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‘Do Not Touch’: How to Remove a Cholla Cactus From Your Skin

Anyone who’s visited the Southwest has probably come across a cholla cactus. The many species of chollas are known for their barbed spines, which stick in a victim. Removing the spikes can be painful, but sometimes you have no other choice. Here’s how to remove a cholla cactus from your skin.

The first thing anyone should do in a place with cholla cacti is avoid touching it, but accidents happen. Recently, a social media influencer named Mindy Michaels was exploring Arizona when she accidentally got several barbs in her hand.

Michaels says she spent about three hours removing the plants and all its separate spines from her hand. The process seems agonizing, and like many Park Rangers would suggest, Michaels also says the best thing to do is simply “do not touch” the plant.

Cholla cactus, like the well-known teddy bear cholla, has barbed spines, almost like a bunch of tin fish hooks. They’re essentially designed to stick in the skin and stay here. As Michaels mentions, one spike can lift a ½ pound of pork. A University of Illinois study in 2019 proved this odd fact.

remove a cholla cactus
The Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree National Park. (Source: NPS)

How to Remove a Cholla Cactus From Your Skin

Health officials say the best way to remove the cactus is to start with tweezers. First, grab and pull each of the spikes out from your skin. It’s likely the area will still feel irritated as there can be small and hard-to-see barbs still in your skin. The next step is to put something like Elmer’s glue on the area and let it dry. Then, pull the glue off. That should hopefully remove any remaining spikes in your skin.

The good news is cactus do not contain any poison, so there should be no additional issues. However, if the area is still irritated a few days late, you should see a medical professional.

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