Poison Ivy: Identifying and Treating Poison Ivy Rashes

Home Remedies for Poison Ivy Rash

By George and Becky Lohmiller
June 12, 2020
poison-ivy

Poison ivy has three shiny leaves, with one in the center. “Leaves of three, let it be.”

Pace University

Misconceptions about poison ivy have led desperate sufferers to adopt some pretty bizarre (and totally useless) cures. Here are some tried-and-true home remedies that can be helpful in treating poison ivy rash. But the best way to foil the itch is by minding the old saying, “Leaflets three, let it be.” 

Poison ivy has a nasty habit of rewarding those who touch it with two or three weeks of blistering misery. It is nature’s nasty revenge, but with a little education you can learn to identify it, prevent it, or treat it with a bit less aggravation.

Poison Ivy Identification: Plant and Poison Ivy Rash

Poison Ivy Plant

  • Poison ivy’s “leaves of three” are glossy-green, but are tinged with pink in the spring, and take on a brilliant orange in the autumn.
  • These leaves sometimes vary in appearance, however. They can be either shiny or dull, and some are lobed or toothed while others are not. Usually, they are shiny when young and turn dull green as a mature plant.
  • Poison ivy can grow as an erect shrub, a winding vine, or simply along the ground.
  • It has small, pearl-colored berries. These are a favorite treat of many birds, which spread poison ivy seeds around the countryside.
  • Seedlings of the boxelder tree look similar to poison ivy with three leaves, but they do not have berries and are yellow in the autumn. The leaves of Virginia creeper also look similar to those of poison ivy, but Virginia creeper has five leaflets rather than three.
  • Poison ivy is especially common around fences or along roadways.

Poison Ivy Rash

  • A poison ivy rash will usually occur within 12 to 48 hours. The area will severely swell, itch, and turn red. Later, blisters will form. The blisters eventually become crusted and take about 10 days to heal.
  • Red bumps also might form where the blisters will soon appear.
  • Often, a poison ivy rash appears in a streaked pattern. This mimics the way in which a person has rubbed up against the plant.
  • Be careful not to confuse poison ivy with swimmer’s itch. They might seem similar at the beginning, especially because poison ivy might be in a lakeside or pondside area where you’re swimming. For more tips on swimmer’s itch, look at this article.

Does poison ivy rash spread?

  • It is a common misconception that touching a body part with a poison ivy rash, and then touching another body part, causes the rash to spread. The rash might appear on some body parts later than others, but this is only due to a difference in the time it takes for the poison oil to absorb into the skin.
  • Also, according to the Mayo Clinic, “poison ivy rash is NOT contagious — blister fluid doesn’t contain urushiol and won’t spread the rash. And you can’t get poison ivy from another person unless you’ve touched urushiol that’s still on that person or his or her clothing.”

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Photo Credit: Michigan State University. Poison ivy always has three leaflets, but their coloration can change from green to orange to red.

What Causes a Poison Ivy Rash?

The “poison” in poison ivy is an oily resin called urushiol (yoo-ROO0she-ol) found in virtually all parts of these poisonous plants. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, approximately 85 percent of the population is sensitive to urushiol, making it one of the most potent allergens on Earth.

  • The leaves, especially young ones, contain the most toxin.
  • The oil can remain on tool handles and clothing for as long as a year. Dogs and cats can carry its potency on their fur. This is why you can come down with a rash without having seen poison ivy in months.
  • People may become more sensitive to the oily resin urushiol with multiple exposures. If you’ve had poison ivy before, be sure to avoid it in the future.
  • Different people have different sensitivities to poison ivy. The older you get before coming into contact with it, the better: You will have a lower chance of developing an allergy. Only about 15 percent of people are resistant to poison ivy.

Fortunately, the oils don’t always go to work immediately, especially on dirty or work-hardened hands. If you come in contact with poison ivy, wash up at once and launder your clothes using old yellow laundry soap or boraxo to cut the oil. (Soaps made with fat are ineffective.)

How to Treat Poison Ivy: Home Remedies

The road is littered with herbal and home remedies, many of which do reduce swelling and itching, such as the teas and poultices that American Indians and pioneers prepared from jewelweed, chamomile, gumweed, goldenseal, and Solomon’s seal. 

Bizarre remedies

Many home remedies also included futile treatments concocted by desperate souls that may have caused more trouble that to cure it: bathing in horse urine, scrubbing with kerosene or gunpowder, and soaking in strychnine, bleach, or ammonia. Contemporary sufferers have been known to apply hair spray, deodorant, and fingernail polish to poison ivy and poison oak rashes in hopes of suffocating the itch. 

Let’s not make matters worse! 

Preventive barrier creams seem to be the hope of the moment. 

  • Treat mild cases of poison ivy itch with soothing lotions such as calamine lotion, over-the-counter cortisone creams, and saltwater soaks, but severe cases require prescription cortisone.
  • A barrier cream, IvyBlock, containing quaternium-18 bentonite, which bonds with the urushiol, promises to be effective 68%of the time, if applied before any contact with poison ivy.
  • Soaking in cool bath helps relieve poison ivy rash, especially with a baking soda solution.
  • Another home remedy for poison ivy rashes—as well as most other itches—is a tepid oatmeal bath. Put a cup or two of rolled oats into a piece of cheesecloth or into the cut-off leg of an old pair of pantyhose, tie it loosely, and set it under the faucet as you draw a tepid bath. Let the oats soak for a while in the water, periodically squeezing the stocking-bag to release the liquid, As you soak in the tub, rub the bag of oats over your skin like a bar of soap to increase the soothing effect.
  • Try not to itch! Excessive itching of blisters can cause infections. Try to ease the itch, or simply find a distraction, so as not to make your rash even worse. Wash broken blisters lightly, and cover with a bandage to prevent further itching and infection.

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What to do if you come into contact with poison ivy

  • If you realize that your skin or your clothes have touched poison ivy, get to a source of water immediately. If you can clean yourself and your clothes with cold water within five minutes of touching the plant, the oil might not be absorbed into your skin. Soap is helpful within the first 30 minutes after exposure as well. Scrub under your fingernails!

  • Don’t forget about your pet! They can also touch poison ivy and get the oils on their fur. Put on long rubber gloves and give your pet a bath.

  • Be sure to wash any clothing or gear that comes in contact with poison ivy, as the oil can persist for years! 

Poison Ivy Prevention!

  • Prevention is key. Use our tips for identifying poison ivy, and wear long sleeves and gloves. Also, consider a barrier cream that will act as a barrier between your skin and the oils that cause the rash.
  • Try to stay on cleared paths, don’t tromp off path. If you are camping, camp in a cleared area, not in the middle of brush.
  • Wash any clothes or equipment if you have been walking in a wooded area with shrubs.
  • Eradicating poison ivy is probably the best way to remain itch-free. The plants can be pulled, but broken-off rootlets may sprout again the next year. The plants can be destroyed by covering them with black plastic. Even the environmentally conscientious usually resort to chemicals; plant and garden stores carry a number of commercial products. But beware—even dead plants are infectious.
  • And do not burn the plants! Because urushiol molecules are carried in smoke, it is never safe to burn poison ivy (or poison oak).

Be sure to check our page on Summer Itches to know when you need to take a trip to the hospital based on complications of a poison ivy rash.

Perhaps someday, plant scientists will develop a non-poisonous variety. Rumor has it that they have already crossed poison ivy with four-leaf clovers, hoping to get a rash of good luck. (Sorry, we couldn’t resist.)

Source: 

This page was first published in 2010 and is regularly updated.

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Reader Comments

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Poison ivy treatment

I worked for a veterinarian, one weekend I contracted a terrible case of poison ivy. When I went to work he saw the issue and gave me a lotion called Gentocin Topical. In a few minutes the itch was gone and next dayp the rash was going too. I have given this to friends and even a few of my hotel guests. All the same result. Why is this not known and used by doctors???? One customer came to my hotel and later asked if I knew a doctor open on weekends. I sent him to pick up some of this from my vet as my dog had a regular use of this. 30 minutes after he got back he came down raving how great it worked and that his wife, a nurse, was not going to believe this!

Poison ivy

During the warm months we keep a ‘grease cutting’ dishwashing liquid in our shower. If we have worked in brush or weeds with leaves of 3, we use this to shower with and it keeps the poison rash at bay.

POISON IVY: IDENTIFYING AND TREATING POISON IVY RASHES HOME REM

Near the end of the article, says “Try not to itch” and “itching can cause infection.” Should say “scratch” in both instances.

idea for kids suffering

This goes along with some other comments. Smother the open pores and you get some relief. My cousin, sister and I just had to find the new kittens. We found them in a patch of poison ivy. When it got too bad we stayed in the pool. No air on the pores equaled no itching. Sorry that not all can use this tip.

Poison Ivy and Hair Dryer

My nephew had a bad case of poison ivy on his legs. A friend of mine once told me he had poison ivy and used a hair dryer. I tried this on my nephew and he said after using the hair dryer it was no longer itchy. Run the hair dryer over the affected area, it will itch, keep running the hair dryer over the area until the itching stops. I guess this dries up the oils.

CBD - Magical Treatment

My husband and daughter keep getting poison ivy rashes from our woods. They use CBD topical cream and it literally clears up in a few hours! They use the smallest amount and it’s like magic, the swelling and itching completely gone within 1-2 hours! The redness gone within a day or two like it was never there! I can’t believe it every time they use it!!

Poison Ivy Contact

If you have been exposed to Poison Ivy, wash the areas of contact with Dawn Dishwashing Liquid. Make a paste with it and then rinse off with cool water. Do this a few times, then pat dry. It really works!!

Do NOT do this!

I know of an older woman visiting her children, weeding out a patch of poison ivy in the garden of their new house. Afterwards, she went in their hot tub to get cleaned off--- and ended up in the hospital for a couple days. The hot bath had the effect of spreading the oil across her entire body while at the same time opening her pores. I guess once in her bloodstream it started to come out everywhere. Even her eyes were swollen shut. She was okay. (I guess they gave her cortisone.) But it was a horrible ordeal. // When I was growing up spending weeks in the country, whether from berrypicking or just roaming the woods, we ALWAYS got poison ivy. My dad would make a paste of "brown soap" that would dry it up. (I believe it was Fels Naptha, the soap we used for laundry, which we did by hand.) But if we didn't realize we had poison ivy until we were home, no problem. Poison ivy (any skin issue) was soon resolved by the salt water, sand, and sun of THE BEACH! :)

Jewel Weed

Many years ago when I was a boy scout we had a guest speaker at one of our meetings. He was an old man, tobacco stained white beard and all. This man made his living collecting herbs and introduced us to jewel weed. It has worked for me over the years. His advice was to use the juice from the stem of the jewel weed but the juice should come from plants that had purple at the base of the stem.

itch vs, scratch

"Try not to itch! Excessive itching of blisters can cause infections." ???

In "treating" poison ivy,one wants to avoid 'SCRATCHING,' the sole subject of this article, not itching. If one doesn't have poison ivy they WILL NOT ITCH, and thus need to scratch. If one wants to avoid the 'itch.' don't go near poison ivy. If one wants to avoid the feeling of having to scratch the itch, making the problem worse, use a HOT water rinse, not tepid as is the general teaching!!

ONLY if one has no diabetic nephropathy or other problem of not being able to feel heat, use a hot water rinse: get the affected part under the shower with tepid water running, continue increasing the hot water and/or reducing the cold water over a period of a few minutes until the area becomes reddened. This increases the blood flow to the area and flushes the concentration of histamines from the area into the general blood stream and WILL relieve the itch for a period of approximately four hours. IT WORKS!!!

As I said, this is contrary to the general teaching, and is to be used ONLY if one can feel the heat and avoid being badly scalded, but it works. You can get a good four hours of sleep without feeling the need to scratch, but you may have to get up in the middle of the night to repeat this treatment. But if it works you'll get stretches of four hours of sleep! Isn't it worth it?

Poison Ivy avoidance and relief

1) The roots of poison ivy plants are just as potent as the plant or leaves. So, as in my case, even though the area around where we built our house was bulldozed and there were no plants left, anytime I dug in the ground around my house, I ended up miserable. So, anytime I dig now, I wear kitchen dish washing gloves and long sleeves and wash my hands immediately upon entering the house.
2) Make a mix of one part rubbing alcohol and one part Camphor Spirits (you can buy/order this from any pharmacy) and rub it on the blisters. It dries up the blisters much better than anything I have tried, and it is very inexpensive!

Virginia Creeper

May 30, 2020 -7:36 am Plymouth, MA I always thought Virginia Creeper (climbing vine) was fine to touch until i was clearing an area for planting. In spring it's red and shiny five-leaved ivy turns green. They look like palm trees when the vine grows along the ground. It left a raised red blotchy rash on my leg.

Poison Ivy

My friend who works for the phone company and climbs telephone poles covered with poison ivy said they all use "Technu" to wash with after exposure. I am extremely allergic and since using Technu I haven't had any problems. Just make sure you use it before you start to break out.

Jewelweed always works for me

After many years of trying just about everything for poison ivy, I discovered jewelweed, (touch me not). It also works for stinging nettle. And who says Mother Nature doesn't have a sense of humor. Almost everywhere you see poison ivy and/or stinging nettle growing, if you look, you will usually see jewelweed growing near by. :)

Poison Ivy Remedies

Cypress Tree Oil rubbed on affected areas 2-3 times a day will eliminate the rash in 2-3 days. Itching is stopped immediately.
Have also used Tea Tree Oil with similar results.

Poison Ivy remedy

Take 1 bottle alcohol, 24 uncoated aspirin and 2 camphor bars (purchased at pharmacy), mix well together. Put on rash as needed, with cotton ball, will to the trick every time.

poison ivy

this is the most simple,effective,and fun way to get rid of poison ivy-go to the BEACH and get in the water.the salt water dries it up right away.my husband was very allergic to it,and I suggested this after we had tried everything else.he was amazed that he was healed that fast and we had a great time too.

poison ivy

I am extremely allergic...been covered from head to toe....have tried a number of supposed solutions...most don't work....will try the bleach....what I have learned is if you cut of the air supply once you're infected and have broken out is to cover with ointment...oil...i use neosporin with the numbing agent and then cover with a bandage to cut the air flow.......no itching whatsoever so no scratching....works every time....if you do touch the plant...cold water immediately....if you have to shower with your clothes on and strip in the shower....do it....then soap it up

Poison Oak/Ivy

I have found that showering with Burt's Bees soap immediately after contact will prevent the rash.

Best Poison Ivy "Save your Sanity" Remedy We Found

My husband was extremely allergic to poison ivy. We tried everything you could purchase to no avail. Luckily we had friends with great tips. Here is how to keep the sanity in your family.

If you can't avoid it, wash your skin and clothes as soon as possible. Don't forget to clean shoes and upholstery (car/home) if you are super allergic.

Denorex Medicated Dandruff Shampoo - takes care of the oil, drys out the rash and relieves the itching. (The smell is a small price to pay for relief plus it is a lot cheaper than poison ivy remedies.)

You can also run hot water or a hair dryer over the area to release the histamines and give yourself a break from the itching for several hours. Of course it will be itchy while you do that.

Aloe Vera (from the plant) is excellent for itching but be aware that any clothing it comes in contact with will be permanently stained and your skin will be sticky.

Poison Ivy

I agree with Alphine. Jewel weed mashed up real well. If you are lucky enough to know where some is, pick it, mash it or blend/food processor it and make ice cubes. This way you always have it on hand.

Poison ivy

What about Jewel Weed ? it is suppose to be the natural antidote for poison ivy

poison ivy remedies

Catherine Boeckmann's picture

We think it’s in the eye of the beholder. There aren’t any medical studies to prove that jewelweed is effective treatment. However, jewelweed is a traditional, natural remedy remedy that has been used for centuries. If you get poison ivy (and we hope not), see if it works for you!

Poison Ivy vs Jewel Weed

I contracted Poison Ivy while fishing along a stream and let me tell you-- what started as a scratch on my left wrist from it tangling with my watchband, turned into a nightmare. Some have said you can't spread it from part of body to another-- YES you CAN!!! Severe itch at site, then blister came and while sleeping, I ended up with wrist under right bicep which broke out, then to an ear, then legs-- wherever I touched spread it. The most intense burning itch you can imagine. Feels like you could go loco from it!! Went to hospital, they put a cortisone cream on it and spread it even more!! Tried lotions, ect. An American Indian friend told me to try Jewelweed (Snapdragons). Happened to have a huge crop of it along my creek. Gathered, wrapped in bandana & smashed/crushed. Squeezed juice onto my arm where I could see & reach-- instantly stopped the itching!! Squeezed remainder where I could & it relieved the burn/itch on contact. Does'nt smell the greatest but after a couple days of misery, I was grateful to finally get relief. I then gathered Jewelweed up and cut into pcs and simmered in boiling water to extract the juice. Again this didn't smell good but after cooling the remedy down and chilling-- it felt great just lightly rubbing it on. Then got idea to wrap affected parts with gauze bandage & saturate the gauze with the concoction. Instant relief and within 2 days all blisters and symptoms were gone.

Do not forget that poison ivy

Do not forget that poison ivy also grows as a vine.....a hairy vine will itch you divine....

Hairy vine

Been there....definitely don't try to weave the hairy vine into a wreath! Talk about regret!

white shoe polish it gets rid

white shoe polish it gets rid of the itching and clears poison ivy up

Dawn *used* to contain

Dawn *used* to contain phosphates, which DEFINITELY cleared up rashes. But phosphates have all but been eradicated from any soaps out there today. Amway had a soap that was under the FDA radar for a while, and it always cleared up my poison ivy---but this idea that "blue dawn" works to clear rashes is outdated. I have had MUCH success with bleach on *unbroken* skin that has just started to show bumps.

I was in the scouts we used

I was in the scouts we used to take plain simple Deodorant "right guard " spray on the busters and it help'dry up very quickly

Yikes! Speaking of home

Yikes!

Speaking of home remedies, I knew someone who swore by an iron brush and bleach. Thankfully, I never tried it.

When ever I get poison ivy, I used this stuff called Itch Juice (www.mypoisonivytreatment.com). It's pretty good. The rash doesn't go away for a day or so, but because I am a landscaper I order get poison oak and this is the best stuff I've found so far.

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