hiking trail leading through a forested area with a sign that reads caution poison ivy

Relieve the Itch and Treat Poison Ivy Quickly With These Remedies

If you’ve never suffered the uncomfortable itch of poison ivy, consider yourself lucky! If you found yourself in contact on your recent camping trip or simply in your own back yard, check out these remedies to relieve the itch and treat poison ivy quickly and easily!

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Incredibly common throughout much of Canada and the United States, as well as parts of Mexico and Asia, the poison ivy plant is one that many of us heard about growing up. The rash most often associated with the plant is actually caused by an oil that is found throughout the plant, called urushiol. This oil is transferred to the skin where it is absorbed, triggering a reaction in approximately 85% of people. That’s right, there is a small number of people who are lucky enough to not develop any symptoms, even if they come in direct contact! In this article, we’re going to dive into everything you need to know to prevent and treat poison ivy quickly and effectively! 

What Is Poison Ivy?

If you are an outdoor adventurer or avid campers, it is important to learn to recognize the plant. Here in Canada as well as in the Northern and Western United States, the plant grows as a shrub while in the East, Midwest and South it is a vine, but both forms of the plant share a similar characteristic, the group of 3 leaves.

One common myth is that the plant will go dormant throughout the winter season, buried under the snow, but don’t be fooled! Since the oils exist throughout the entire plant, you may come in contact with the oils at any time of year. The leaves will transition in colour from reddish with yellow-green flowers in the spring to green in the summer. In the fall the leaves will change again, turning into a mix of red, orange and yellow with off-white berries, falling off as winter comes.

close up of the poison ivy plant

Familiarize yourself with the various stages of this plant to ensure that you are able to recognize it out in the wild throughout the year!

Unfortunately, identifying the plant is only the first step and it often comes too late. If you’re standing there staring at a poison ivy plant knowing that you’ve just been in direct contact, don’t despair. I can’t turn back time, but I can help you to address the problem directly and treat poison ivy either with over-the-counter medication or natural alternatives!  

Treat Poison Ivy With These Options:

While poison ivy will eventually clear up and heal on its own, it often takes weeks during which time you are left with an unbearable itch. Rather than just allowing it to run its course, here are some treatment options that will help to speed up the process and/or relieve the constant itch.

#1 – Over the Counter Blocking Creams and Antihistamine Medications

Many drug stores and pharmacies carrier over-the-counter creams designed to both provide much-needed itch relief and prevent the oils from poison ivy from penetrating the skin causing further rashes. In fact, if you can get your hands on the creams within an hour of being exposed you may be able to avoid a rash altogether! If you are unsure about what you are looking for, ask the pharmacist – it’s a common enough problem that you’re likely not the first person to ask.

There are also many over-the-counter antihistamines that may help you to find some comfort. One of the most common options is Benadryl, however, it is known for causing drowsiness. That being said, if you’re looking for a little help in getting a good night’s sleep, that may be exactly what you need.

#2 – Cortisone Creams and Calamine Lotion

Both available at any drug store or big box store in the pharmacy section, cortisone cream and calamine lotion will provide you with itch relief quickly. Before applying, make sure that you take the time to wash and dry the area. As with any commercial product, be sure to read the directions on the product label regarding how often you should be reapplying.

Related: ‘Get Rid of Mosquitoes Quickly And Easily With This Trick’

#3 – Rubbing Alcohol

Another widely available treatment option, applying rubbing alcohol directly to the rash will help to dry it up, promoting a faster healing time. If you apply it quickly enough after exposure it may actually prevent a rash by removing the oils from your skin before triggering a reaction.

#4 – Cool-Water Baths and Cold Compresses

While this isn’t going to help with to actually treat poison ivy, soaking in a cool-water bath or sitting with a cool, wet compress placed on the rash for approximately 20-30 minutes can provide some serious itch relief quickly and at a low cost. This can also be done in conjunction with any of the other treatment options listed to make the time between treatments more bearable.

woman sitting in a bathtub looking out the window and holding a glass of wine
#5 – Aloe Vera Gel

A widely known and natural option for treatment, aloe vera gel is often associated with sunburn relief but don’t be fooled, it can also provide some incredible itch relief! While there are many store-bought aloe vera gels currently on the market, the most effective option would be to apply the gel directly from the leaf. If you know that you are in an area where you are going to experience regular exposure, you may want to consider growing your own aloe vera plants for this purpose!

hiking trail leading through a forested area with a sign that reads caution poison ivy with the title treat poison ivy quickly with these remedies#6 – Oatmeal

Another well-known natural treatment alternative, oatmeal is highly recognized for its ability to soothe itching. The key to making an effective oatmeal bath is the creation of an oatmeal pouch. Using a blender or food processor, blend 1 cup of oatmeal until you have a fine powder. Pour this powder into a cheesecloth and then tie into a pouch or place it into the foot of an old nylon stocking. Hang the ouch from the faucet of your bathtub while running a warm bath, ensuring that it is suspended directly under the running water. Allow yourself to soak in the bath for 30 minutes to experience relief.

#7 – Baking Soda and Water Paste

Mix up a paste with 3 teaspoons of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of water and apply directly to the rash. You will not have to wipe or wash this off as it will flake off slowly as it dries. If your rash is more severe or blistering and requires a more intensive approach, mix 2 teaspoons into a 1 litre of water. Soak a sterile gauze pad in the mixture and then apply it to the rash for 10 minutes, 4-5 times each day. This is not an option that should be used around the face as it is important to avoid the eyes.

Related: ’15 Tips For Camping In The Rain’

#8 – Cucumber

While cucumber isn’t going to be the miracle treatment to make your rash go away, this vegetable can provide soothing relief from the constant itching sensation. There are two ways that you can use cucumber effectively. You can cut the veggie up into slices and place the slices directly onto the rash or, for more thorough coverage, mash the cucumber creating a paste that can then be applied.

#9 – Apple Cider Vinegar

Recently apple cider vinegar appears to be taking the internet by storm, the miracle cure for a long list of different ailments and conditions. Among those, apple cider vinegar is a great natural treatment option for poison ivy. Why? Much like the alcohol, the acid will help dry up the area speeding up the healing time. At the same time, it works to relieve the itching, making it a great overall natural treatment approach.  Exercise caution, however, in applying too much apple cider vinegar undiluted as the acid content could irritate the area. Instead, dilute with water prior to application.

Please Note:  If you are experiencing a widespread rash, significant blistering or a rash on any areas of concern such as the face or genitals, contact your doctor or another medical professional immediately. A reaction of this level may require a higher level of treatment including prescription medications in order to avoid any unnecessary complications such as a bacterial infection. While poison ivy is usually a low-risk condition, it can result in serious complications and should be addressed accordingly.  If you experience any difficulty breathing, trouble swallowing or excessive swelling of the face, head to your nearest urgent care center or emergency room.

Take Preventative Steps

Rather than waiting until an uncomfortable rash forms and working to treat poison ivy rashes, why not take steps to prevent having to experience them at all? The obvious answer is to avoid contact with the poison ivy plant, but it’s not always that easy. If you discover poison ivy nearby or know that you are going to be engaging in an activity that may cause you to come in contact, do yourself a favour and take the necessary preventative steps!

#1 – Dress to Cover Any Higher Risk Areas

If you know that you are likely going to be exposed to poison ivy, make sure that you are dressing appropriately. Long pants tucked into socks and closed-toed shoes will minimize the risk when hiking through poison ivy covered trails. Meanwhile, if you know you are going to be doing yard work, long sleeves and heavy-duty rubber gloves will allow you to handle poison ivy safely. Remember – the rash is a result of the oils coming into contact with your skin, so prevent that contact from happening.

a close up of someone's feet wearing hiking booths in the forest
#2 – Wash Up After Any Potential Exposure

There are going to be times that you don’t notice the presence of poison ivy until it’s too late, but that doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to suffer! As soon as you recognize that you have had contact, get to the nearest sink or shower. Rinse your skin with lukewarm water and then scrub the exposed area with warm soapy water. This will hopefully remove the oil before it has time to cause a reaction.

Don’t forget to wash any other items that have been in contact with the oils of the plant such as clothing or shoes, as they may be carrying the oils as well. Overlooking this step may very well result in the development of a rash down the road when you pick these items up, exposing yourself all over again.

#3 – Lemon Juice

A natural option, lemon juice works as a natural astringent meaning that it is highly effective in cleansing your skin. Therefore, if applied as soon as you have come in contact with the plant it may remove the oils from the plant before it has the opportunity to cause a reaction.  

Dogs and Poison Ivy

While 85% of people will react to urushiol, the oil in the poison ivy plants, the same can’t be said for dogs. In fact, it is very rare for a dog to have a reaction, but they are often carriers of the oil, transmitting it to us. It is for this reason that you should take precautions anytime that you are out exploring with your pup by your side. If you know that you have been in a high-risk area where your dog was likely in contact with the plants, take the time to wash your dog carefully, cleaning the oil from its fur. Don’t forget to wash any collars or leashes you may have been using at the time.

While rare, there are occurrences in which a dog does react. Those with extremely short coats or skin sensitivities are more susceptible. If you are concerned that your dog may be presenting with a poison ivy rash due to excessive itching or biting at their skin or loss of hair, call your veterinarian. An untreated reaction may lead to an infection if left untreated.

What tricks and techniques have you heard of to treat poison ivy and relieve yourself of that unbearable itching? Did I miss any? If so, feel free to share them in the comments!

26 thoughts on “Relieve the Itch and Treat Poison Ivy Quickly With These Remedies”

    1. Some people get it REALLY bad, others can have contact and have no reaction. Definitely better safe than sorry!

  1. I don’t think I’ve come across poison ivy before, but will definitely tske your advice on board. I’ve always got antihistamines in my bag as I suffer from various skin allergies and always pack long sleeved / legged clothes on hikes. Just in case.

    1. It’s always better to be prepared, especially if you know that you’re at a higher risk of dealing with some sort of struggle!

  2. I’m one of the lucky ones who hasnt as yet, but it’s so good to know that many of the things I keep on hand like apple cider and alcohol would be of help. Very informative post.

    1. My dog has serious skin sensitivities and she got it this summer while we were camping. All we used to relieve her itching and clear it up was apple cider vinegar immediately (we bring it to camp with us for this reason) and she was feeling much better – You could tell she wasn’t itching like crazy any more and she was able to actually relax.

  3. This is so helpful! I love the outdoors and always pray I don’t come into contact with the poison ivy because I can never remember what it looks like! I’ll definitely keep this post saved for when I venture out again!

    1. Even those of us who know well will sometimes drop the ball or make a mistake! Always better to be prepared just in case

    1. Hopefully you never will, but better to have the knowledge and not need it! No one wants to be caught unprepared!

  4. I have heard of poison ivy but I never got to know the plant. My boyfriend and I are going camping next month and it’s good to know some preventative measures. Good thing I always carry a small jar of aloe vera in my backpack. I will take into consideration the other remedies you mention. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Aloe vera has so many great uses when it comes to first aid and providing relief when dealing with ailments outdoors – from sunburn to poison ivy! Definitely a great thing to carry with you!

  5. Oh man, poison ivy can be a serious issue if you are not prepared. It is important that we know what poison ivy looks like so we can avoid it as best as possible. Oooh, I didn’t know that oatmeal helps! This is good to know. Thanks for sharing all of these tips!

    Nancy ? exquisitely.me

    1. Oatmeal baths are incredible for itch relief, whatever the cause – poison ivy, chicken pox, you name it! If you’re ever uncomfortable and just need to find some relief, they are a great solution.

  6. Fortunately I don’t think we have poison ivy in the UK. Some of your treatments are very similar to ones we use for nettle stings! When my cousin fell into an entire patch of stinging nettles, my aunt bathed her with oatmeal and then smothered her with calamine lotion.

    I love oatmeal baths when I’m suffering from itchy skin – and I’ll keep the pouch with me in the bath and use it as a gentle scrubby washcloth as well 🙂

    1. Both of those points are largely unknown to most people! They probably lead to many cases that could totally have been avoided

  7. Wow these are really interesting tips! We have a ton on our property in oregon and I never thought to apply rubbing alcohol to dry it out. We used Peppermint essential oil though and that seemed to help quite a bit too.

    1. Rubbing alcohol is one that I hadn’t considered until I was helping a friend research solutions a couple years ago when she was struggling with a nasty poison ivy rash!

  8. Poison ivy is nearly impossible to avoid if you and your kids love the outdoors. You can try at home remedies to treat poison ivy and help ease the pain (and the itch!) with simple ingredients from the garden and pantry.

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