or if you have an underlying medical condition.

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