Last weekend I made butternut squash soup. In an experiment to get more of the squash browned I peeled two medium squash and cut them into 2 inch chunks, rather than just halving it, before roasting in the oven. (Result of the experiment was OK, but the extra exposed area also allows more moisture to escape, so I wouldn't recommend this method.)

Halfway through peeling the 2nd squash I noticed that the fingers on my left hand (I'm right-handed) were getting yellow and that the skin was drying, cracking, and tightening up. The yellow I can understand as transfer since I was using that hand to hold the squash while peeling. But I've peeled butternut plenty of times for various recipes and this hasn't happened before. Washing my hands didn't help. The problem went away after a couple of days.

Does anyone want to venture an explanation? Did my fingers O.D. on carotene or potassium?


7 Answers 7


It's definitely a very real reaction. I'm not sure exactly what in the squash it is that causes it, but since different people react differently - some people have strong reactions like you, some people have mild ones, and some have no problem at all - it seems to be some sort of mild allergic reaction. It's often called contact dermatitis, but that's a very generic term and doesn't really mean anything you don't already know. I'm not sure exactly what component of the squash it is that causes it, but I don't think it's carotene or potassium. It's likely some more complex molecule that tends to be present in various winter squashes.

orange skin reaction to squash orange skin reaction to squash

Images from http://foodworld-eva.blogspot.com/2010/01/squash-reaction-on-skin.html.

You can avoid it by completely wearing gloves while working with the squash, or if you're lucky, you have someone else with you who can handle the squash without problems. For many purposes, like soup, you can also simply cut the squash in half, roast it, then scoop out the good stuff. But if you do really need to peel it and cut into chunks, your best hope is just to try to avoid touching it too much. You'll also want to wash your hands immediately after, or even a few times while you're cutting if it takes a while.

If you do end up with this despite your best efforts, cortisone cream can help relieve the reaction afterward.

(And as for your soup, there's nothing wrong with letting more moisture escape in exchange for browning. You can always just add more water or stock back into the soup. This can even be a good thing, since it lets you replace water with a more flavorful liquid.)

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    The link in your comment above is exactly what my hand looked like! Thank you! Feb 18, 2012 at 23:32
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    As I dislike wearing gloves while cooking I'll probably go bare-handed the next time I handle squash, but if the problem recurs I might have to reconsider. About the soup's consistency, you're correct about liquids. My dissatisfaction lies in that after the squash was pureed with the prescribed amount of stock it was still quite thick and suffered the "exploding geyser" problem. Nothing like shrapnel of hot squash on your hand to keep you alert. Also I don't think I got much additional roasted flavor out of the experiment. Feb 18, 2012 at 23:40
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    I would guess that the drying and irritation are caused by the pectins in the butternut squash. If you cut a butternut squash and leave it alone for a few minutes you will see beads of liquid forming on the cut surface which will turn into a solid gel due to their high pectin concentration. The orange staining is likely just the carotenoids from the squash they got stuck between the skin and layer of pectin-containing squash juice. Sep 2, 2012 at 1:14

Okay happened to me too. I did notice a clear gel like substance coming from the squash when I chopped and peeled it, I read that's a natural substance to "protect" itself from damage, like sealing up a cut or wound. I cut up 4 of them, only the first one had this. So may be from varying ripeness. I washed my hands after cutting them all up,(since they were so orange) as soon as my hands began drying they started reacting... slick film, tightening, a little numbness. I started washing them again and really scrubbing them, can't tell if it is the film or layer of skin that comes off I think it's the dried film from the squash. It takes some hard scrubbing but it will come off, hands very dried out afterwards.


I've had this happen before after preparing butternut squash. Once, I also found that my fingers turned shiny. I realized that the wax that was on the butternut squash had gotten on my hands since I had rinsed the squash under hot water before peeling.

It was impossible to wash away this wax coating on my fingers, so I just left it on my hands even though it was annoying. After a day the wax was gone, but my fingers still felt tight and looked yellow for another day, most likely due to dermatitis.

Since then I'm careful to not rinse my butternut squash (or anything else covered in wax) under hot water. Instead I just give it a cold water rinse. I still get the dermatitis, but at least there is no wax!

  • Interesting information. Do you mean that butternut squash has a natural coating which causes an allergy in you, or that some producers apply a wax to it which causes the allergy?
    – rumtscho
    Aug 14, 2012 at 17:00
  • @rumtscho: The dermatitis is just because of the squash itself (as implied by the last paragraph). The wax is pretty much unrelated.
    – Cascabel
    Aug 14, 2012 at 18:22
  • @rumtscho, as Jefromi said, the wax and dermatitis were unrelated. The wax, as far as I know, is not a natural coating but something some producers apply. I don't think I was allergic to the wax. I only felt like mentioning it because both made my skin feel pretty tight. The wax definitely exaggerated the dermatitis!
    – carmenism
    Aug 15, 2012 at 15:49
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    I had the same shiny fingers and my squash were home-grown organically, so I would re-think the possibility of wax reaction.
    – user11422
    Aug 31, 2012 at 19:26
  • @EllieDiMarino, that is very interesting. Thanks for sharing! I'm going to pay close attention to this next time I prepare a butternut squash.
    – carmenism
    Aug 31, 2012 at 23:59

I am a violinist and whenever I cut of butternut squash, my skin peels and is so tight that i cannot play. I didn't know how to get it off, but then my daughter came and told me to use packing tape. Surprisingly, it worked! A few peices of packing tape later, 90% of the it was off my hands.

  • So this is to get the bits of squash off your fingers, or to get the peeling skin off?
    – Joe
    Nov 18, 2013 at 2:54
  • omg this advice saved me. Thank you for posting the solution, the tight, waxy painful feeling and not being able to move my hands was horrible and then packaging tape completely fixed it. You are a life saver.
    – meskarune
    Oct 14, 2019 at 19:04

This happens to me every time I make butternut squash. I am not sure what it is, but it comes off if you scrub it hard enough. I usually just take a sponge or something rough and scrub for like 5 minutes until its all off. Then I usually put lotion on afterwards. I am pretty sure it is not a skin reaction, its some kind of coating. Reading the other answers, I can't believe you guys leave your hands like that for days! I can't stand it!

  • 2
    It's pretty obviously not a coating if you've had what we're talking about - it does actually make your skin tighten up. That network of white lines you can see in the photos above is further evidence of this. Scrubbing may well help, but I don't think it's because you're removing a coating, but rather removing whatever's irritating your skin.
    – Cascabel
    Sep 14, 2013 at 2:17
  • Yeah! I am so glad I read farther down! I was starting to freak out I had tightness, numbness, yellowing and over all horrible sensation from my squash. But it did scrub off after about 4 minuets. Thank God!
    – user21017
    Oct 31, 2013 at 18:56

the wax develops naturally from the sun. make sure the squash is fully ripe before handling and cutting/preparing. unripened squash have a chemical that can, and usually does attack the skin. Thats why unripened squash is usually fed to chickens or discarded.


I think its the wax. I took a box cutter and scraped most of it off. It felt horrible

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