‘Friends’ Lied: Why You Should Never Pee on a Jellyfish Sting
According to experts, there are two substances you should apply to a jellyfish sting. Human urine is not one of them.
Friends lied to us. A sous chef and a waitress could never afford that apartment, even if it was rent controlled. Coffee shops in New York actually get really mad when you only buy one coffee and stay there all day, because they need to sell more shit to more people to pay their exorbitant rent. And a guy who lies to get you into bed is a sexual predator, not "a total Joey." But there's one falsehood perpetuated by Friends that could cause you acute physical pain.
Do not pee on a jellyfish sting. Do not pee on a jellyfish sting. Listen to me: don't do it.
For those of you who didn't binge-watch Friends when it became available on Netflix, I'll recap. The gang gets a house on the beach. Monica gets stung by a jellyfish. Joey says he saw something on the Discovery Channel about how, if you pee on a jellyfish, it'll stop the pain. Cut to a pain-free and shame-soaked Monica running for the shower.
According to Don Lauritzen of the American Red Cross, there are two substances one should apply to a jellyfish sting. After a sting, Lauritzen advises, one should "irrigate the stinging area with large amounts of vinegar for at least 30 seconds."
If vinegar isn't available, he says, "Try using a baking soda slurry." The one thing to absolutely avoid? Freshwater, he says, because "this may increase pain." Guess what urine is mostly?
Why would water cause more pain? With almost every other source of pain, cool, clean water will help. Why are jellyfish stings the exception? It's because jellyfish live in seawater. Their whole deal is being submerged in a specific ratio of salt to water.
First, an anatomy lesson about jellyfish, the roomba of the sea. A jellyfish has little cells called nematocysts lining each tentacle like Christmas lights. These nematocysts all work independently; each one has a tripwire, which causes venom to be pushed out in little spikes, shown below.
Nematocysts are so independent that they will still fire venom even if they've been detached from the jellyfish. Pressure will cause the tripwire to snap, as will a change in the salinity of nematocysts. Freshwater is, by definition, less salty than seawater. And unless the person peeing on you is life-threateningly dehydrated, their urine is going to be less salty than seawater.
Vinegar or baking soda, on the other hand, will deactivate the nematocysts. According to a 2013 scientific review of jellyfish sting treatment, hot water and lidocaine ointment will also relieve pain in jellyfish stings. The study further cautions that some species of jellyfish in Australia will release more venom if treated with vinegar. But it also makes super, super clear that urine will only make a sting worse.
So fuck Friends. Monica could have had a severe allergic reaction from a massive dose of venom, and the Lower East Side does in fact have black people in it, some of whom even speak. Don't let TV tell you otherwise.