TUCSON MOUNTAIN PARK, AZ – I recently ran into the dreaded Cholla cactus on a bike ride and ended up with a leg full of quills. While I picked away at them, Dave read up on all the various removal methods (and subsequent horror stories on the internet). I was ultimately successful in removing the quills and here are the methods we used.
The first challenge was to pull the ball of needles off my leg. The cholla breaks fist size balls when you brush by it. The quills curve when they hit moisture (such as your skin) and hook under the skin like a barbed hook. Pulling them out is not an easy task.
I found using my biking glove as a mitt allowed me to get the large ball of cactus off my leg. It was not without a bunch of yanking and swearing. Of course a number of quills were left behind. Thankfully we were just a mile or so from camp. I thought that would be where I would find relief. But it was not to be so.
The cholla has two types of quills – large hollow quills and small hair like quills called glochids. Once the quills touch moisture, they curl up and anchor like barbed hooks under the skin. Some quills stayed at the surface and others worked their way down into the skin.
A little work with tweezers and still not all the quills came out. From there is was onto the internet research for different methods to get rid of the pesky quills.
Duct tape – Lay down a strip and do a fast tear to pull out the quills (and a little skin as well).
Elmer’s Glue – apply to the skin and peel off.
Bikini Wax Strips – Warm up and apply to the affected area, pull of strips and the exposed quills.
Combs – use a comb to pull out the quills. Yes, those red dots are embedded quills.
I tried the tweezers, the duct tape and the bikini wax strips. Each day a few more quills worked their way to the surface and were easily removed.
The remaining quills were deep and could just barely be felt as little bumps on my leg. A little red inflamed area was an easy indicator after a few days. The last resort was digging them out with a magnifying glass and tweezers.
Of course the first advice I would give is to not tangle with a cholla. Secondly, take something with you while you walk or bike to remove the quills on the spot (a glove or comb). I think if you are prepared, perhaps that will be enough prevention. If not, try some of the methods I used and hopefully you can stay out of the ER and get back out on the trails.