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How to Remove Cactus Needles

How to Remove Cactus Needles
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Every cactus lover is going to encounter the painful problem of getting a cactus needle stuck in their skin. If this has happened to you or your loved ones and you’re not sure what the next step is, keep reading.

Are Cactus Needles Dangerous?

Though they can be painful and even irritating, cactus needles are not poisonous. This is true for both humans and animals, so whether you or your furry friend had an unfortunate accident with cactus, you don’t need to worry about poison.

However, this doesn’t mean you can leave the cactus needles in place. Left in place, your wounds are at risk of developing an infection. We’ll discuss that in more detail later on.

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As long as the cactus needles are removed right away, there is little to be concerned about. There is a small chance of there being bacteria on the cactus needles, but it’s unlikely as the UV rays of the sun do a great job of killing bacteria that may be lurking on the surface of the spines.

The main danger of getting cactus needles in your skin is their ability to lodge themselves deep into your skin. Longer spines are even capable of reaching muscle tissue.

Some needles also have tiny barbs, which can make the needles difficult and painful to remove. You’ll need to be careful when removing these types of needles as it’s easy to tear the skin or break the needle during removal.

Particularly small or fine needles can also be spread to other parts of the body on accident. For example, if you have cactus needles in your hand from handling your favorite cacti, you might accidentally rub your eyes or touch your mouth afterward, potentially spreading those needles to more delicate areas.

As long as you remove the cactus needles promptly and properly cleanse the wounds after removal, you should experience little to no lasting effects from your cactus encounter.

Types of Cactus Needle

How to Remove Cactus Needles

As you may have noticed, cactus needles come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Some are long and spiky, others are soft and almost hair-like. Despite the wide range of appearances, cactus needles are typically divided into two categories: spines and glochids.

Whether you’re dealing with spines or glochids will depend on what type of cactus you’ve encountered. Some cacti may only have one variety of needle, but some may have both. Each type presents its own unique challenges in removal.

Spines

Cactus spines are the long, thorn-like needles you see on many species of cacti. Spines are typically visible from some distance away, so it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to confuse them for glochids.

Great examples of cactus spines are those found on saguaros and barrel cacti. Depending on the species, they may be either straight, like the saguaro, or hooked, like the barrel cactus. 

Spines are typically far easier to remove than glochids. In fact, you may not even need any tools to remove them as many types of the cactus spine can be removed by hand. Obviously, hooked spines will require a bit more care to remove than straight spines though.

One of the biggest problems with spines is its ability to puncture deep into tissues. If you were to accidentally brush up against this type of cactus needle, you may only need to remove the spines from your skin.

However, if you were to accidentally fall onto a cactus with spines, they may become embedded deep into your skin and even muscle tissue, which can be incredibly painful and may make the spines more difficult to remove. 

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Glochids

Glochids, sometimes called glochidia, are the hair-like needles you see on certain members of the subfamily Opuntioideae. You may be most familiar with Pricky Pear Cacti and Cholla Cacti.

Glochids are particularly troublesome as they detach from the plant quite easily, which means you might be stuck with them by hardly brushing into them. One species of Cholla is nicknamed the Jumping Cholla because of its tendency to snag passersby with only the lightest touch.

What makes glochids so much more difficult to remove than the average cactus spine is their barbed surface. The barbs attach so readily to skin that the needles tend to break off rather than pull out when removal is attempted.

If left in your skin, glochidia can cause dermatitis (inflammation of the skin) or even form granulomas, which are painful bumps or lesions around the needles.

There is also a higher risk of infection with glochids, since they are left in the skin more often than cactus spines. Wound care is especially important when dealing with this type of needle.

One good thing about glochidia is that they tend to just cause skin issues, rather than damaging any underlying tissue. Since they’re so small and delicate, they don’t usually penetrate beyond the skin, so muscle and connective tissues are rarely at risk.

Different Methods of Cactus Needle Removal

How to Remove Cactus Needles

When it comes to the actual removal process, you have a few choices. There are several different methods to removing cactus needles, but which one works best will depend on the type of needle you’re dealing with.

You might also consider using a couple of different methods together to remove the needles. This is especially true if you have both cactus spines and glochids in your skin. Some methods work better for one type versus the other.

If at any point you feel that you are unable to get the needles out, or the experience is too painful, don’t be afraid to seek medical help. A medical professional will be better equipped to remove even the most stubborn cactus needles anyway.

Bare Hands

If you’ve gotten into cactus spines and not glochids, you may be able to use your fingers to work the needles out. It’s important to be aware that needles with hooked or curved tips may require a bit of work to remove, so use caution when attempting removal.

Only use this method if you’re working with spines that are long enough to grip with your fingers. Spines that are short or deeply embedded may be more difficult to remove with your bare hands and you will probably be more successful using tweezers or pliers.

Never attempt to remove glochids with your fingers. You’re more likely to break the glochids off in your skin or get them stuck into your fingers too. Remember, it’s easy to spread glochids from one area of your body to another so unless you want cactus needles all over, it’s best to use other methods for glochids.

Teeth

Though this may seem like a strange method of cactus needle removal to some, there are gardeners who may be tempted to pull needles out with their teeth. This method of removal is not recommended for several reasons.

If you have more than one cactus needle stuck in your skin, it can be somewhat difficult to remove them one at a time with your teeth. Plus, you risk breaking the needles off or accidentally biting them in half.

The biggest risk, especially with glochidia, is getting the needles stuck in your lip, tongue, or mouth. Not only will your friends make fun of you for this, but you’re going to have a really unpleasant time removing the needles from your face, especially if they’re the barbed variety.

Tweezers

If you’re looking for a proven method of cactus needle removal, look no further than the tweezers you keep in your bathroom. This simple but effective tool is great at removing both cactus spines and glochids.

Sure, it can be time-consuming to pluck each needle out with tweezers, but you can be assured that you’re removing each and everyone that way.

When plucking the needles from your skin, be sure to grab each one with the tweezers at the base and as close to the skin as you can get without pinching yourself. This will help ensure that you’re removing the entire needle and reduce the chances of breakage.

If you’re having trouble seeing the cactus needles as you pluck, you might want to use a magnifying glass. Depending on where you have the needles stuck into, you might need to enlist a friend or family member to help with either holding the magnifying glass or plucking with the tweezers.

Make sure you do this in a well-lit area to make sure that you get all of the needles. Natural light is best but use whatever light source is available to you at the time.

Depending on the type of cactus needles you’re dealing with and how deep they are, you might consider using pliers or a hemostat.

Pliers are ideal for thick spines, especially those that have a hook on the end. The pliers will be able to grip the spines a bit more tightly than the average set of tweezers.

Hemostats are also great, but not everyone has them on hand. The type that locks into place is also helpful in getting a grip on cactus needles, but the hemostats smaller grip will be more precise than pliers.

Glue

Yes, you read that right. Glue is a surprisingly effective method of cactus needle removal. It’s less effective for cactus spines, but it’s incredibly helpful in removing glochidia. 

Though glue is one of the messier methods, if you’re dealing with glochids it’s time to get out the Elmer’s glue. Some people find that glue is best used in combination with tweezers. 

First, they use the tweezers to remove as many needles as possible, then follow up with glue. However, you can also use glue by itself. Use your best judgment to decide what’s best for your unique situation.

To use Elmer’s glue, or any other brand of similar glue, carefully spread a thin layer over the affected area. Be careful not to break the needles as you spread the glue.

Some people choose to use glue by itself, but many people have found success in laying a thin layer of gauze over the top of the glue. The purpose of the gauze is to help you get a grip on the glue to aid in removal once it’s fully dried.

After you’ve applied the glue and optional gauze, you’ll need to wait anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes for the glue to dry. Drying time will depend on several factors including the thickness of the glue layer, temperature, and humidity of your environment.

Once the glue has properly dried, you can slowly peel it away from your skin. As you peel, the glue should take the glochids with it.

If you have any particularly stubborn glochids stuck in your skin, you may need to repeat the process.

As Elmer’s glue is non-toxic, it shouldn’t cause any problems, but if you need to remove needles from a large area and you have sensitive skin, you might want to patch test it. A patch test will make sure that you don’t have any type of reaction to the glue, which can further irritate your skin.

Duct Tape

This method is similar to the glue method but can be less effective. The reason for this is that glue tends to surround the needles as it’s applied, whereas duct tape will only come into contact with one side of the needles. Again, it’s best used for glochidia rather than cactus spines.

There is also some risk of breaking the needles as you’ll need to press the duct tape into your skin to make sure it sticks to the glochids.

To use duct tape to remove cactus needles from your skin, stretch a piece of duct tape over the affected area and gently press it down onto your skin. A gentle rubbing motion should be enough to make sure it’s coming into contact with the needles.

As with the dried glue, you’ll then peel away the tape, taking the cactus needles with it. Again, if there are any remaining needles, you may need to do this more than once to make sure you get them all.

Though rare, it is possible to have an adverse reaction to duct tape, so you may also want to try a patch test if you’re using this method and have sensitive skin. Most people can handle it just fine, but it’s important to be aware of the risks.

Wax

Wax is another great cactus needle remover, but we don’t mean candle wax. We’re talking about the type used by estheticians to remove unwanted body hair. While many households may not have this type of wax on hand, it is an incredibly effective method of cactus needle removal.

The application method is exactly the same as it is for glue and whether you use gauze will depend on the type of wax you’re using. Some types require gauze to be removed, while others are meant to be used on their own.

One of the benefits of using wax over glue is that wax is meant to grip and remove body hair. Anyone who has ever waxed their body hair knows how effective it is, so you can imagine how well it works on cactus needles.

Though wax will do a great job removing glochidia, it’s possible that you may need to do it more than once to remove them all. It’s also possible to have an adverse reaction, so use caution if you’ve had a bad reaction to waxing in the past.

Breaking the Needles

Another method that can be used to remove cactus needles is to break all the needles off. Like using your teeth to pull the needles out, this method generally isn’t recommended as it can have unfortunate side effects.

Some people recommend using an old pair of pantyhose or even a pumice stone to rub over the affected area to break the needles.

By breaking the needles off at the surface of your skin, you’re relying on your body to do the work of pushing the remaining needle pieces out in its attempts to heal.

This may work for some people, but you’re likely to experience more skin irritation than you would using other methods. You’re also at risk of developing one or more of the various problems associated with leaving the needles in.

Rather than breaking the needles off at the skin’s surface, its strongly recommended using another method that fully removes the needles from the skin.

What to Do After You Remove Cactus Needles

How to Remove Cactus Needles

The most important aspect of cactus needle removal aftercare is cleaning the affected area. Though cactus spines and glochids are not poisonous, they do break the skin and create tiny open wounds.

You can use either soap and water or an actual wound wash to clean the area. Gently rub the soap or wash on your skin but keep in mind that your skin might be irritated and sensitive after its encounter with the cactus.

Once cleaned, you can then apply a thin layer of antibacterial ointment. This step isn’t always necessary, but it can help ensure that your wounds don’t become infected by whatever bacteria might be found on the cactus needles.

If you are experiencing any itching or redness around the area, you might also consider applying a hydrocortisone cream. This will help reduce redness and itching while your wounds heal. If the itching is severe, you might also consider taking an oral antihistamine such as Benadryl.

Depending on the type of cactus needle you were stuck with and the area of the wound, you may or may not want to place a bandage on the area. 

If it’s an area that’s prone to getting dirty, such as your hands and feet, a bandage might help keep the wound clean. If it’s a difficult area such as a joint, a bandage might cause more discomfort. It’s up to you to decide what’s best for your situation.

It’s also possible to have lingering pain, even after the cactus needles have been removed. If this is the case, a mild oral pain reliever such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen is recommended.

A warm bath with Epsom salts can also help reduce pain and inflammation. A little bit of self-care will also make you feel better about the whole situation.

Remember, if you experience any unusual reactions to the cactus needles or removal methods it’s best to consult your primary care physician.

What Happens If You Can’t Get Cactus Needles Out?

Whether or not you experience an adverse reaction from leaving cactus needles in your skin will depend on quite a few factors. Glochids typically cause skin reactions and rarely affect any tissue below the skin surface.

However, if you have a cactus spine deeply embedded in your body, it could become a problem. It’s always possible that it could become more deeply embedded rather than work itself out. This could cause more severe problems than you initially thought you were dealing with.

Regardless of the type of needle, it’s also possible to develop granulomas, which are lumps of tissue that form around foreign objects that enter the body. In some cases, granulomas can be just unsightly, while others may be more painful.

Granulomas usually begin to form in the first several days after the incident with the cactus. You will need to see your doctor, who will be able to prescribe the right type of treatment for your individual case.

The biggest risk of leaving the cactus needles in your skin is the risk of infection. Though the chances of the cactus needles carrying bacteria are slim, it’s not impossible. 

By leaving the cactus spines in your skin, you’re also leaving potentially harmful bacteria embedded in your body. Left untreated, this could result in a wound that requires medical intervention in order to heal.

Of course, the most extreme types of infection that are possible are staph infections and even gangrene. Though these scenarios are unlikely, the possibility does highlight the importance of cactus needle removal and proper cleaning of the wound afterward.

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