If you’ve ever had the misfortune of having poison ivy, you know how absolutely miserable you can feel, and that you will do practically ANYTHING to get rid of the itching.
A quick internet search will turn up lots of home remedies, but which ones are old wives tales, and which will actually provide real relief and healing?
Believe it or not, I’m one of the few lucky ones who aren’t allergic to poison ivy. But my daughter is not so lucky; we found out the hard way that she most definitely IS allergic to it!
If you’re a parent, you know how hard it is to watch your child suffer, so I was very motivated to find a cure for her. In my quest for relief (both hers and mine) I have researched and tried many home remedies.
First of all, understanding how people contract poison ivy can help you from getting it again. Poison ivy (as well as poison oak and poison sumac) all contain urushiol, which is the substance that causes redness, itching, and blisters. Urushiol is colorless, odorless, and sticky, and it can be carried on clothing, pets, gardening tools, and more.
According to the American Skin Association, about 85% of people are allergic to poison ivy, and 10-15% suffer from extreme reactions.
With this in mind, the best treatment is to try to prevent contact with poison ivy in the first place. Remember the old adage, “Leaves of three, let them be” to help you steer clear of the dreaded plant.
Poison ivy grows in a low, crawling vine or a leafy shrub. In the summer it has shiny, green leaves, while in autumn it has bright red leaves with white berries. Avoidance should be your first line of defense.
The Mayo Clinic has more helpful advice on how poison ivy rash is contracted so you can minimize your risk.
If you do come in contact with poison ivy, you have about five minutes to take quick action. Wash all affected areas thoroughly with soap and water, which will get rid of the urushiol and hopefully prevent an allergic reaction.
Be sure to wash all clothing, tools, gardening gloves, or anything else that may have come in contact with the plant to get rid of the urushiol.
Uh-oh. You weren’t able to catch it in time; you are starting to itch and your skin is getting red. Maybe blisters are even starting to appear. Since everyone’s body chemistry is different, try these to find the remedy that works best for you.
Baking Soda Dries out the Rash
Make a paste using three teaspoons of baking soda to one teaspoon of water and apply to the rash. Let it dry; it will dry out any blisters that have formed. Or, try mixing one cup of baking soda into a cool bath to provide soothing relief.
Colloidal Oatmeal Relieves Itchiness
Colloidal Oatmeal (or regular oatmeal if you can’t find colloidal) has anti-inflammatory properties from phenols and avenanthramides. Finely grind oatmeal and add to your bath for soothing relief from itching.
Rubbing Alcohol Destroys the Oils
For fast prevention if you must be in an area where poison ivy is likely to be found, carry rubbing alcohol to quickly neutralize the urushiol if you come in contact with it. Rubbing alcohol can also help dry out any blisters that form.
Apple Cider Vinegar Breaks Down the Olis
Though it may sting a bit at first, apple cider vinegar has cooling properties which will provide welcome relief. The vinegar also works to break down any remaining urushiol to prevent further spread of the rash.
Lemon Juice and Honey–Not Just for a Sore Throat!
Mix two teaspoons of honey to the juice of one lemon and apply with a cotton swab. Honey is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs water from the air. Thus, honey works by drawing water out of any blisters and making them tougher, which will speed their healing.
Honey’s antibacterial properties will help prevent any additional contamination from dirt or germs as well. Adding lemon juice for its drying, astringent properties will further increase healing.
Bentonite Clay Reduces Swelling and Dries Blisters
Bentonite clay is composed primarily of aluminum phyllosilicate and it is extremely absorbent. Because it absorbs toxins but is not absorbed into the body, it is a safe and effective treatment to draw out urushiol and a variety of other substances.
Apply a small amount to any rash, let it dry until it forms flakes, then gently rinse off with water. Bentonite clay can generally be found at various natural food stores or online.
Ocean Water or Sea Salt Dry the Blisters
Ocean water contains about 3.5% salt, which has drying properties. If you aren’t near tho ocean, mix one ounce of sea salt with a quart of water. Use a cotton ball to apply the mixture to the rash, and allow to dry.
Alternatively, you could soak gauze in the salt water and apply with a bandage overnight or while you go about your day.
Himalayan Salt is favored by some as having a slight edge over ocean water or the sea salt mixture. Mined in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, this salt contains several other mineral salts including sulphur and iron oxide, and has antihistamine properties that may speed healing.
Cold Compresses Reduce Inflammation and Cool the Burn
To make a cold compress, wet a washcloth in cold water, wring out excess water, and apply to the rash for 15 to 20 minutes to soothe the burn. This will take down swelling and soothe the itch.
Aloe Vera Soothes the Rash
Just like sunburn, poison ivy rash can benefit from the cooling application of aloe vera. Simply cut the leaf, applying the gel-like substance directly onto the rash, or you may opt to use a commercially available product.
Try a Fruit or Vegetable to Tame Symptoms
Many people swear by remedies readily available on your kitchen counter or in the fridge. Try cucumbers, watermelon, or banana peel: simply make a paste of the desired fruit or veggie and apply directly to the affected area. Or rub the cut side of the watermelon rind onto the area for cooling relief.
Essential Oils Heal the Blisters
Use essential oils such as geranium, tea tree oil, lavender, or rose directly to opened blisters to speed healing. Mix three drops of oil with coconut oil and apply three to four times per day. Find out more about essential oils and how to prepare them for use.
Witch Hazel Promotes Blister Healing
Witch Hazel is an astringent whose properties are known for reducing the skin’s reaction to poisons. As a plus, it also reduces itching and inflammation, and is safe to use on children.
Jewelweed is Valuable
Similar to witch hazel, jewelweed works to lower your body’s reaction to urushiol. Watch this video on jewelweed to find out how to identify this commonly found plant, and how to prepare it for use.
Aspirin Cures More than Headaches
Grind several aspirin, make into a paste, and allow to dry. The Salacylic Acid works to hasten healing.
Wall Street Journalist Gwendolyn Bounds is a frequent poison ivy sufferer–a self proclaimed victim of “botanical abuse”, she reviews some of the best Kitchen Pantry Remedies (all verified by a doctor) for you to try at home in this amusing and informative video.
Despite the efficacy of the above home remedies, sometimes your rash is too serious to treat at home. That’s when it’s important to recognize when to see a doctor. Contact a doctor if the rash
- covers more than 25% of your body
- is near the eyes, mouth or genitals
- shows little to no improvement in 7 to 10 days
- has soft yellowish scabs or contains pus
Dr. Alan Green, a member of the clinical faculty at Stanford University School of Medicine, counsels that sometimes large blisters may need to be professionally drained; if you have any concerns a call to your doctor is probably in order.
The American Academy of Dermatology cautions that some symptoms warrant a trip to the emergency room. If you are having trouble breathing or swallowing, you may be experiencing a life-threatening reaction and should seek immediate help.
I was fortunate that a combination of oatmeal baths, cold compresses, and aloe vera greatly reduced my daughter’s symptoms, at least enough for us both to forget about them for a few hours at a time.
So give a few of these a try; I hope you will find a few that work for you and that you will avoid accidental exposure in the future. I know after my daughter’s unfortunate experience I’ll be taking that advice to heart!