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

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.

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.


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.

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