Trek Southwest - Hiking and Camping the Desert Southwest

How to Remove Cactus Thorns

in Odds and Ends

If you spend any time hiking in the desert, it’s almost a guarantee that it’s going to happen. You’re going to end up grabbing or brushing up against a cactus. It’s helpful to know how to remove cactus thorns the right way to help you maintain your sanity while hiking in the desert.

How to Remove Cactus Thorns

Cacti have two types of thorns:  spines and glochids.

Spines are the large needles that stick out of the cactus that are easy to see. Although they look scary, they’re the easiest to remove, just grab and pull. You’ll want be sure to put some antiseptic on the wound and cover it with a bandage, especially if you’re still out in the boonies.

The glochids, those little hair-like needles that typically surround the spines are what can really drive you nuts, and are the most difficult to get out of your skin. Glochids have tiny little barbs that make them difficult to remove, and have been known to cause skin irritation for up to nine-months after they become embedded in your skin. They’re also a great way to get a skin infection while out in the wild.

To get the glochids out, the following steps have been shown to be the most effective:

1.  Tweezers should be used first. Try to pull out as many of the glochids as you can before moving on to anything else. It’s time consuming, but effective.

2.  Second, pour a thin layer of Elmer’s Glue over the affected area and cover with gauze. Allow it to dry (about 30 minutes) then peel it off. Repeat if necessary.

Although the above method may be the most effective way to remove cactus thorns, you may not have a bottle of Elmer’s Glue in your backpack. You can try using duct tape to pull out the thorns. While it’ll get a lot of them out, it has been shown to be far less effective than the glue method outlined above.

I would recommend throwing a small bottle of Elmer’s Glue, gauze, and some good tweezers (don’t use cheap tweezers because the tips can be blunt and can make it difficult to grab the glochids) in your first aid kit for your desert outings.

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