How to Get Sea Urchin Spines Out and Treat Stings

Updated on May 1, 2017
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I grew up in Hawaii and have had a lot of sea urchin wounds. I also worked at a beach, assisting tourists with their sea urchin encounters.

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Sea urchins live in coral reef areas and are usually resting inside the crevasses of rocks. Sea urchins (called 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 actually the last thing you want to do. This article will explain how to properly remove sea urchin spines from your body, and 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.

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How to Remove the Spines

There are two good ways to remove sea urchin spines from your body. You can choose either/or:

  • If you have access to vinegar, soak the part of your body with the spines in it in vinegar.
  • If you don't have access to vinegar (e.g., you're out on a remote beach), you can have someone urinate on your wound.

That second one might make some people uneasy, but if you are camping on the beach, hours away from any store, you may not have a choice.

The vinegar and urine function in the same way: they help 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 gangrene. If you have stepped on a purple urchin, be sure to follow the instructions above, and see a doctor immediately.

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      • profile image

        Mom Uganiza 

        18 months ago

        I was surfing at pine trees the beach in Hawaii and I caught a big wave all the way in and I didn't now but something was bothering my foot and I couldn't walk and then my mom came and carried me back to Alex my daddy and then he asked me if I wanted to read this areticle and then I read it and I think it's going to help a lot

      • profile image

        JadeLee Uganiza 

        18 months ago

        Thank you!

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