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Four Very Effective Home Remedies for Poison Ivy

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L. Cargill, Medical Laboratory Scientist, ASCP. Retired blood banker and laboratorian. Loves to write about a wide range of subjects. Enjoy!

About Poison Ivy

Poison ivy is the general term for a rash caused by poison ivy, oak, or sumac. These plants secrete an oil called urushiol. Urushiol sinks into the skin very quickly and, once it does, produces contact allergic dermatitis. This is a fancy way of saying urushiol causes terrible skin rashes.

Poison ivy rash is insanely itchy. The peculiar itch caused by urushiol is instantly recognized by anyone who has ever had a poison ivy, oak, or sumac rash. The itch is intense. It will wake you from your sleep. It will drive you mad. You cannot stop scratching this itch.

At first, the patch of skin where the oil has penetrated will look quite normal and no one will understand the horrible itch emanating from the area. In about 24 to 48 hours, the skin will start to redden and produce bumps that itch so badly that you will wish for a wire bristled brush to scratch with. It is impossible to scratch deep enough to satisfy the urge to scratch deeper.

In a few days, the bumps may turn to blisters that "weep" a clear liquid that dries to a yellowish, or amber-colored scab. The blister may form a line going in the direction that the plant brushed your skin.

Eventually, the blisters clear up, the itch goes away, and you will be amazed that the whole ordeal did not leave a visible scar. However, the experience has left a huge scar in your mind. You will never want to get near a plant again.

Unless you have had a poison ivy rash, you do not know the horror of this painful affliction.

Unless you have had a poison ivy rash, you do not know the horror of this painful affliction.

How Do You Get Poison Ivy?

Camping, hiking, and walking through the woods are the most popular ways to get poison ivy. Sensitive individuals may also get poison ivy from animals that have roamed through the brush. Anything that touches a poison ivy, oak, or sumac plant may carry the oil away with them.

Since urushiol is one of the most potent allergic compounds on earth, the oil may be transferred from plants, animals, and clothing. If you step on a plant, you will get the oil on your shoes. When you take off your shoes, you will get the oil on your hands. When you touch your face, arms, or legs, you will spread the oil to those body parts. The oil may be on your clothes. When you remove your clothes, you may spread the oil to your body.

Once the oil has made contact with the skin, the absorption begins. If you do not shower quickly (within five minutes), the oil will already be causing an allergic response. The oil causes a rash wherever it contacts the skin and is absorbed.

Contrary to popular belief, poison ivy rash does not spread once you have the rash. The oil has already been absorbed and the rash is caused by the allergic reaction from your body. You can still get the urushiol by handling shoes and clothing. You can also get some more of the oil from a pet. The rash itself does not spread.

Urushiol is so potent that one-quarter of an ounce of pure urushiol is enough to cause a rash on every man, woman, and child on the earth! The strength of the allergic reaction varies from person to person, but even people that say they are not affected by poison ivy will develop a rash from direct application of urushiol.

Even people that appear to have no or mild reactions to poison ivy (urushiol) may someday have a moderate or severe reaction to the oil. Rashes are so debilitating that they are covered by worker's compensation rules in the state of California. California and the upper North West are invaded by these woodsy plants.

Use an ordinary hair dryer to immediately stop the itch of poison ivy, oak, or sumac.

Use an ordinary hair dryer to immediately stop the itch of poison ivy, oak, or sumac.

What Is the Cure for Poison Ivy?

Prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially in the case of poison ivy and its urushiol. Avoid poison ivy, oak, and sumac plants and you won't have a problem. Once you have the rash, there are a few home remedy treatments that are very effective, but there is no cure.

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Read More From Remedygrove

  1. If you are camping or walking in wooded areas, the first home remedy is soap and water. Wash everything as soon as possible. Separate the clothes you were wearing and wash them outside if possible. If you wear them inside, the oil may be transferred to furniture or bedding. Pretend your clothes are contaminated and treat them immediately. Remove shoes and clean them with disposable wipes. There is a special soap for urushiol removal, but regular soap works well.
  2. While there is no cure for the itch, there is a home remedy that works extremely well. A nurse in the emergency room told me about this one. Heat the itchy area by holding a hair dryer set on high while sweeping it back and forth across the skin part that is itching. You will feel a burning, stinging sensation. Don't burn yourself, you will be able to tell when the itch stops. This treatment lasts for hours and has the added benefit of drying out the weeping blisters.
  3. Alcohol and hydro-cortisone cream will prevent infection during dermatitis. Some people swear by this product or that product, but plain alcohol will clean, disinfect and cool the rash area. It seems that alcohol would hurt, but it actually feels good on a rash.
  4. Benadryl® or diphenhydramine is the over-the-counter drug of choice for treating poison ivy, oak, and sumac rashes. Since the rash is actually the result of an allergic reaction, allergy pills will help. They also have the benefit of making you sleepy which will help with the healing process.

Home Remedies May Not be Enough

Sometimes people get such a severe reaction that treatment by a physician is necessary. The treatment of choice is steroids. Diabetics should avoid steroids and treat themselves with home remedies if at all possible.

Treating with a dose pack of steroids will clear up the rash fairly quickly. This treatment is only available by prescription and steroids are powerful drugs. They are not to be taken lightly. One must follow through with the entire dose pack to cure the allergic dermatitis.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

Question: Is hot water bad for a poison ivy rash?

Answer: Hot water feels very good on a poison ivy rash! Just be careful not to burn yourself. Also be gentle. Do not scrub the area and further damage the skin.

Question: Is a washcloth good for poison ivy?

Answer: Yes, using cool soapy water gently on the rash area will clean off the urushiol irritant and skin bacteria that can cause a secondary infection.

Question: How do you treat poison ivy on your scalp?

Answer: I would use the hair dryer method as described in this article as well as Benedryl (diphenhydramine).

Question: What makes poison ivy swell?

Answer: It's not just poison ivy, any irritation on your skin will swell. Your body is trying to dilute the irritant or infection. Also, your immune system is transporting cells to the area in the fluid.

© 2012 Lela

Comments - Half of Americans have had or will have poison ivy problems. Are you in this group?

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on November 02, 2017:

Fingernail polish sometimes has acetone as an ingredient. Acetone is not very good for your skin, so I would recommend using it on small areas only.

Also, most people don't realize that they have contacted poison ivy/oak/sumac/urushiol until the rash appears and begins to itch. Scratching will damage skin cells, so acetone should not be applied to broken skin.

I would carry zanfel instead. You can find it at most pharmacies and grocery stores that have pharmacies.

Acetone probably does remove urushiol, but it is considered a carcinogen. Be careful with it.

Katie Murphy on November 02, 2017:

I always carry fingernail polish remover in my backpack. If you are quick enough to wipe down an area that's been affected, you don't develop a rash! Works a treat!

Anne Bryant on June 23, 2017:

I used Flonase on my poison ivy (I had it BAD!) after trying everything else. The only thing that worked was benedryl, cold water washing it frequently, alcohol washes occasionally (can dry out too much and make it itch more I will be there in 5 minutes. want it to be nice and clean!) , blow drying and Flonase. And honestly -- the Flonase is the trick. It's a steroid! Lie wasn't making a lot of progress until I started with a few squirts of Flonase on the affected area 2x day. Voilà!

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on June 21, 2017:

Angie, have you tried benedryl? It will help you sleep.

Angie on June 21, 2017:

I've had poisonous ivy, it sucks. I can't sleep when I try too. It itches all the time. I've had a steroid shot for my face because I could bearly open my eyes. Then on top of it I have black bump poisonous ivy.

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on June 20, 2017:

Thanks, Kyle! Hot showers work great indeed. Alcohol does disinfect and will help dry the rash up. Just be gentle and try not to tear or irritate the skin more than it already is.

Kyle on June 20, 2017:

I have found that putting your sink or shower on full hot and running it over the rash is the greatest feeling in the world. Gives instant relief. Follow up with rubbing alcohol and it both soaths the itch for hours and disinfects.

Apple1207 on September 26, 2016:

We moved to acreage that has poison ivy. I was always careful to avoid the plant/vines growing on the trees and always wore gloves and long sleeves. This year I got a poison ivy rash on my fore arms that spread to my leg, elbow and ear; kind of random places. Initially I used OTC allergy pills and calamine lotion, but had little to no relief. Then I tried the hot blow dryer method. OMG!!!! I thought I had won the lottery!!! It worked!!!! I don't know how it works but it does. And I agree with other people who said it actually feels good. That sounds weird, I know, but try it! I have to re-heat the rash about every 5 hours but this method is a total lifesaver.

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on September 20, 2016:

It's like magic! And the hot air feels soooooo good! Thanks for trying it!

Esther Veenstra on September 20, 2016:

The hair dryer trick saved my sanity and may have stopped me from chopping off my arm. As an added bonus I found the extreme itch brought on by the hot air right before the pain hit almost pleasurable. Then poof... like magic the infernal itch was GONE for up to 4 hours!!! My now beloved hair dryer was set up permanently beside my bed for three weeks, much to the dismay of my traumatized cat.

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on June 02, 2016:

Yep, it is coming from your doggie. After your dog comes in from the outdoors, have a damp paper towel handy and wipe her down right away. Then use TechNu (available from Walgreen's) on any itchy spots. Wash your hands often and keep them away from your eyes!

That should do the trick. You have to wipe away the oil or neutralize it before you spread it all over.

Tbarton on May 31, 2016:

Every time I get poison ivy I seem to get it on my face! Not sure how this happens! I am so careful and I am diabetic so I am not to keen on taking steroids, so what am I supposed to do? It gets so close to my eyes and that's scary. I use retin A on it to try and dry it out but all it seems to do is spread! I think my little dog gets in it and when I kiss her on the side of her face I get it from her hair. It's the only thing I can think of! Help! I need some kind of natural healing any home remedies?

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on September 30, 2012:

Hello Audrey, I know how horrible this plant oil can be as I was hospitalized when I first got it as a teenager. Whole body involvement is the worst.

Hyphenbird - He will be pleasantly surprised at how well the hair dryer treatment works. Combine it with benadryl and he will be able to sleep until it heals.

Brenda Barnes from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on September 30, 2012:

Your article is very well put together and researched. I learned a lot and will pass this information on to my son in law. He gets poison ivy rashes really, really bad. Thanks for the help.

Audrey Howitt from California on September 29, 2012:

I am also very allergic to poison oak and poison ivy--I have spent many miserable weeks and months as a kid because of it--where my whole body swells and blisters--so I am phobic about it now----The hair dryer makes sense and I wish I had known about it when I was young!

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on September 29, 2012:

Let us know if the hair dryer works for you, Christoph

Real - I've often thought that poison ivy would be a very elegant form of torture. I would confess anything to get rid of that blasted itch! It is certainly a fitting punishment if you have been sent 'walking'!

Christoph Reilly from St. Louis on September 29, 2012:

I'm highly allergic and i find technu works incredibly well for me, both to prevent the outbreak beforehand and to alleviate the itch after and heal the rash faster. The hair dryer thing is a neat trick to know. I have a poison ivy rash as I write, and will be trying that.

Kelly Umphenour from St. Louis, MO on September 29, 2012:

I am not a bit allergic to Poison Ivy. I had the idea that coming down with it = would be better than going to school when I was young. I rubbed the junk all over me and nothing happened.

My ex husband, hahaha, on the other hand, hahaha, went hunting once and when nature called - he didn't take his glove off. hahahaha Oh wow! He was blond and blue eyed and VERY allergic! hahahaha He laid on the sofa for days very near crying. I'd already given him his "walking" papers though so sorry - thought it was deserved and fitting!

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on September 27, 2012:

Interesting, thank you for the info!

tlmcgaa70 from south dakota, usa on September 27, 2012:

all livestock will be very expensive to keep soon. when i had them i also had horses and the most expensive part of their upkeep was buying and transporting the hay. if you have a local feed store that sells alfalfa hay for a reasonable price, you need to feed them that especially in the winter, but if you have good weeds and shrubs growing they wont eat as much. they need a grain mix for goats and they need to be fed loose minerals, which comes in a bag (unlick the mineral blocks horses and cows use) if you do it i would start out with a pygmy pair. even better, raise them from kids. then let them breed and you will grow that way. keep the female kids and sell the males or trade for new males, or raise the males for meat...but any males you might choose to raise for meat must be castrated young or their meat is not edible. also you can milk the females, their milk is very tasty (unlike store bought goats milk which is nasty) and you can also make goats cheese from the milk. if oyu plan on milking them you must be careful they don't eat any noxious weeds. i will warn you...goats are incredible escape artists. we have 6 and a quarter acres and they were forever straying outside our fence line, luckliy they never strayed far, and rattling a pail of feed always brought them running.

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on September 27, 2012:

Oh, that is terrible. I think you should have had this guy prosecuted. In Texas, goat rustling is a serious crime. Is it expensive to raise goats? I want them but my husband does not. We have 2 acres fenced in and I would like to have a few just to eat the poison ivy.

tlmcgaa70 from south dakota, usa on September 27, 2012:

sadly, our goats were stolen. by one we thought was a friend. when i was gone to california, he took the goats to his place to care for them. we never saw them or my horse trailer again. we have forgiven him but he is no longer welcome on our property, since he cannot be trusted. sad thing is he only hurt himself. we are pretty sure he sold the trailer and the goats. per his request he was getting on of every set of twins born. we always gave him anything he needed. and he needed a lot. but because of what he did he no longer has access to all that freely given stuff. sometimes i just don't understand people.

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on September 27, 2012:

What happened to the goats?

Yes, burning poison ivy is quite dangerous. If it must be done, wait for a day when there is NO WIND and the smoke goes straight up. Wear a mask and goggles and throw them away after burning. Then wash everything on your person with something like Technu or poison ivy soap. Better yet, bag everything and throw it away, then get in a shower and scrub!

tlmcgaa70 from south dakota, usa on September 27, 2012:

i hear that inhaling the smoke from burning poison ivy can be pretty dangerous. one reason i like goats. we had the cutest pygmy and fainting goats and while they were here the ivy stayed down.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on September 27, 2012:

Very helpful hub. I remember one time when we were burning some weeds and dead tree branches (at least we though everything had expired), we didn’t know we had pulled up poison ivy and oak as well. It got into the smoke, which we got into our eyes…everywhere. It was the most unpleasant experience of my life. Now, when I see either, I head in the opposite direction. :-)

Brightonbreezy from Brighton, UK on September 27, 2012:

Have you tried a swedish bitters before? They act as an anti-informatory and work really treating nettle and ivy stings!

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on September 26, 2012:

Texas must be a close contender for the amount of skin cancer. My brother was just diagnosed with melanoma. He worked on boats his whole life. Go figure. Us pale faces have to really watch out.

Manna in the wild from Australia on September 26, 2012:

Great read Austinstar. Luckily we don't get poison ivy here in OZ... just the minor things about deadly this and deadly that, shark attacks and skin cancer.

tlmcgaa70 from south dakota, usa on September 26, 2012:

give the jewelweed cream a shot, it really helped me.

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on September 26, 2012:

I'm sitting here in misery right now because I have patches on my arms, neck and legs. Love my hair dryer right now and just bought some anesthetizing gel to put on it.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on September 26, 2012:

Never suffered from poison ivy, Lela, and never want to. Just viewing the photos is making me uncomfortable and itchy.

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on September 26, 2012:

Since I am very allergic to poison ivy and Oleander and a couple of other plants, I just avoid everything! Which makes me a very indoorsy person :-)

KellyMediaBest from Tampa, Florida on September 26, 2012:

I used to get poison Ivy almost every summer when I was little from walking in the woods and playing with my friends. It was literally torture having to lather on that pink cream to relieve the itch, that didn't ever actually even relieve it. Prevention is definitely much better in cases of poison ivy, my doctor taught me "leaf of three, let it be". From then on, I've avoided going anywhere near plants with three leaves.

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on September 26, 2012:

I'm loving the idea of goats more and more.

tlmcgaa70 from south dakota, usa on September 26, 2012:

awesome hub...i am one of those who merely has to look in the direction of poison ivy and i get it. in truth my animals spread it to me. the oils don't bother them but then they carry it back to me and rub on me or i pet them and wala! i learned that most bad plants have the cure in a nearby plant. for poison ivy that plant is called jewel weed. since i am not adept at searching for plants i went online and bought a cream called poison ivy/bug bite itch relief and it has shea tea tree and jewelweed oils in it. it can be found at it works wonderfully. goats like to eat poison ivy, which makes them very benefical. voted up and across and shared

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on September 25, 2012:

Hi Tammy! Yes, that is a very real problem with poison ivy. It can even be life threatening. I would recommend a face mask at the very least while burning shrubs. I've had it in my eyes and all over my face. It's just horrid.

There is a product which is supposed to neutralize the oil and you apply it like sunscreen before ever getting involved in the bush. Californians swear by it, but I have not tried it. I think Technu is supposed to do this.

Just as everyone has different levels of allergic reactions, your immune system will determine if you have a bad reaction or none at all.

It is also true that you can go for years without having a reaction, then have a bad reaction one year. (Like allergies to penicillin or peanuts)

Pretty - Sorry to hear about your son getting poison ivy, I know how bad it can get having nearly died from the stuff. I never had any relief with calamine lotion, but I hope your son did. There is a clear gel that I tried one year that worked pretty well. They show it in the video. I would try that next time.

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on September 25, 2012:

Man - The air heat does work. I use it myself. I don't recommend burning the skin, just hold the blow dryer about 3 or 4 inches away from the rash and gently heat it. The heat penetrates the skin down to the itch and stops it. Very warm water will also work.

Apple cider vinegar will help heal the skin and may neutralize the oil if it is on the surface, but urushiol is absorbed down to a deeper layer than vinegar can reach (or calamine lotion).

Yes, it is an allergic reaction to the oil. Your immune system is what is causing the rash! People with auto-immune disorders will not get a rash from applications of urushiol, their body does not try to fight it at all. This has been proven in clinical trials.

I get this rash nearly every summer and I have tried every remedy there is. These treatments are the best. But use whatever works for you.

Soap and water and avoiding contact with the plants or things that touch the plants will prevent outbreaks. But my dogs run through the brush all the time and when I pet them, I get the oil and then a rash. Otherwise, I do not go near brush, ever.

Man from Modesto from Kiev, Ukraine (formerly Modesto, California) on September 25, 2012:

As an engineer, I've paid my dues tramping through brush on site surveys. I am a poison ivy expert. Do NOT heat your rash. Urushiol oil actually reacts chemically with your skin. It is a wife's tale that it is an allergic reaction. Do dry it out. apple cider vinegar works great for this.

Always wash man, beast, and equipment after returning from the brush.

Mary from From the land of Chocolate Chips,and all other things sweet. on September 25, 2012:

I could have used some of these remedy's when my son got poison ivy this summer, it was horrible he was covered. We put calamine lotion on him but it still took a while for him to heal, great hub voted up, useful and shared.

Tammy from North Carolina on September 25, 2012:

I have had poison ivy once and it was a nightmare. A neighbor was burning it and he actually breathed it in and got it on the inside of mouth and throat. Ouch! I hope I don't need this advice, but I now know where to look!

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on September 25, 2012:

Luckily I have not had poison ivy but my grandson has. I wish I would have known about the hair dryer. This is wonderful news. Sending this hub to my friends and sharing like mad :)

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on September 25, 2012:

Hey, that's what I said! I would never have thought of using a hair dryer. But I tried it and it works fabulously. The relief from the itch is immediate and lasting. I swear I almost faint from the relief I get with the heat gun.

Ruchira from United States on September 25, 2012:

Seriously, hair dryer?

Wow, did not know about it.

The others I had read someplace...but thanks for a valuable and interesting hub.

voted up and sharing it across

Natasha from Hawaii on September 25, 2012:

Yeah, Tecnu only works, really, before you get the rash. I've had great success if I knew I touched poision ivy, not so much letter after the fact.

carol stanley from Arizona on September 25, 2012:

I think I will be very cautious when hiking. However, I am going to bookmark this hub for the possibility. Great and good solutions. Voting up and sharing.

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on September 24, 2012:

I have tried Technu and found it somewhat effective. It is supposed to wash off the oil or neutralize it. It did not completely stop or heal my rash any faster than any other product though.

The hair dryer trick is so effective at stopping the itch that I now use a heat gun because it gets hot very fast. As soon as I feel that unique sting, I know I have stopped the itch. The heat penetrates the skin and gets to the irritated nerves. I think of it as burning out the nerve tips. Works fast and works every time. In fact, I only have to apply the heat twice a day and the itch does not bother me for another 12 hours. I think it's one of the best tricks of all for poison ivy.

Benedryl helps me sleep through the night. And alcohol prevents infections. If I have a lot of swelling, I put some cortisone cream on, but otherwise, I just use the heat the most. It feels great to kill that itch.

Natasha from Hawaii on September 24, 2012:

That picture is, sadly, mild compared to how I look with poison ivy! I am very allergic to it - I've actually been put on steroids to treat poison ivy in the past! I wish I'd heard of the hair dryer trick, that could have really helped me.

My favorite poison ivy product is called Tecnu. It's a little pricy, has specific directions you must follow, and takes several minutes to use, but it works. I touched some poision ivy by accident at work, used Tecnu, and didn't get any type of rash. For me, that is basically a miracle.

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