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Spending time outdoors has its advantages: fresh air, sunshine, and exercise have numerous health benefits. But being outdoors does expose you to some unpleasant elements. Should you come into contact with poison ivy, you have my sympathy! While it is notoriously tough to beat but it is possible to stop poison ivy in its tracks using natural remedies.
What Is Poison Ivy?
Poison ivy can present as a vine, shrub, or ground cover, and can grow just about anywhere, including in fields and woods, and along riverbeds and roads. It grows almost everywhere in the U.S., except for the Southwest, Hawaii, and Alaska.
Odds are, you’ve come across it at some point.
You can distinguish poison ivy by its thin, pointy, shiny leaves, but the shape, color, and texture can vary. Poison ivy is most known for its bunches of three leaves, which lends to the expression “Leaves of three, let them be.” This is an easy way to teach burgeoning outdoor enthusiasts (aka your kids) to watch out for poison ivy.
The active component in poison ivy, and the one responsible for the horrible rash poison ivy is known for, is called urushiol oil. It’s found on every part of the plant, including the roots, leaves, and stems. It’s easily transferred from clothing or pet fur to human skin.
How to Protect Yourself
Other than being aware of the appearance of poison ivy and knowing to watch out for it, you can protect yourself while hiking by wearing secure, closed-toe shoes, tall socks, pants tucked into socks (which is good practice to avoid ticks and other problematic plants and bugs anyway), and long-sleeved shirts.
12 Natural Remedies for Poison Ivy
If you’ve been outdoors recently and are unlucky enough to find yourself with a raised, red, bumpy, itchy rash, odds are, you may have come into contact with some poison ivy. Try out the remedies below.
1. Wash Up
If you know you’ve touched poison ivy, go immediately to the nearest sink and wash every affected area with cool water and soap. If you catch it quickly enough and get the oil off your skin, you may be able to stave off a rash, or at least, lessen the severity.
2. Soothing Bath
A soothing bath can help a number of skin conditions, and is one of the best natural remedies for poison ivy. There are a number of ingredients you can add to a bath to soothe a poison ivy rash, including:
- baking soda
- apple cider vinegar
- essential oils (lavender, tea tree, or peppermint are good options – stick to only lavender when using on or around young children or pets)
- bentonite clay
- Himalayan salt
3. Anti-Itch Cream
Calamine lotion is often recommended for poison ivy rashes, but it’s not exactly natural. You can easily make your own anti-itch cream, and rest assured that it contains natural ingredients, like bentonite clay and essential oils, that won’t do more harm than good in the long run.
Histamines are a compound released by your body when your immune system goes on alert, for instance, when you come into contact with poison ivy. Histamines are responsible for red, itchy skin rashes, as well as itchy, red, watery eyes and other allergy symptoms.
Taking an oral anti-histamine may be helpful in the case of poison ivy contact. However, to avoid over the counter medications and look to more natural remedies for poison ivy, check out these herbs that have anti-histamine properties:
- wild oregano
Take any of the above herbs, which naturally prevent the body from producing histamines, as a stand-alone supplement or as a loose-leaf tea, or try an herbal anti-histamine supplement like this. You can even add strongly brewed herbal tea to a bath to soothe your skin from the outside.
5. Baking Soda Paste
Baking soda is soothing to the skin, helps to restore pH balance, and helps to draw out toxins. You can put it in a bath, mentioned above or, make a paste with three parts baking soda to one part water, and dab it on a poison ivy rash.
6. Apple Cider Vinegar
Like baking soda, apple cider vinegar can soothe a poison ivy rash by restoring skin balance. Also like baking soda, you can add it to a bath, or simply dip a cotton ball in a little apple cider vinegar and dab it on the rash.
7. Aloe Vera Gel
Aloe vera is one of the best-known remedies for sunburns and other skin conditions. You can make your own soothing aloe vera gel from fresh aloe vera leaves to reduce itchiness and heal the rash.
8. Essential Oils
Taking all of the above suggestions into consideration, there are a few ways to incorporate essential oils into natural remedies for poison ivy. You can add a few drops of lavender and tea tree to a bath (only a few drops are needed, as too much can cause burns), or you can create your own poultice from water, apple cider vinegar, a little salt, and lavender, tea tree, and peppermint essential oils. (Leave out the tea tree and peppermint when using on young children or around pets.)
Another histamine-lowering herb, jewelweed (impatiens capensis) is a folk remedy for poison ivy and other skin rashes. The most effective way to use jewelweed for a poison ivy rash is by mashing the fresh leaves and applying them directly to the rash. However, if you’re not able to get your hands on fresh jewelweed, a salve made from jewelweed-infused oil may be effective.
You can buy a pre-made jewelweed salve here.
Acupuncture works by bringing balance to the body, which, in turn, reduces inflammation. A poison ivy rash is definitely a sign of inflammation, and acupuncture has been found to help clear up a poison ivy rash and accompanying symptoms quickly.
If you know a good acupuncturist, get in for a treatment as soon as possible following poison ivy exposure for one of the best and most effective natural remedies for poison ivy.
11. Avoid Scratching
To avoid spreading the skin-irritating oils further, do not scratch, no matter how itchy! Scratching can also break open the skin and allow infection to set in.
12. Wash Clothing
Finally, be sure to wash all clothing and shoes that came into contact with the poison ivy to avoid re-infecting yourself. Warm water and soap should be effective, and you can add some vinegar to your wash to further treat your clothes. You may also want to wash the dog, as it is possible for pets to spread the oils.
When to Get Help for Poison Ivy
In most cases, using natural remedies for poison ivy is sufficient, however, there are a few signs that you may need emergency help. You may need medical attention if you have:
- trouble breathing
- severe swelling
- a rash around the mouth or genitals
- a rash close to the eyes
If any of these symptoms persist, contact your doctor or local clinic right away!
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Sheila Kilbane, MD, a board-certified pediatrician, trained in integrative medicine. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Have you ever had a poison ivy rash? Any other natural remedies you’ve found useful? Share this post for a friend who may need natural remedies for poison ivy!
Discussion (6 Comments)
Can a person with poison ivy work at a restaurant?
You would have to ask the restaurant…
I like to use Vitamin E oil when I get poison ivy. I put a few drops on the rash and rub it around to completely cover the affected area. This soothes the itch and helps new skin cells grow. This and preventing a rash from forming (by wearing pants tucked into socks and by scrubbing in the shower when I leave the woods) are my favorite poison ivy tricks.
I have used homeopathy for poison ivy. First I wash with a yellow soap like Fels-Naptha which cuts the oil. I then use Rhus toxicodendron either 30c or 200c. I have found this extremely helpful.
Urushiol oil is a tar-like substance. To remove it, one must use a substance which specifically will break down its stickiness—like removing a price sticker. Regular soap won’t do it. In my experience, using soap and water actually spreads the oil further!! Instead, an alcohol or oil-based cleaner should be used. Mineral spirits (the active ingredient in expensive OTC poison oak washes) can be found cheaply at the hardware store. It will break down the oil. If this is done quickly (within 15 minutes of exposure), it will break down the oil, you can follow that with soap and water and avoid a skin reaction. If not done quickly, the oil will bond with keratin in the skin and there will be a reaction.
These are so helpful! I’m so allergic to poison ivy that I have to have shots when I get it. I usually get it on my face and my eyes swell so now I avoid gardening and woods. With these tips I feel safer about being able to go outside. Thank you!