poison ivy treatment

Powerful Remedies for Poison Ivy and Its Itchy Cousins

If you know the enemy, you can avoid the itch or keep from scratching.

Spending time in the great outdoors has been scientifically proven to lower stress—that is, unless you wander off into a patch of poison ivy. More than 50 percent of people are allergic to the colorless, odorless oil called urushiol, which is found in the leaves and other parts of poison ivy. Coming in contact with the oil can cause an incredibly irritating rash that can linger for up to three weeks. Poison oak and poison sumac also produce the itch-generating oil.

Rash on the rise. Each year between 25 and 40 million people in the U.S. come down with a poison ivy rash. And climate change is going to make the matter all the worse. Poison ivy will thrive at higher levels of CO2; it’s already growing nearly 150 percent faster and has had a 30 percent increase in toxicity since the 1950s.
Know the enemy, part 1. First line of defense: knowing what these poisonous plants look like so you can avoid them. Poison ivy is found nearly everywhere in the United States, and grows either as a vine or shrub, often along riverbanks. “Leaves of three, let it be” is the classic poison ivy warning. Its signature three leaflets—three leaves growing from a single stem, with one in the middle and one on either side—are reddish in the spring, green in summer, and yellow, orange, or red in the fall. Some plants may also bear white berries. Caution: The leaves don’t necessarily have to be shiny or glossy; even if they’re not, they can still make you itch.
Know the enemy, part 2. Another nuisance to look out for is poison oak. It grows as a low shrub in the eastern part of the United States, and in tall clumps or vines on the West Coast. The green leaves are fuzzy and, like poison ivy, grow in clusters of three; they are lobed or deeply toothed with rounded tips, and the plant may bear yellow-white berries.
Know the enemy, part 3. Poison sumac tends to grow as a tall shrub or small tree in bogs or swamps in the Northeast, Midwest, and parts of the Southeast. While the previous two offenders boast three leaves, each sumac leaf features clusters of seven to 14 smooth-edged leaflets. Leaves are orange in the spring, green in summer, and yellow, orange, or red in the fall. Like poison oak, sumac sometimes bears yellow-white berries.
Act fast. Generally, there’s a small window of opportunity—a few minutes—during which you can flush the affected area with cool water then gently use soap to wash away the lingering oils before they start irritating your skin. If you’re outdoors, this could mean racing to a nearby garden hose, stream, or river. Be careful not to scrub with a washcloth, though. You don’t want to open your pores, which will set them up to swallow any missed oils. If you’re traveling in the wild, carry a bit of rubbing alcohol with you, and apply that over any area that came into contact with a poisonous plant, in hopes of wiping out the skin-irritating oils.
Other solutions. Campers can also pack chlorine-free baby wipes to cleanse areas that come in contact with poison, suggests a tip found in the upcoming book, The Big Doctors Book of Home Remedies (Rodale), coming out later this year. If you have ice in a cooler handy, rub that on the affected area. If you’re really roughing it and come down with the itch, the book’s authors suggest bathing in a pond or stream every two to three hours, and applying a thin layer of mud on the blisters to help dry them up.
Wash it away. An important thing to remember about these plants is that their oils can stay potent for up to five years. That’s why it’s a good idea to wash your garden tools and gloves with a mild soap regularly. If you’re working around the irritating ivy, you may want to use the topical cream Ivy Block, which will prevent your skin from absorbing the plant oils. You should also don long pants tucked into your boots, long sleeves, and gloves when spending time in an ivy zone, and toss the clothes in the washing machine as soon as you get back inside. Clean in hot, soapy water.
Beware of dog. Snuggling up with your pooch is relaxing, unless the dog was high-tailing it around in the brush earlier in the day. Although dogs usually aren’t irritated by poison, they can definitely carry the oils home to you. If your pet’s been romping around in a suspect spot, snap on some dishwashing gloves and bathe the animal in nontoxic pet shampoo with natural ingredients and no artificial fragrances.
Take rash action. Typically, the rash will show up a day or two after you’ve been exposed to the plant oil. If you come down with an itch that makes you want to tear your skin off, take heart in knowing there are tried-and-true remedies that can keep you comfortable for the 10 days to three weeks these rashes usually last. Along with the classic itch-buster calamine lotion, and various other OTC treatments from the pharmacy, try cool showers and oatmeal or baking soda baths to sooth the itchiness.
Suppress the scratching. Do what you can to not scratch; poison ivy isn’t contagious, but if you have any plant oil residue jammed under your fingernails you could spread the misery to other parts of your body. Plus, bacteria under your nails can further irritate the skin or cause an infection. Use cool compresses to tamp down the itchiness.


Published on: June 4, 2009

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I have had very good relief

I have had very good relief from itching by using vinegar applied using a cotton ball that was first soaked with vinegar. -Kyle Thomas Glasser

don't use HEAT!!!

I have seen people say to take hot showers, or to run a hair dryer over the area. Whenever I get poison ivy, sumac, etc., I get it everywhere. When I asked my doctor about swimming in my pool, he said that was helpful, but to stay out of the sun, and to avoid it if it was really hot. The heat temporarily makes the itch go away, but can make the rash worse.

One word: TECNU

If you have just come into contact with poison ivy, you must wash yourself immediately with soap and COLD water, because the cold water closes your pores. Hot water will open your pores, letting more of the poison ivy oil in.

The one thing that really works (even if you already have a rash) is a product called Tecnu, which someone mentioned in passing earlier. I am extremely sensitive to poison ivy and nearly died from it when I was younger, so I was overjoyed to find it a few years ago and have my poison ivy taken care of quickly. It is a scrub that removes the poison ivy oil from underneath your skin so it doesn't spread when the sores "weep," and you can also use it in your laundry to get the oil out of contaminated clothes. I keep the "Extreme" scrub version on hand.

If your poison ivy has gone too far and your face swells up, it may have gone systemic, and you need to see a doctor as soon as you can.

hot water

Hot water is good for breaking down the oil. I actually bathe with hot water and soap if I get the oil on my skin.


I had an outbreak of poison ivy on my knees a few years back from kneeling down to pull weeds. There was NO poison ivy in sight, but the ground was damp and the roots under the surface put off a poison that seeped through.

ways to get poison ivy rash

You can also get the rash from your pets, so even if you're careful to stay away from it, your pets can bring it to you. I have rashes right now on my legs & arms from my dog rubbing on me -- I didn't remember to use the Technu soap on all those places.

The oil also will stay on your clothes, tools, & shoes until they're washed, so you have to wash off after handling anything that might have contacted the plant oil.

I too!

I have both Virginia Creeper and Poison Ivy, in some places they are growing together. I also get more sensitized with each exposure to poison ivy.

If I am exposed on a Sunday, immediately take a shower, be extra careful about what I touch, where I place my clothes etc... Monday am I am breaking out, by noon I have a prescription and I keep breaking out for the next 4 days until it starts to diminish. I would be concerned to get this on my face as the swelling could close me eyes.

While I am an organic gardener, I have resorted to using chemicals on the poison ivy. At this point, I feel that I have no other alternative.

If you know of a better eradication method, please share.

hot water

While the article says to use cold water, I've found that placing the affected area into a stream of very hot water--not too hot that it burns--is very relieving. Is this not good for itch relief?

Poisin Ivy rash without direct or indirect contact.

I have poisin ivy all in the woods on my property. I like to hunt so I am in the woods a great deal. Over the last two years it seems that all I have to do is walk down through the woods on a trail I made and I get the stuff everywhere. I have even gone as far as spraying all of it up to 40 feet from the trail yet every time I go in the woods I get it. Just the opposite it seems as I have gotten older I have become much more sensitive to it. I don't understand when all the experts say you can't get it without direct or indirect contact that I seem to get it more and more severe each repeat trip. I have killed all of it and don't understand why I keep getting it. I used to walk through small patches of it without any reaction and now I can get downwind of it and catch it if the wind is blowing.

Virginia creeper

Funny how these things relate. Just got a good case of Poisin Ivy pulling out the virginia creeper. They tend to both be in my out of control garden.

thank you

Thank you Bernadette, I'm going to see if I can find it and try it out.

Barrier cremes

Also good idea when in poison ivy country to apply a barrier creme.

remedy for poisin ivy

I found a cream in the drug store last year that works pretty good. It is called IVAREST. It is thick and will stay on the rash. and it works quicker than CALADRYL. The pain and itching stops almost immediately. we thought that we had wiped it out completely from our yard but every year it comes back in different locations.

Poison Ivy

One thing the article did not mention was burning poison ivy smoke. DO NOT stand in the smoke given off of burning poison ivy. It can get in your eyes and even some cases your throat. Not a good thing.Paterson uprising

Burts Bees Poison Ivy Soap

Burt's Bees Poison Ivy Soap is wonderful and provides instant relief - we always stock up this time of year. Thanks for posting the photos, prevention is always the best medicine!

leaves of five

More than likely it is virginia creeper. It has a darker green leaf and has 5 individual leaves in a circle. This can grow on the ground or climb trees, bushes etc.

virginia creeper

I believe it is Virginia Creeper. Very annoying and spreads easily but can be pulled out easy when young. Not sure how to eradicate it once it is established and tangled with bushes.

Poison Ivy remedy

I am a physician and I have personally used this on my own poison ivy: Zanfel. Topical rub. more expensive then calamine lotion and others but actually WORKS! You will not be wasting your money.

leaves of five

There is also a vine type plant that has five leaves and it is like the three leaf plant. What is this called?

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