If you’re headed to the beach this summer, you might want to make sure a bottle of vinegar and a pair of tweezers are in your beach bag alongside the sunblock and towels. That way, you’re equipped to treat a jellyfish sting, according to research from the University of Hawaii that was recently published in the academic journal Toxins.
The good news here? You don’t have to ask somebody to pee on you if you get stung by a jellyfish. The bad news? Well… you got stung by a jellyfish.
In fact, jellyfish stings happen to about 150 million people a year, according to a report from the National Science Foundation. But, our understanding of how to treat the stings has been influenced more by myths than actual science.
“When I first started doing this research I was surprised that a lot of this advice doesn’t really come from science,” Christie Wilcox, a venom scientist at the University of Hawaii, and coauthor of two recent studies on jellyfish sting treatment, told Hakai Magazine.
That’s to say the shaving cream, seawater or baking soda you may have heard treats the stings won’t do much for you.
Oh, and before you ask a friend or the lifeguard to pee on you, know this: Not only is urinating ineffective, it could make the jellyfish sting worse by further activating stinging cells, according to the research. That’s because the chemical makeup of urine is inconsistent and can vary based on what somebody ate or whether they are dehydrated.
To stop the sting and relieve your skin, this is what you should do, according to Wilcox’s research.
1. Douse the area with vinegar. This will rinse away the tentacles and stop the stinging cells.
2. Use tweezers to pluck off the tentacles. Don’t scrape them off with a credit card or attempt to rid them with sand because it will cause any active stingers to release more venom.
3. Apply heat.
For their studies, the researchers looked at box jellyfish and the Portuguese man-of-war, but said the process for stopping stings could apply to all jellyfish.
Oh, another strategy? You might want to be extra careful if you’re in the Chesapeake Bay—where about 500,000 stings happen a year, according to the NSF’s report.