What’s poisonous about poison ivy?
Poison ivy sap is found in nearly every part of the plant, including the leaves, stems, and roots. The sap contains an oil called urushiol, a pale-yellow, oily substance.
If any of this extremely sticky oil touches the skin, it can cause a blistering skin rash.
Urushiol is also found in poison oak and poison sumac.
A reaction to urushiol can happen when there is direct contact from touching contaminated objects, such as shoes after walking, and from breathing in smoke from burning poison ivy.
The most dangerous type of exposure is when a person inhales the smoke as the plant is burned. (1)
How it spreads
Poison ivy produces an oil called urushiol that causes a rash in about 85 percent of people who come in contact with it, notes the American Academy of Dermatology.
The rash isn’t contagious to others. This is because it’s a skin reaction to the oil. However, the oil itself can spread to others.
Urushiol is tenacious. It’ll stick to almost anything: your clothes and shoes, camping and gardening equipment, even your pets’ or horses’ coats.
It can transfer to and from your hands to your cell phone or any object you touch and spread to others. And it’s in virtually every part of the plant: leaves, stems, even the roots. Brushing against a winter-bared vine can still cause the rash.
Redness, itching, red bumps, swelling, and blisters signaling a poison ivy reaction typically show up 12 to 48 hours after exposure and often last one to three weeks.
The location of the rash depends on the area of skin exposed to urushiol, but common sites are the head, face, neck, trunk, legs, and arms.
While the rash itself isn’t contagious, contact with urushiol can spread the resin to someone else or to other parts of your body if it is not washed off after touching the plants.
Although the clean rash won’t spread from scratching, bacteria under your fingernails can set off a secondary infection.
7 Home Remedies for Poison Ivy Rash
Banana peel cools the itch
Rubbing the inside of a banana peel on poison ivy-affected skin is an old wives’ tale that may have some truth to it; the peel’s cooling qualities could provide itch relief.
An application of watermelon rind is another poison ivy treatment some people swear by.
Aloe Vera Gel
An ancient curative remedy for the skin, aloe vera can be used directly on the infected area.
You can buy a high-quality organic version at most health-food stores, or even better, buy a plant and use the gel from inner flesh of the leaves.
External use of organic aloe vera juice may also help, but is not as effective as the gel.
Apple cider vinegar kills the poison
With its many medicinal qualities, it’s no surprise that apple cider vinegar has also been shown to be an effective poison ivy treatment.
Try soaking a brown paper bag in apple cider vinegar, then place the bag on the rash to draw out the toxins.
Oatmeal bath soothes the itch
A soak in an oatmeal bath is a classic poison ivy treatment.
Grind 1 cup oatmeal in your blender until it’s a fine powder, then pour it into a piece of cheesecloth or the foot section of a clean, old nylon stocking.
Knot the material, and tie it around the faucet of your bathtub so the bag is suspended under the running water.
Fill the tub with lukewarm water and soak in it for 30 minutes. You may find that applying the oatmeal pouch directly to the rash gives you even more relief.
If you have used baking soda to soak up oil spills, you can imagine how it could be helpful with poison ivy.
Dusting the skin liberally with baking soda and then shaking it off may help get rid of the urushiol oil particles, but whether it is as effective as, or better than, washing off with soap and water is debatable.
But once the rash develops, baking soda comes in handy in relieving itching and reducing inflammation.
Stir a tablespoon of baking soda in cold water and use it immediately to wash the affected skin. It soothes the skin and relieves intense itching.
Repeat as often as you like until the inflammation disappears. Alternatively, you can dip a washcloth in the solution and place it on affected area.
Adding a handful of baking soda to the bath water may help if the rash is widespread.
Another way to use baking soda is to make a paste of it with equal amount of water and apply it thickly on the rash. Allow it to dry on the skin. This may help reduce blistering as the drying mixture dehydrates the rash.
You can continue to use baking soda solution even after the blisters burst, but use a more dilute version. Mix 2 teaspoons in a quart of water and use it to wash the area.
Dip sterile gauze in the solution and place it on the broken blisters as a disinfecting bandage. Change frequently.
Watermelon is just as good as cucumber, and much easier to make into a pulp. But it is the rind of the watermelon that people generally recommend for poison ivy rash.
Place pieces of the rind–with white side down, of course–on the rash for immediate relief from intense itching.
It is useful for small, isolated patches, but if the inflammation is widespread, applying a pulp made out of the white portion may be more practical.
We may think that the benefit comes solely from the cool moistness of the pulp, but there could be more than meets the eye. The phytochemicals in the pulp could be having anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects.
This green veggie is very cooling. Making a cucumber paste and applying it to the skin helps bring soothing relief to heated itching.
For easy itch relief, slice a piece of a cucumber off and let it dry on the affected area.