Poison ivy and other poisonous plants can be difficult to avoid in the wild and even brief contact can result in itchy, painful rashes on your skin. While these rashes typically go away on their own within a week, the discomfort can be dramatically reduced and the time spent dealing with rashes can be cut short with treatment. Of course, you won’t always have drugstore treatments available, especially if you’re on an extended trip in the wild or in the case of an emergency at home. Therefore, knowing a variety of poison ivy home remedies can help you to use things you’re likely to have on hand to treat yourself. We will cover the 11 best home remedies for poison ivy rash that you can apply using only materials you have at home or can find in the wilderness.
First response for Poison Ivy
Before diving into the best homeopathic remedies for poison ivy, it is critical to know what to do once you’ve come in contact with the plant. The most important step you can take to limit rash development is to thoroughly wash your hands and any other parts of your body that could have contacted the plant’s oils. The goals here are to reduce the amount of urushiol – the toxic oil that coats poison ivy leaves – that sinks underneath your epidermis and to keep it from spreading to other parts of your body.
In order to accomplish this, it is best to wash off the area that came into contact with the plant with cold water. Cold, because this won’t cause the pores in your skin to open and allow the toxin inside. If you are outside, finding a river or lake is a great water source to wash off in. Lightly using a washcloth or a t-shirt or bandanna when outside, or sand if it is available as a scrubbing agent, can be quite effective. If possible, wear gloves so that urushiol does not wind up on your hands and spread further. At this point, you’ll also want to get rid of or thoroughly wash any clothing or gear that came in contact with the poison ivy, since the oil can remain active on these materials for days after the initial contact and cause a rash if it comes in contact with your skin.
Since urushiol is an oil, water alone will not wash it away fully. Using soap, whether dish detergent or body soap, will work well for this purpose. If you are in the woods, the closest thing you may be carrying is detergent for washing dishes, while at home dishwasher soap is usually a good choice. Once the area has been cleaned with soap and water, scrubbing lightly with an alcohol pad from your first aid kit can also help with clearing out urushiol oil and limiting rash development. While you are unlikely to have ice with you in the wilderness or during an emergency, a cold compress can also be a valuable first response tool since it will work to close off the pores in your skin and to reduce swelling and inflammation as the rash sets in.
Home Remedies for Poison Ivy
While you’re not likely to carry cucumbers with you during an extended wilderness trip, they can be a great way to treat poison ivy rashes at home using food that’s likely sitting in your fridge. You can either apply slices of cucumber directly to the rash, or mash up or blend the cucumber into a paste. To make the paste even more effective, chill it in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes before rubbing it on.
Still carrying the peel from the banana you ate on the first day of your wilderness trip? Put it to good use to soothe the itchiness of poison ivy rash by rubbing it lightly over the rash. This is also a good remedy at home, where you are likely to have some bananas available that you can peel.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has an ever-expanding list of medicinal benefits, and treating poison ivy rash is among them. For this reason and because of its other uses, plus the fact that it almost never goes bad, stashing a vial of apple cider vinegar in your emergency preparation kit can be a great idea. To use it for poison ivy control, either rub some vinegar over the rash or, for even better results, wet a paper bag or handkerchief with vinegar and drape it over the rash to draw out the toxins.
If your poison ivy rash is extremely severe – to the point of forming red blisters – baking soda can be a powerful treatment for reducing the burn. To create a paste that is the right concentration, mix baking soda and water in a 3:1 ratio. Then apply it to the rash gently and allow the paste to dry and flake off. If the blisters are oozing, you’ll want a more dilute solution. Mix two teaspoons of baking soda in a liter of water and soak gauze pads from your first aid kit in the solution. Cover the blisters with the pads for 10 minutes, four times per day – be sure to use fresh gauze each time. Since you’ll be doing this repeatedly, it is often easiest to mix the baking soda solution in a Nalgene bottle and keep using that master mix until the rash has receded.
Oatmeal has a variety of well known soothing properties, which is why you’ll find it in drugstore treatments for everything from poison ivy to eczema to psoriasis. However, it’s easy to make your own oatmeal bath at home or in the wild if you tend to eat oatmeal for breakfast and have plenty of oats on hand. At home, you can grind one cup of oatmeal by hand or in a blender and then wrap it in cheesecloth or piece of clothing. Run the bathtub with lukewarm water over the oatmeal wrap and then relax in the tub for at least 30 minutes. In the wilderness, you can mix oatmeal and water in a bottle and then soak a shirt or handkerchief in the solution and press it against the rash.
Aloe vera isn’t just for sunburn – the same cooling qualities are perfect for relieving poison ivy burn. If you have aloe vera cream on hand, apply that to the rash just as you would for a sunburn. Otherwise, if you have an aloe plant at home, you can break off a stem and gently squeeze it to release the soothing liquid onto the rash. Unfortunately, finding aloe in the wild isn’t likely to be an option since this plant and poison ivy grow in very different environments.
Rubbing alcohol is one of the best things you can apply after coming in contact with poison ivy, right after washing the area with soap and water. Alcohol is relatively effective at wiping away urushiol oil and can help prevent it from penetrating into your skin. Alcohol wipes from a first aid kit are perfect for this purpose, although liquor dabbed onto a cloth can also work in a pinch.
Lemon juice works similarly to rubbing alcohol and detergent soap – it is an effective way to wipe away the urushiol oil that water alone won’t remove. Therefore, lemon juice is extremely effective at reducing the severity of a rash if it is used to gently rub the skin that came in contact with the toxic oil. Squeezing a lemon onto a cloth is more effective for this cleaning process than trying to scrub with slices of the lemon itself.
The first thing you’ll want to do after coming in contact with poison ivy or any other toxic plant is to run plenty of cold water over the affected area. Cold water will keep your skin’s pores closed to prevent the toxin from entering the capillaries in your skin and spreading. In addition, add soap to the water if it is available since this will help in removing the oil. In addition to rinsing, gently scrubbing can go a long way towards removing excess urushiol oil from your skin and reducing your effective exposure to the toxin.
A cold compress is something that should already be in your first aid kit because of its power in fighting inflammation and reducing pain. Applying a cold compress, ideally wrapped in a cloth so it is not directly against your skin, can greatly help to reduce swelling if you start icing before a rash even develops. Once you’ve already developed a rash, the cold can help to reduce the pain and burning itch.
Chances are, whether you’re at home or in the backcountry, you’ve got plenty of coffee on hand. Brewed coffee is rich in antioxidants, which in turn can reduce inflammation and swelling around a poison ivy rash. To use coffee as a remedy for your rash, brew a cup and allow it to cool to room temperature. If you have access to a refrigerator, cool the coffee even further for a more soothing effect (but don’t put the coffee in the refrigerator without letting it cool first, since it can lose antioxidants during rapid cooling). When ready, you can either rub the coffee onto your rash or gently dab at it with a coffee-soaked cloth.
Rashes from poison ivy and other toxic plants can be nasty, and when you are out in the wilderness knowing a variety of homeopathic remedies for poison ivy can make the difference between suffering and treating the problem. With these 11 ways to get rid of poison ivy, you’re almost certain to find a treatment that works for you using materials that you have on hand.