How To Easily Remove Painful Cactus Needles From Skin

If you’re heading to the desert any time soon, there is one question you may want to know the answer to: How do you remove cactus needles from skin?

cactus needle removal

Barrel Cactus

Barrel cactus

There is nothing quite like the glorious desert, especially Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. The sunsets are breathtaking, the night sky is spectacular, and the tall saguaros (the tall cacti with long arms) lining our highways are entrancing. But what you need to watch out for are the little and mid-sized cacti; these sure can inflict some discomfort.

Here a few tips regarding some of the types of cacti you will see in Sonoran Desert and an answer to the question above. After all, it doesn’t take much to end up with a patch of cactus spines, or needles, stuck in your skin.

There are several species of “Jumping Cactus” and these succulents are one variety you really need to watch out for. While they don’t actually jump out and attack you they do attach to your skin easily. Just brushing by them is enough to get them to latch on.

jumping cactus and prickly pear cacti

Prickly pear cacti at the bottom of this photo.

Prickly pears (in the bottom frame of photo to the left) are another type to avoid. Surrounding the large thorns protruding out of the cactus are glochids, tiny, hair-like barbed spines that appear to be fuzzy and soft – kids are naturally fascinated.

When stepped on or handled, hundreds of the tiny glochids can get lodged in the skin (been there with my son!). This is one of the many reasons to never walk barefoot in the desert and always check the ground before letting your husband slide under the engine of your SUV.

The good stuff: If you end up with one or two lodged in the skin, it’s easy to remove cactus spines with a pair of tweezers. But what if you become one of the unfortunate and end up with a hand, foot or butt (yes, it happens!) full of needles? Spread a thin layer of glue (Elmer’s Glue works fine) over the area.

Let the glue sit for a while, then when it is completely dry, peel the glue off. The needles stuck in your skin will rise and be removed with the glue. You may need to repeat a couple of times if you get a good foot- or handful.

Another option that I have not personally tried, but that gets rave reviews, is to use duct tape (should you be out of glue.) This sounds painful, though, as you’ll need to press down in order to capture the needles.

Either way, be sure to wash the are well with antibacterial soap after you remove the spines. You don’t want the wound to become infected.

You might have a more difficult time if the a part of the needle does not protrude above the skin. If it’s not causing you pain, you may do well to leave it in your skin for a few days. The body has a way of working the needles to the top, making them easier to capture.

If you encounter a severe fall and end up covered in needles don’t hesitate to call a doctor – but really,  your best best it too just avoid a misstep into the cacti all together.

If you're heading to the desert any time soon, there is one question you may want to know the answer to: How do you remove cactus needles from skin? We've got a tried and tested method!

30 Comments on "How To Easily Remove Painful Cactus Needles From Skin"

  1. Glue! Who knew!

    I was fortunate not to get too many stuck in me when I lived in New Mexico. Certainly not a butt-full!

  2. How do I remove prickly pear thorns that is lodged in my throat?.


    • TwinCitiesGal | January 23, 2011 at 7:00 am |

      Hi Rose,

      That sounds miserable. I’m not a doctor, but I’ve heard eating bread can help remove things caught in the throat. But before you try that or anything else please consult a physician.

      If you find a solution, please let us know!

  3. Laurel Dunn | July 30, 2011 at 8:50 am |

    I want to thank you so very much for your glue solution. Who knew. I’ve lived around cactus all my life, but stupidly thought I was covered to cut off a piece to root. You are very nice to share this with us. in appreciation. Laurel Dunn

  4. We have some in our backyard and my mom thought she could pick it this evening and avoid the needles only to find that was impossible, so I was glad to find your how to remove advice. Next attempt, if we ever attempt again, will be with thick gloves.

  5. My 19 month old daughter touched a prickly pear cactus tonight and got what seemed like millions of the tiny hair-like needles in her hand. She let my husband pick out some of it without fussing, but after about 5 minutes she was saying “ouch”. I read this suggestion about the glue after we got them out, but we did it by using Sally Hansen Wax Strip Kit!! The rest of them came out so fast and she didn’t seem to be bothered by my husband using them on her hand!

  6. Please, what if small needle has struck deep down so that we can’t se it? Is applying cumin paste helpful?

  7. i got 100s of prickly pear tiny hair-like needles in my hand and lips. after reading all the helpfull ideas, i tryed deep cleansing pore strips on my lips and it worked

    • deborah zamaria | August 26, 2012 at 6:49 pm |

      I used a paste of baking soda and water. Tequila really helped too. Right now, I’m looking at my girlfriend who has a baking soda paste on her lips that looks pretty funky, but feels good. Whatever works.

  8. Dorian Cornelius | April 9, 2012 at 10:56 am |

    Thank you for the glue tip. I tried packing tape to no avail. I am being pricked on my arms everytime I move because I was pulling weeds in my cactus garden and got all kinds of little needles in my arms. Here I was trying to avoid the big ones, and got stuck by the little “invisible” ones instead.

  9. my 2 yr old fall in to cactus just a faw min ago n i still cant get them all out. do i need to take her to dr. because she so little .

  10. If you are a man and aren’t thrilled about the idea of pulling copious amounts of hair from your body trying to rid yourself of the cactus needles here is a painless way to get rid of them and it works. I know because I just did this and I’m pain free now (no I didn’t shoot myself!).

    Get some Epsom salt and fill your bath with very warm water. Add about 2 cups of Epsom salt to the water and soak the affected area for about 20 minutes. This will open up the pores of the skin, soften the needles and they will fall out. Follow up with some Aloe Vera to sooth the skin aftewards.

    For needles in the face area I don’t suggest submerging yourself under water for 20 minutes unless you have can hold your breath that long or have a scuba tank handy. Instead, soak a towel in very warm water that has Epsom Salt in it and lay it over the affected area. As towel cools re-wet and reapply until you’ve soaked the area for 20-30 minutes.

    I used an old towel to dry off by rubbing in the affected area in one direction several times then reversing the towel and rubbing the same area in the reverse direction. Then throw the towel away. I got rid of all of the needles and didn’t have to pull out any hair from my legs.

  11. Eitan Herman | Places to visit | October 7, 2013 at 6:58 am |

    Great advice! This has happened several times to me over the years and it has been very upset! When I travel, I am one of the reasons that wear PJ’s a decent time! I do not know you just
    The great tips, I also hope it is not that it happens to me!

  12. They r shape changing
    aliens from hell! EXCRUSIATINGLY Painfull

    • I totally agree. I got them gardening near a patch for months now ibe been removing these things and the next day they seem to have all returned… they move around and it just is unbelievable non stostop picking at my hands and feet.I’ve managed to collect about a shot glass FULL of them to take to the dr. To how them I’m not crazy…

  13. Some great tips here thank you! Never would of thought of glue, but it’s now on my packing list for the desert!

  14. Candle wax will work if the wax strips are unavailable, but different grades of wax are used in candles and some are more likely to burn than others, so test carefully before dripping hot wax all over your child’s skin. The softer the wax, the less likely it is to burn. Duct tape is less effective than wax, but better than nothing at all. The Elmer’s glue idea sounds good, too. The first time I heard of the wax method was from a Native American source, but I’ve seen the wax strip method used in a real life emergency room setting on a TV show. Also, as a last resort, I’ve seen people burn off the fine cactus spines with a bic lighter (very carefully.) That leaves some of it still embedded in the skin, but when the above the skin part it gone, it doesn’t get moved around, so less irritation. Once you’ve had this problem, you tend to be a lot more careful around cactuses, that works the best! I recommend being very careful with potted cactuses up high on a window sill, they can be knocked over and land on a child.

  15. spread butter or margarine on the area, use the blunt side of a butterknife and drag back and forth across the cactus spines, wipe with a paper towel, repeat if necessary 🙂 even a bit of olive oil works – why….. oil/fat coats the spines and they loose their “stickyness”

  16. Thank you for the advice ! This has never happened to me before but now I know what to do !

  17. I didn’t have glue so I took a strip of book tape and applied it to my arm. When I removed the tape, it had pulled out the needles.

  18. What do I do? I have 4 saguaro cactus needs in me 1 in knukle Hurst alot . 2 in my cheast and 1 on my right shoulder. And every time I breath in it gets I need them out.

  19. I fell backwards into a cactus patch and my left hand has needles that have broke off under the skin and are festering however the one I got out last night was about 1/2 inch long and into the knuckle. My finger is swollen and it hurts like $#$%^& to bend it.
    Now I am seeing more fester.
    Is there a way to bring them up from under my skin so I can pull them out?
    Also, how concerned should I be about infection


  20. I accidently grabbed onto a cactus plant and received a handful of spikes. Got most out with tweezers,but still afew under the skin. I don’t have any Elmer’s glue like you recommended,but I have quick grip, will that do? This all happened about a week ago and I’m starting to get little lumps. Starting to get very irritating. Please any suggestions?

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  22. Elizabeth Duff | July 26, 2016 at 4:06 am |

    Hi i qas over in Italy and 3 weeks ago i leaned on cactus plant .The needles were all over my shoulder and back and so very uncomfortable my cousin removed the biggest majority of pins but how do i know that they are all out.I am now left with bid rash any suggestions plz

  23. Kate schroeder | April 10, 2017 at 9:47 pm |

    My son just fell in a cactus–hundreds of tiny white needles all over him. He’s seven. It was a nightmare. We tried several things, but ended up oiling him with coconut oil and then shaving nearly his entire body with a several cheap Bic single blade razors.. We gave him Motrin before bed, as he was still sore from where they stuck him. The next morning he was totally fine. And soft skinned:)

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