Poison Ivy and Oak Treatment

Stop suffering in silence! Learn how to treat poison ivy and oak with these remedies that soothe the itch as quickly as possible.

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Poison Ivy and Oak Treatment

Poison Ivy and Oak Treatment


Poison ivy and oak are members of a plant family that includes poison wood (an itch-causing plant found in Florida) and poison sumac, according to W. Hardy Eshbaugh, Ph.D., a retired botanist in Oxford, Ohio. “Some other members of the same plant family can cause a rash in some people,” Dr. Eshbaugh says. “The skin of a mango can be irritating to sensitive skin. And Chinese lacquerware boxes can cause a poison-ivy-like rash.” When the itchy rash sets in, you want to know how to treat poison ivy an oak fast. But it’s also important to understand the cause and how to prevent it.

“You can get the same kind of dermatitis from the shells of raw cashews,” notes Kathryn A. Zug, M.D., a dermatologist at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire.

The culprit in all these plants is a potent chemical called urushiol. Seven out of 10 people are allergic to it, you can get a rash from just one-billionth gram of the stuff, and it remains potent on garden tools and other surfaces for up to five years. No wonder urushiol is the champion of all allergens—the cause of more allergies than any other known substance.

You needn’t stay out of the fields and woods, though. Here are some remedies to help you cure poison ivy and oak.

Get the Poison Off Fast
“The best treatment for poison ivy or oak is to wash with soap in the shower within 5 to 15 minutes of exposure to the plant,” Dr. Zug says. In other words, you need to wash off the urushiol long before you see a rash. This is possible, of course, only if you realize your mistake while you’re in the woods. Rubbing alcohol also might work. “Rubbing alcohol is a solvent that, in order to be effective, must be applied and washed off with a washcloth soon after contact with the plant,” Dr. Zug says.

Put Yourself in the Pink
“Calamine lotion is still one of the best treatments for moderate cases of poison ivy,” says Robert Averill, M.D., a dermatologist in western Massachusetts and northern New Hampshire.

“It’s the classic treatment for poison ivy,” Dr. Zug agrees. “Calamine dries up blisters, it is soothing and cooling, and it relieves the itch.”

Poison Ivy and Oak Treatment

Poison Ivy and Oak Treatment

Vinegar Works, Too
A vinegar compress is good for drying the rash and soothing the itching, says Robert Sommer, M.D., a dermatologist in Portland, Maine. “Use half a cup of white vinegar. Pour it into a pint container and add water up to the pint mark. Put it in the refrigerator; it works best cold.” Dampen a cloth or gauze with the cold vinegar solution and apply it to the rash, Dr. Sommer says.

Use Milk to Shake the Itch
Dr. Sommer also recommends a cold milk compress, especially if you have poison ivy on your face, which can be irritated by vinegar. “You take a clean rag and soak it in whole milk. You need whole milk for the fat,” he says. “Place the damp rag—damp, not runny—on the rash. Leave it on for 10 to 15 minutes. The cold stops the itch, while the fat lubricates the skin.” Dr. Sommer says to rinse off the milk with
warm water.

Listen to the Camp Nurse
“When the kids get poison ivy, I make a mixture of Domeboro and water and apply it to the rash with gauze pads,” reports Tricia Barr, R.N., a nurse at Camp Walt Whitman in Pike, New Hampshire. Domeboro is an over-the-counter astringent that comes in tablet or powder form. “It’s a good drying agent,” Barr says.

Poison Ivy and Oak Treatment

Poison Ivy and Oak Treatment

This Weed Is a Jewel
Corinne Martin, a certified clinical herbalist in Bridgton, Maine, likes to use jewelweed to soothe a poison ivy rash. A common plant found throughout the Northeast, jewelweed has a watery stem that contains juice good for stopping the itch. You can collect it inmeadows during late summer. “Just crush the stems in your hands and rub the juice right on the rash,”Martin says. She notes that Euell Gibbons, the famous natural food and remedy author, would process jewelweed stems and water in a blender and freeze the mixture in ice cube trays. “Jewelweed ice cubes are great against an itch because of the combination of the jewelweed and the cold,” Martin says.

Use the Ocean as a Lotion
Peter Brassard,M.D., a family doctor on Block Island, Rhode Island, says that a good sea bath can work. “Just the act of wading in the ocean will wash your sores,” he says. “And the salt water will help dry them out.”

Make Your Own Salty Sea
“Epsom salts dry things out,” Dr. Zug says. “They are especially good for poison ivy and other oozy dermatitis. Just follow the directions on the box and sprinkle some into a lukewarm bath.” You can get Epsom salts at your pharmacy or supermarket.

Feel Your Oats
“If you have itchy skin, try taking an oatmeal bath,” says Donald Dickson, R.Ph., the owner of Dickson’s Pharmacy in Colebrook, New Hampshire. Colloidal oatmeal, such as Aveeno, is made for bathing. You can buy Aveeno over the counter.

A Plant Man Picks Tecnu
As a botanist, Dr. Eshbaugh has spent years getting up close and personal with itch-causing plants. His favorite remedy? Tecnu Oak-n-Ivy, available over the counter at drugstores. “Tecnu works on anything in the Anacardiaceae family—the family poison ivy and oak belong to,” Dr. Eshbaugh says. “You can wash with Tecnu immediately after contact with poison ivy, or you can put it on before you go out into the field. You can even use it after you have already broken out with a rash. Each way seems to work.”

Pump Up with Steroids
If other home remedies fail, a good fallback is a steroid such as over-the-counter 1 percent hydrocortisone cream, Dr. Brassard says.

Excerpt from Home Remedies from a Country Doctor (Skyhorse Publishing).

  • I got poison oak on my arm, my face, and my neck. I don’t know when I got it but I’ve been using cortisone so help. It temporarily releaves the itching. But it comes back. It also restricts my breathing because it’s on my nose. Can someone tell me an easy home ideas to help? Thanks

  • The best treatment I have found that really works is the Jewel weed plant which grows in close proximity to poison ivy most of the time. just slice the stem open and scrape out and apply the sap to the rash . It works and it’s free

  • So my boyfriend is covered in poison ivy or zumac, we don’t know which. We don’t have white vinegar, I only have balsamic vinegar… lol does this make a difference? will it still work? he’s sitting at the table as we speak, smothered in smelly balsamic vinegar.

  • Do have 3 grandsons broke out with it! Any home remedies will help me!!! Thank you!!

  • My son has an annual bout with poison ivy. I have not tried anything other than washing and calamine to help ease the rash, but as anyone who tends to get this knows, calamine only works for limited amount of time before needing reapplying.

    Three years back we tried Zanfel, it’s an expensive wash that comes in a very small tube, but it works.

  • Hyland’s Poison Ivy tablets work very well in combination with some of the other treatments above.
    I’ve used yellow soap too. I can’t tell if it works better than other soaps or not.

  • Brittany

    I seem to get poison ivy or poison oak every summer whether it be from gardening or getting it from my dog who loves to run through the brush in our backyard. A product called Domeboro that my mother has always used with us growing up really helps my desire to itch like crazy. It is a great way to soak the irritated skin or can be used as a compress/wet dressing to calm the skin irritation or rash. As someone with extremely sensitive skin it has come in handy throughout the years.

  • Nathaniel

    I got Poison Ivy so badly a few years ago that I was practically suicidal. I tried everything, and nothing worked, then I read online about Zanfel and tried it once, didn’t seem to work. Then read someone else who said you *had* to read the directions, which I did and tried it a second time, eliminated the entire rash (with many blisters) from everywhere infected (many concentrated on my arms). I now keep a tube in the house at all time, anytime I get any touch of it, it immediately resolves it. Doesn’t just relieve it, literally cures it. The rash and redness goes away and the blisters dry up into tiny scabs. You can get it in most stores or online (I buy it on Amazon). Google “Zanfel” and I promise it it will be the best decision you make if you have an active infection. Although if you’re exposed and don’t have a rash yet, don’t use the Zanfel, but instead use Dawn dishwashing soap (the original formula) which apparently encapsulates the urushiol and allows you to wash it away without it infecting you (it has to be Dawn or equivalent with degreasing capability, not just soap). Apparently the Zanfel works in a similar way, but actually extracts urushiol and allows you to wash it away, which is why you *must* follow the instructions for it to work. But it really does work! The only thing I have found which does with an active infection.

  • Tecnu! Yes ! Love it as preventative, washup and dry up lotion. after the ice storm we got poison ivy off the downed tree limbs—did not notice the hairy vines at the time. The local pharmacist got a good laugh when we asked if they stocked Tecnu in the winter…they DID!

  • Technu is the way to go. It is a wash but doesn’t need to be watered down. It dissolves the oil on contact. Even if you have a breakout. if you put it on the rash it dissolves the oil. Only thing I use and I have had some terrible outbreaks before I found this stuff. Any it has been proven that poison ivy oils can stay volatile for over 100 years….. keep that in mind with your garden tools.

  • Walter

    When I was younger in CT, I got poison ivy every year without fail. It seemed I could get it anytime, even in the middle of winter.
    After coming to Japan, I was surprised to learn that the cause of my rash (urushiol) is used as a lacquer here, and in fact the name “urushiol” comes from the Japanese word “urushi” for that lacquer (and the plant it comes from). I can even buy it in bottles from some craft stores here.
    Properly dried, urushi lacquer usually doesn’t cause rashes except to people very sensitive to it. The lacquer is used on all kinds of traditional eating utensils, so if it often caused rashes, there would be a lot of people with swollen lips and tongues.
    Someday when I’m back in CT and find some nice thick poison ivy vines, maybe I’ll try to drain the sap and make my own urushi lacquer. It would be an interesting experiment, even if my fingers swell up like sausages again.

  • DarwinsMyth

    I got a case of poison ivy over the weekend when I tried to out-muscle a weed out of the ground, and it won. I was itching later, and today, 3 days later, when I figured, poison ivy cream just wasn’t working well enough, I decided to wash (not dab) my forearms really good with white vinegar and a wash rag. It’s now been about 2 hours, and I still don’t have the urge to itch. I just have one bad spot where there’s oozing (and some rashes). It’s about an inch in diameter, and it’s not itching at all, now. The vinegar really works.

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