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Poison Oak and Poison Ivy Dermatitis (Holistic)

About This Condition

If you develop an itchy, red rash after spending time outdoors you may have brushed against a poison ivy or poison oak plant. What should you do? According to research or other evidence, the following self-care steps may be helpful.
  • Cleanse exposed skin

    Wash the affected area with dish soap as soon as possible to limit the reaction; wash clothing, pets, and anything else that comes in contact to prevent re-exposure

  • Apply plantain

    Reduce skin inflammation by covering the affected area with fresh crushed plantain leaves or using a 10% ointment

  • Steer clear next time

    Learn what poison ivy and its relatives look like so you can avoid future contact

About

About This Condition

Certain plants in the Toxicodendron (formerly Rhus) genus contain a potent resin called urushiol that, when it comes in contact with skin, can cause a severe allergic reaction in people who are sensitive to it—approximately 85% of the population, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Plants in this group include Western poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum), Atlantic poison oak (T. pubescens), poison ivy (T. radicans), and poison sumac (T. vernix).

Symptoms

The skin rash caused by the plant resin urushiol is a form of “contact dermatitis.” It is a red, swollen, blistering rash that is both painful and itchy. The blisters can become weepy, but the fluid from them does not spread the rash. Once developed, the rash is not contagious or spread by scratching. Scratching should nevertheless be discouraged to prevent the blisters from becoming infected. The rash can be severe but it is self-limiting, which means it will eventually resolve with no treatment. Most people seek treatment anyway for relief from the symptoms.

Healthy Lifestyle Tips

When it comes to poison oak and ivy, prevention is truly the best cure. An easy rhyme helps one avoid touching these plants when venturing into the forests and meadows where they grow: “Leaves of three, let them be.”

Contact with poison oak, poison ivy, and poison sumac can be avoided by staying out of dense brush, wearing long clothes, and changing clothes after coming in contact with the plants. Dogs should be prevented from roaming freely through such areas, because they can pick up the resin on their fur and transmit it to people by direct contact or via furniture. Toxicodendron plants must never be burned because the oil can severely damage the lungs or be fatal if inhaled as smoke. The plant resin, urushiol, remains potent for years, even when the plant itself has died.

Supplements

What Are Star Ratings?

Our proprietary “Star-Rating” system was developed to help you easily understand the amount of scientific support behind each supplement in relation to a specific health condition. While there is no way to predict whether a vitamin, mineral, or herb will successfully treat or prevent associated health conditions, our unique ratings tell you how well these supplements are understood by the medical community, and whether studies have found them to be effective for other people.

For over a decade, our team has combed through thousands of research articles published in reputable journals. To help you make educated decisions, and to better understand controversial or confusing supplements, our medical experts have digested the science into these three easy-to-follow ratings. We hope this provides you with a helpful resource to make informed decisions towards your health and well-being.

3 Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.

2 Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.

1 Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.

Supplement Why
1 Star
Blood Root
Refer to label instructions
Chickweed has been used historically to treat skin inflammations such as poison oak and poison ivy.
A great many plants have been used historically to treat skin inflammations like poison oak and poison ivy dermatitis. Examples include calendula (Calendula officinalis), blood root (Sanguinaria canadensis), Virginia snakeroot (Aristolachia serpentaria), holy basil (Ocimum tenuifolium), and chickweed (Stellaria media). None of these remedies has been subjected to controlled clinical studies to determine if they are safe and effective for this use. Cooling essential oils, such as peppermint and menthol, have also been used topically to relieve burning pain and itch. Such oils should not be applied full-strength, but should rather be diluted (for example in lotion or gel) to avoid further skin irritation.
1 Star
Calendula
Refer to label instructions
Calendula has been used historically to treat skin inflammations such as poison oak and poison ivy.

A great many plants have been used historically to treat skin inflammations like poison oak and poison ivy dermatitis. Examples include calendula (Calendula officinalis), blood root (Sanguinaria canadensis), Virginia snakeroot (Aristolachia serpentaria), holy basil (Ocimum tenuifolium), and chickweed (Stellaria media). None of these remedies has been subjected to controlled clinical studies to determine if they are safe and effective for this use. Cooling essential oils, such as peppermint and menthol, have also been used topically to relieve burning pain and itch. Such oils should not be applied full-strength, but should rather be diluted (for example in lotion or gel) to avoid further skin irritation.

1 Star
Chickweed
Refer to label instructions
Chickweed has been used historically to treat skin inflammations such as poison oak and poison ivy.

A great many plants have been used historically to treat skin inflammations like poison oak and poison ivy dermatitis. Examples include calendula (Calendula officinalis), blood root (Sanguinaria canadensis), Virginia snakeroot (Aristolachia serpentaria), holy basil (Ocimum tenuifolium), and chickweed (Stellaria media). None of these remedies has been subjected to controlled clinical studies to determine if they are safe and effective for this use. Cooling essential oils, such as peppermint and menthol, have also been used topically to relieve burning pain and itch. Such oils should not be applied full-strength, but should rather be diluted (for example in lotion or gel) to avoid further skin irritation.

1 Star
Gumweed
Refer to label instructions
Gumweed is a plant historically used to treat poison oak/ivy dermatitis.

Gumweed (Grindelia spp.)is another plant popularly used to treat poison oak/ivy dermatitis. It has a long history of use, including by Native Americans, and in early-20th-century pharmaceutical preparations. 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 There are case reports of gumweed’s efficacy for poison oak dermatitis, but no published, controlled clinical trials.5 Apply gumweed tincture directly to the rash. It may also be mixed into marigold (Calendula officinalis) cream and applied several times a day.

1 Star
Holy Basil
Refer to label instructions
Holy basil has been used historically to treat skin inflammations such as poison oak and poison ivy.

A great many plants have been used historically to treat skin inflammations like poison oak and poison ivy dermatitis. Examples include calendula (Calendula officinalis), blood root (Sanguinaria canadensis), Virginia snakeroot (Aristolachia serpentaria), holy basil (Ocimum tenuifolium), and chickweed (Stellaria media). None of these remedies has been subjected to controlled clinical studies to determine if they are safe and effective for this use. Cooling essential oils, such as peppermint and menthol, have also been used topically to relieve burning pain and itch. Such oils should not be applied full-strength, but should rather be diluted (for example in lotion or gel) to avoid further skin irritation.

1 Star
Jewelweed
Refer to label instructions
Jewelweed is the most popular herbal treatment for poison oak/poison ivy dermatitis. Rubbing jewelweed on the exposed area may prevent the rash by binding the resin.

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is the most popular herbal treatment for poison oak/poison ivy dermatitis.6 , 7 It is widely believed that rubbing jewelweed on the exposed area within 15 minutes of exposure may prevent the rash by binding the resin. Custom advises crushing a few of the succulent leaves and stems and rubbing them on affected skin, or crushing and soaking the leaves in water and then bathing the area with the leaf-soaked water. However, most scientific studies have found jewelweed to be ineffective in treating poison oak/ivy dermatitis.8 , 9 , 10 , 11 Nevertheless, the efficacy of the plant continues to be supported by numerous testimonials and anecdotal reports, and is recommended in several classic botanical reference guides.12 , 13 , 14 , 15

1 Star
Peppermint
Refer to label instructions
Cooling essential oils, such as peppermint, have also been used topically to relieve burning pain and itch.

Cooling essential oils, such as peppermint and menthol, have been used topically to relieve burning pain and itch. Such oils should not be applied full-strength, but should rather be diluted (for example in lotion or gel) to avoid further skin irritation.

A great many plants have been used historically to treat skin inflammations like poison oak and poison ivy dermatitis. Examples include calendula (Calendula officinalis), blood root (Sanguinaria canadensis), Virginia snakeroot (Aristolachia serpentaria), holy basil (Ocimum tenuifolium), and chickweed (Stellaria media). None of these remedies has been subjected to controlled clinical studies to determine if they are safe and effective for this use.

1 Star
Virginia Snakeroot
Refer to label instructions
Virginia snakeroot has been used historically to treat skin inflammations such as poison oak and poison ivy.

A great many plants have been used historically to treat skin inflammations like poison oak and poison ivy dermatitis. Examples include calendula (Calendula officinalis), blood root (Sanguinaria canadensis), Virginia snakeroot (Aristolachia serpentaria), holy basil (Ocimum tenuifolium), and chickweed (Stellaria media). None of these remedies has been subjected to controlled clinical studies to determine if they are safe and effective for this use. Cooling essential oils, such as peppermint and menthol, have also been used topically to relieve burning pain and itch. Such oils should not be applied full-strength, but should rather be diluted (for example in lotion or gel) to avoid further skin irritation.

References

1. Moerman DE. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 1998.

2. Kindscher K. Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie: An Ethnobotanical Guide. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1992.

3. Sollmann TH. A Text-Book of Pharmacology and Some Allied Sciences. Philadelphia, PA: W. B. Saunders & Company, 1906.

4. American Pharmaceutical Association. The Pharmaceutical Recipe Book. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: American Pharmaceutical Association, 1936.

5. Caranvan D, Yarnell E. Successful treatment of poison oak dermatitis treated with Gindelia spp. (Gumweed). J Altern Complement Med 2005;11:709–10).

6. Moerman DE. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 1998.

7. Kavasch EB, Baar K. American Indian Healing Arts: Herbs, Rituals, and Remedies for Every Season of Life. New York, NY: Bantam Books, 1999.

8. Gibson MR, Maher FT. Activity of jewelweed and its enzymes in the treatment of Rhus dermatitis. J Am Pharm Assoc 1950;39:294–6.

9. Guin JD, Reynolds R. Jewelweed treatment of poison ivy dermatitis. Contact Dermatitis 1980;6:287–8.

10. Long D, Ballentine NH, Marks JG Jr. Treatment of poison ivy/oak allergic contact dermatitis with an extract of jewelweed. Am J Contact Dermat 1997;8:150–3.

11. Zink BJ, Otten EJ, Rosenthal M, Singal B. The effect of jewel weed in preventing poison ivy dermatitis. J Wilderness Med 1991;2:178–82.

12. Sanders J. The Secrets of Wildflowers: A Delightful Feast of Little-Known Facts, Folklore, and History. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2003.

13. Gibbons E. Stalking the Healthful Herbs. Putney, VT: Alan C. Hood & Company, Inc., 1989.

14. Duke JA. The Green Pharmacy: New Discoveries in Herbal Remedies for Common Diseases and Conditions from the World’s Foremost Authority on Healing Herbs. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1997.

15. Robbers JE, Tyler VE. Tyler’s Herbs of Choice: The Therapeutic Use of Phytomedicinals. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press, Inc., 1999.

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