To Remove Sea Urchin Spines From Your Feet

Step-by-Step First Aid Tips for Surfers, Swimmers, and Beach-Goers

Woman leaning on fishing net holding foot, partial underwater view
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Warm water and craggy reef crevices make for cozy homes for sea urchins. Their sharp thorn-like spines are meant to protect the urchins from predatory creatures, but they can also injure wayward surfers, scuba divers, and swimmers who don't spot them in time.

The spines generally cause little harm beyond pain and the possibility of infection. However, if you do experience an allergic reaction, such as difficulty with breathing, see a doctor right away.

Removing Sea Urchin Spines

Here are tips on how to remove sea urchin spines from your feet if you ever find yourself in such an unfortunate state.

  • Soak in hot water—Alleviate the pain and soften the needles by soaking the afflicted area in hot water.
  • Settle down with a pair of tweezers—Try to pick out as many of the pieces as you can with a knife, needle or, preferably, tweezers. The biggest problem is that sea urchin spines often break off under the skin, so be very careful when plucking out the spines. 
  • Soak in vinegar—Urban legend has it that human urine, or pee, will treat both jellyfish stings and sea urchin spines, but peeing on the afflicted area does not actually work. Try using distilled white vinegar instead. Soak the area in pure vinegar (a solution of hot water and vinegar will work as well), which will soften the spines. The urchin spines will either dissolve under the skin or lift to the surface. Continue to soak the affected area until the spines are gone.
  • Rinse with soap and water—When all of the spines are gone, avoid infection by rinsing the afflicted area with soap and clean water.
  • Let a doctor remove any remaining spines—If there are any spines that you cannot remove or are too painful to remove, you should make an appointment with a doctor, who can remove the spines with more refined tools. 

Why Sea Urchins Attack

Actually, sea urchins don't really attack humans. They aren't aggressive creatures, and they tend to be slow-moving. Stings are usually the result of an accidental brush between a human and a sea urchin.

The sea urchin's spines are its way of defending itself when it feels threatened. There are many types of sea urchins with spines that differ in sharpness and length. Some species' spines are filled with venom, while others are not. But even without venom, the spines are an effective and painful defensive tool.

Some sea urchin species have another painful tool to protect themselves called pedicellarines, tiny, claw-like structures that can grab your skin and inject a painful poison. 

Don't take a brush with a sea urchin lightly. In addition to infection, you could suffer more severe consequences if venom builds up in your system. Uncommon but possible effects are fainting, muscle spasms, and difficulty breathing. Left untreated in enough quantity, the venom could be fatal. 

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