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Soothing Remedies for Poison Ivy and Poison Oak 
by Mary M. Alward August 04, 2005

If you have been exposed to poison ivy and poison oak, there's no need to suffer from itching that drives you insane. Instead, use one of these remedies to bring much needed relief.

The most common allergies in North America are the ones relating to poison ivy and poison oak. More than half of the population of the continent is allergic to both of these plants.

Most times people do not realize they’ve been exposed to these plants until they get the horrific itch and scarlet red rash that goes with them, which are both caused by the oil, urushiol, which is toxic and found in both poison ivy and poison oak. Some people are so sensitive to this oil that they have to be hospitalized, while others barely notice that they have been exposed.

Sensitivity to usushiol oil can occur at any age. The best remedies to poison ivy and poison oak are substances that will annihilate urushiol. However, keep in mind that what works for others may not work for you.

Urushiol Oil

Urushiol is the active ingredient in both poison ivy and poison oak. It is one of the most potent toxins on earth. The amount that can cause an allergic reaction is measured in nanograms and reactions can be caused by as little as one nanogram. However, most people react in the 100 nanogram range, which is very little when you consider that a nonogram is one billionth of a gram. That means that less than one quarter of an ounce of urushiol can cause a reaction in all humans. Some people could react to the minute amount that it would take to cover a pin head.

Stop the Itch

If you’ve accidentally been exposed to either poison ivy or poison oak, you’ll know whether or not you are immune. If you are allergic, a scarlet red rash will appear and you will itch unbearably. Though the rash looks nasty, it is the itch that will send you out of your mind. What can you do about the itch? Read on.


Calamine lotion is a skin protector that has been around for years. It has a soothing action that cools and distracts your skin from the itching sensation. When you have poison ivy or poison oak, the blood vessels develop gaps that leak fluid through the skin. This causes oozing and blisters. When you cool the skin, the vessels contract to reduce leakage. Calamine lotion leaves a powdery residue on the skin that absorbs the oozing and develops a crust, which keeps the blisters from sticking to your clothing. Apply calamine three to four times a day. This keeps the rash from getting too dry, which make itching worse. Stop applying calamine lotion when the oozing stops.


Antihistamines are effective in reducing itch. The two best over the counter brands are Cholor-Trimeton and Benadryl.

Drying Agents

There are other drying agents that can ease itching from poison ivy and poison oak, though most are not as effective. Burrow’s solution, witch hazel and zinc oxide work for some people amazingly well. Baking soda is another good remedy if you don’t have anything else in the house and feel that you cannot get to a drugstore.


Counter-irritants like phenol and menthol can confuse the nerve endings into a cooling sensation, but may sting when they are applied and may not give sufficient relief. Phenol and menthol are available in anti-itch creams.

Use a Compress

Soak a washcloth in cool water and place it over the affected area. Then, let a fan blow on it. This cooling/evaporating effect works much the same as calamine lotion, but leaves no residue to soak up any leakage from the blisters.


Colloidal oatmeal will dry up the blisters. This can be purchased at any pharmacy. Aveeno is the most popular colloidal oatmeal preparation and it comes with instructions that are very easy to follow. Apply it with a cloth, or soak in a bath tub with the oatmeal added to the water.


OTC cortisone cream is too weak to treat the rash caused from an allergic reaction to poison ivy or poison oak. However, it can relief itching and give you some much needed relief.


The best herb for the treatment of poison ivy and poison oak is jewelweed, also known as impatiens. This herb works just as well as expensive cortisone creams and is readily available in either your garden or a garden center, or may be bought in powder form from a health food store. If using the plant, slit the stem and put the juice on the rash. It will also stop the rash from continuing further if applied when symptoms first appear. Ball up the entire plant, making sure that part of it is leaking juice and wipe off the sap from poison ivy and poison oak.

Black Nightshade

The leaf of the black nightshade plant (not the deadly nightshade plant) can effectively treat the symptoms of poison ivy and poison oak. Crush it and mix it with milk and then apply it to the rash. Milkweed can also be used, as it can treat both rash and itching effectively.

Liquid Shoe Polish

White shoe polish contains pipe clay and it can be just as effective as calamine lotion because it also contains zinc oxide. Liquid shoe polish should be shaken well before applying to the rash.

Poison Ivy and Poison Oak

Poison ivy and poison oak generally have clusters of three shiny leaves. However, different regions of North America have different varieties, so be alert when walking in wooded and grassy areas and along fence lines.

Don’t believe that you can’t be exposed to poison ivy and poison oak in winter. The poison remains in the roots and stems, though no leaves are present. Also be aware of pets who roam. They can carry poison ivy and poison oak into the house on their coats.

When to Treat

Never treat poison ivy or poison oak with alcohol while you are in an area where you might be further exposed. Alcohol removes protective skin oils, which can cause subsequent exposures to be worse.

Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol can remove urushiol oil from your skin, but never use a cloth to apply it. Cloths will only pick up the urushiol and spread it further. Pour rubbing alcohol onto your skin instead.


Water causes urushiol to become inactive. No soap is needed. Just rinse well immediately after becoming exposed, if possible. Pour water over the affected area, or if you are in a place where there is a hose, hose the area down.

Wash Exposed Items

You will need to wash all things that come into contact with poison ivy and poison oak. This includes your dog, backpack, clothes and anything else that has come into contact with the plants or their juices.


Spray deodorant contains organically activated clay known as organoclay. This is highly effective in neutralizing urushiol. Just spray any exposed skin with your deodorant to neutralize urushiol. Also spray your pet’s coat. Antiperspirants are best as they contain both organoclay and aluminum chlorohydrate. Never spray deodorant in skin folds or on your face. It stings and can be quite irritable on these areas.

Use a Shield

Multi-Shield is a barrier skin care product that is used in industry to protect skin against oils and solvents. It has also been found to stop urushiol oils from making contact with skin. It can be purchased from Interpro in Haverhill, MA.

Burning Poison Ivy and Poison Oak

Never burn the plants of either poison ivy or poison oak because urushiol spreads through the air as they burn. If you inhale the droplets of oil that are released in the burning process, you can come down with a fever, serious lung infection and a rash that covers your entire body.


1,800,000 North Americans began to swell within 4 to 12 hours of being exposed to either poison ivy or poison oak. Blisters will appear on the skin and the eyes may swell shut. If the happens, get to an emergency room as soon as possible. A shot of corticosteroids will bring the swelling down and provide the sufferer with relief.

Whatever Works

If you’ve been exposed to poison ivy or poison oak, use whatever works. This includes horse urine, clear fingernail polish, meat tenderizer, ammonia, paint thinner or acetone. These things have all been used successfully to treat skin that has been exposed to both poison ivy and poison oak. Paint thinners are especially good for counteracting urushiol oil. Applying solvents to your skin is not recommended under normal circumstances but when you’ve come into contact with urushiol oil, use whatever works. Be careful though, because solvents also take protective oils off of your skin.

Be Alert

The best treatment for poison ivy and poison oak is not to come into contact with them. If you are out hiking, or walking in the woods, remain alert. That way you can avoid those clusters of three leafed plants that can leave you itching for days.


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