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How to Get Sea Urchin Spines Out and Treat Stings

Updated on April 27, 2016

Sea urchins live in coral reef areas and are usually resting inside the crevasses of rocks. Sea urchins (wana in Hawaii) are avoided by humans because of their long spines. If you step on a sea urchin, the spines will break off and stick into your skin like splinters.

Although many people think the best thing to do is pull the spines out with tweezers, that is the last thing you will want to do. This article will explain how to properly remove sea urchin spines from your body and also why it is important to keep the tweezers far away from your wound.

Why You Should Not Try to Use Tweezers to Remove Sea Urchin Spines from your Body

Many people think that sea urchin spines are like splinters. In fact, it is the complete opposite. The spines on sea urchins are not as simple as they look. Instead of being smooth and stick-like, the spines are barbed. This means that like a fish's scales, the surface is smooth in one direction and serrated in another.

The photo above illustrates the spines of a sea urchin. From the tip of the spine to the body of the urchin is smooth, but if you try to run your finger in the other direction, your hand will be caught on microscopic barbs.

When you have spines in your skin and try to use tweezers to pull them out, you will only succeed in breaking the spine because the barbs will catch as you pull. Having broken spines deep in your skin may cause an infection as the skin around it closes. If you are stabbed by a poisonous urchin, you could put yourself at risk of gangreen if not removed properly.


How to Remove the Spines

To remove sea urchin spines from your body, you will first want to do one of two things:

  1. If you have access to vinegar, soak the part of your body with the spines in it in vinegar.
  2. Have someone urinate on your wound.

That second one might make some people uneasy, but when you are camping on the beach, hours away from any store, you may have no choice.

The vinegar and urine helps to break down the spines. Because of their brittleness, the spines disintegrate in vinegar. If the spines are deep in your skin, soak for about an hour. If they are not that far in, you will only need to soak for about a half of an hour.

When all of the spines have disintegrated, you will see no more black/grey dots on your skin and at the bottom of the container you were using to hold the vinegar will have a little black dust on the bottom.

This author grew up in Hawaii and has had a lot of wana (vah-nah) stuck in her feet and hands. She worked at a beach assisting numerous tourists in treating sea urchin wounds and has been trained in the proper techniques to remove the spines from human skin. She advises not to try to remove the spines with force or tweezers. Doing this could cause serious infection, which could lead to gangreen. If you have stepped on a purple urchin, be sure to follow the instructions above and see a doctor immediately.


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