It’s the worst part of summer: the moment you realize you brushed up against poison ivy. It may be a frustrating condition, but there are a number of ways to soothe that irritated skin.
Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are all plants in the same genus that contain a resin called urushiol. Poison ivy tends to grow in areas of thick underbrush and forests, and is particularly irritating in the spring and early summer when the plant is at the peak of its sap production. I’ll mainly talk about poison ivy, but it’s important to know that poison oak and poison sumac produce very similar symptoms, and therefore treatment is much the same.
Poison ivy allergic reactions occur when a sensitive individual (about 85 percent of our population have a high sensitivity level) makes contact with the offensive urushiol existing in its leaves, flowers, fruit, stem, bark, and roots. The result is symptoms such as burning, itching, redness, rash, swelling, and oozing blisters. Fever, as well as swelling of the face and genitals, may develop if contact with the poison is severe.
Leaves of three, let it be
You’ve probably heard that catchy phrase used to describe what the plant looks like in hopes that sensitive individuals will be able to avoid contact altogether. Poison ivy’s leaves grow in clusters of three, one at the end of the stalk and two opposite each other.
When participating in outdoor activities where poison ivy may grow, wear protective clothing (long pants and sleeves, shoes, socks, and gloves). Should any clothing come into contact with the plant, don’t wear it again until it has been sufficiently cleaned with detergent (or dry-cleaned). The poison can also be spread through dogs or furniture that has been contaminated.
Cleansing of the exposed skin tissue is essential. Cleanse with dish soap as soon as possible in efforts to limit the reaction and spreading of the poison to other parts of the body. Refrain from touching other parts of the body until the sap has sufficiently been cleaned or before the rash can spread.
Conventional over-the-counter and prescription treatment options might include Benadryl, Zyrtec, Calamine lotion, hydrocortisone, Loratidine (Alavert, Claritin, Tavist), prednisone, Allegra, or Clarinex.
Here are some natural treatment options:
- Vitamin C can prevent infection and spreading. Try American Health’s Ester-C, which is buffered, so it’s easier on your stomach, and also contains bioflavonoids.
- A topical aloe vera gel prevents spreading and aids healing. I like All Terrain’s, which contains extra healing herbs and vitamins.
- Homeopathic Rhus Toxicodendron relieves itching and promotes skin healing.
- Vitamin A promotes healing of the skin tissues and boosts the immune system. Try it from Thorne Research.
- Herbs, Etc.’s Ivy Itch ReLeaf is a topical spray made from concentrated herbal extracts (jewel weed, grindelia flower, plantain, licorice root and echinacea) that help soothe skin.
- Gaia Herbs’ Plantain Goldenseal Salve is a topical salve that contains plantain, goldenseal, burdock root, chaparral leaf, black walnut leaf, thuja, turmeric, bloodroot, and eucalyptus, all of which are known for their skin-healing properties.
- Vitamin E aids in healing and prevents scarring. Take internally (I like Metagenics’ E Complex), or smooth on topically.
- Zinc, which is needed for repair of skin tissues. Try Jarrow Formulas.
Just remember: leaves of three, let it be!
For a skin care routine for sensitive skin, read here.
Kate Brainard, is a naturopathic doctor based in San Diego, California. A graduate of Bastyr University’s doctorate program in Naturopathic Medicine, she works for Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy, a holistic pharmacy staffed with expert practitioners. She currently manages the Pharmaca in La Jolla and spends time educating customers on supplements, health, and lifestyle choices.