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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

How to Treat Poison Ivy

Beat the itchy stuff with creams or homeopathic measures.

by: The Backpacker Editors

I'm one of the 15 percent of Americans who are exquisitely sensitive to poison ivy. So sensitive, in fact, that I often dream of those "leaves of three" and wake up itching and scratching. When I'm actually stricken with poison ivy, the itching is so intolerable that I'm in no mood to talk, hike, or carry a pack. Fortunately, years of anti-itch experimentation and my training as a physician have helped me find the most effective treatments. Here's what I keep in my first-aid kit to battle the itchiest rash known to medical science.

Barrier creams. Try IvyBlock, Stokogard Outdoor Cream, Hollister Moisture Barrier, or Hydropel Moisture Barrier. These creams work by binding to the oil in poison ivy, oak, and sumac as you're hiking. When you wash off the cream, the irritating oil goes with it. If you're a sweaty hiker, reapply the cream every 3 to 4 hours.

Drying preparations. Calamine and Burow's solution dry the irritated skin so that a crust forms, and dried blisters itch less than moist ones. Reapply these remedies several times a day if you're sweating.

Anti-inflammatory steroids. These prescription drugs are the big guns in the war against poison ivy rashes. Prednisone can be soothing and may heal the rash if taken in high doses (120 mg a day for 2 days) within a few hours of when the rash starts. Although prednisone won't cure the rash if you wait a day or 2 before you start taking it, it will ease inflammation and itching, especially if the rash affects your face or genitals. Topical fluorinated steroid gels applied before blisters appear can also be helpful for individuals with mild to moderate poison ivy sensitivity. Discuss with your doctor which steroid is right for you. Pregnant women and children should not take steroids.

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I had poison oak SO BAD the other day and just used some Itch Juice to get rid of it.

Here's where I bought it:
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Sep 26, 2012

To stop the itch for a while, use a hair dry on the area.

Jul 09, 2012

Yikes Bill. It's amazing how rude we can be to others in online forums. Like homeopathy or not, Pat's definition of homeopathy is correct, look it up. It's a practiced kind of "medicine" with a set definition that is not that same as a home remedy. But even if he was completely wrong, you don't have to berate him like that.

From Creighton University Medical Center
click on Dilutuion

amy adams
May 29, 2012

try bleach water

May 29, 2012

my p i is really bad need help it started on the side of my stomach and stretched every were except for my face and the bottom of my leg i tried bleach water and calamine lotion any other things besides the things u said

May 29, 2012

agreed who said u knew

Old Scouting Bear
May 14, 2012

When the Red Cross sent us out to provide free first aid services, they put Calamine Lotion in the med-kits.
I asked them "Why only that?"
Their answer was that "Some people are allergic" to some of the stronger preparations. If you are treating others, please keep that in mind.
For me, the FIRST thing I do If I think I have been exposed is to thoroughly wash that area as soon as possible with a STRONG laundry soap (like those old brown lye-soap bars such as "Octagon.") --- I don't even know if you can get that brand anymore.)
The preparations I find to be helpful, and a bit stronger than "Caladryl" are, "Zeradryl", and "Ivy Dry." They are all drying agents.
You might want to consider "Benadryl," but check with your doctor first, as this is an antihistamine that you will be swallowing.
Something else to keep in mind if you don't want to get poison ivy in the first place:
1. Goats eat it with impunity. Don't go petting any goats where that stuff grows. ;)
2. For that matter, the oils from the plant can easily rub off onto the coat of your favorite pet.
3. Lastly, NEVER, NEVER use any dry vines as kindling to start your fires, and NEVER clear an area of poison ivy by trying to burn it! The oils in the plant that cause the rash ARE NOT destroyed by burning. The smoke from this plant can get in your eyes, in your mouth and nasal passages, and down into your lungs. If it gets into your airway, it could swell and close off! Even without that extreme reaction, it's probably "to the hospital" for you.

Apr 11, 2012

Apr 06, 2012

Pat, I don't know what source you got you definition or opinion of homeopathy from, but you clearly have no idea what you are talking about. Your useless comment shows a lack of understanding of natural and modern medicine alike. Just go get a steroid shot and let everyone use the method that works best for them.

Apr 05, 2012

Ya know something?? I don't care whether it's homeopathic or not, if this helps our family, who are in the throes of this evil nemesis, I applaud the writer!!!! :o)

Mar 12, 2012

My Grandmother use to dab bleach on poison ivy when we had it as kids... burned like heck and smelled too.. but in 3 days it was dried up....

I`m 60 and still use it... but now I`m so sensitive to where P.ivy is that when I think I brushed it and get that tell tale tingling itch --- the first thing I do is put cold water on it immediately to wash off the oil.... than soap and cold water... you never want to use warm cause that opens the pores on the skin and lets the oil in... If I should later break out with a rash --- I get out the good old Bleach/Chlorax... and dab it on... 3 days and it`s dried up....

but do the cold water first as soon as you touch it to eliminate the need for the bleach...

Poison Ivy --- Hate that stuff... .it`s like an alien life form out there trying to get us... LOL..

Feb 27, 2012

None of the things listed under homeopathic methods are homeopathic methods. They may be natural, or home remedies but not homeopathy.

Feb 26, 2012

I find it very strange that the writer of this article claims to be a physician, yet he doesn't know what a homeopathic treatment is. Homeopathic medicine is quackery in which a substance, thought to cure the symptoms, is diluted in water until it is virtually absent. This diluted water is the homeopathic medicine. None of the things listed under homeopathic methods in this article are homeopathic treatments. If you want to call them 'home remedies', or 'natural cures' fine, but don't confuse people about what homeopathy is.

Aug 06, 2011

The best way to cure it is with topical steriod creams or ointments. You can buy up to 1% hydrocortizone ointment (ointments are more effective than creams) over the counter, but you'll need to go to the doctor for a higher dose. Our doctor perscribed "Trac" cream or Triamcinolone Acetonide Cream for my kids and it has worked the best - we've also tried every cream under the sun! It clears up the itching right away and decreased the rash a lot in just a couple of days.

Jul 29, 2011

I found a cream that is tea trea oil and vitamin E. It really releaves the itch, and works a long time, however it is not a drying substance. If you want to get some sleep try that.

Jul 23, 2011

My son Matt is going to the Junior Olympics 7-30-11. He has poison ivy. Is there a remedy that is super fast, & inexpensive? He only has 6 days to heal. Please help! Thanks

Jul 08, 2011

It is also a good idea to wear scrubs when walking in the shrubs... They are lightweight so not so awfully hot in the summertime. This is what I usually do when picking berries... forgot to do it last week and ended up with a bad rash!! Duh.

Jun 28, 2011

Hey I am using every cream i can find & I have found that caladryl isn't cutting it I am blistering & itching like a mad woman. Thank you for the homeopathic remedies i'm about to try them all.

Feb 05, 2011


I have a hyper-sensitive issue too. I am also hyper-sensitive to a lot of the remedies for poison ivy. Try this stuff
I spray it on before I go hiking....and then if I think I brushed up against some I spray it right away too. I think it destroys the urushiol oil if you spray it right away. It is the only thing I have found. I originally used it for my poison ivy rash after exposure and it was one of the only things I have found that works besides a cortisone shot. Good luck on avoiding the bubble life!

no danielle
Sep 30, 2010

I have had poison ivy for a week now tried everything caladryl/damn near all the itch creams you can think of.This is what worked best for me.i clean it with rubbing alcohol and a cotton ball it will also help dry it out quicker.Benedryl at night and ivarest poison ivy itch relief you can buy it at walgreens.It was the only cream that worked for me has 3 active ingredients in it as to where others only have 1 or 2 it was only $6. when i took a bath it was in epsom salt.I would also use it 2 itch my skin stung just a little not bad at all. i also tried the bakeing soda an vinger made a paste and put it on my rash let it dry and wash it off . it only help the itch 4 about 2 luck to anyone who has it

Sep 20, 2010

The best relief I have found is HOT.. not warm, but HOT HOT showers on the affected area.

Sep 18, 2010

I like to keep thing simple and cheap. If I've been out and think that MAYBE I've been exposed, I take a shower and lather up with Dawn dishwashing liquid. It will wash the urushiol off, so that irritating oil will be gone. Itching before washing the urushiol off is what caused poison ivy to spread. After getting rid of the urushiol, you can treat any rash with isopropyl alcohol, it will dry up the sores of the rash. Finally, instead of scratching when I get an itch, I slap the area, it helps.

Aug 30, 2010

I got poison Ivy on both arms from the elbow to my finger tips. I knew the expensive cremes and lotions didn't work so I logically thought out the problem. I found that Spray and Wash with Resolve (although I'm sure just spray & wssh would work)works great!!!
Poison Ivy residue is an oil-put spray & wash on the area for 5 minutes to let it break down the oil, rinse and repeat.
I had absolutely no Poison Ivy itch!!!
Several friends have also tried it with the same wonderful results.

Ciara West
Jun 30, 2010

The hair dryer worked! Thanks!

Dr. Carvel Lincoln
Mar 15, 2010

I have one of the best treatments for poison ivy. It is a lotion, when applied to the lesions, dries them up overnight and neutralizes the irritant oils.

More information at:


Dr. Carvel Lincoln

Jan 14, 2010

Tecnu cleanser.I'm now almost immune to Poison Ivy. When I first used it I would wash 3 time with it. It cuts the itch waaaaay down. Now, with repeated exposure and Technu I can pull the stuff up with my bare hands, Occaisionally I'll get a blister, but rarely more.

Backpacker Editor
Mar 16, 2009

Hey Tori

It sounds like you're already affected, which means you'll want to go straight to anti-inflammatory steroids. You'll have to go to your doctor to get themfor more information look in that section in the article above.

Good luck,
BP Crew

Mar 16, 2009

Okay. So this year on every break I get poison Ivy ALL over my face and on the corner of my mouth. This week is spring break. So there goes all my plans. :( We have tried alot of things but it wont go away. It seems as if it is gettin worse. And I to have sensitive skin expecailly on my face. So if i get my leg in poison ivy it goes like straight to my face. Anything you have that can help me?

Oct 07, 2008

I had a severe case of poison ivy while training with the Iowa National Guard a few years back. Once traing was over, flew to visit my brother in LA. I was miserable with the deep itch caused by the ivy. Once in LA, I took a dip in the Pacific. The areas infected by the ivy burned so bad I nearly screamed. Once the initial pain subsided, I continued my swim. The next day, the rash was all but gone. Salt water is great for poison ivy. I highly recommend it.

Jun 29, 2008

I just got over a bout of poison ivy. I had it all over my arms and ankles. The best remedy i found was to us a common hair dryer. Use it on the "hot" setting and it will take the itch away immediately.

Jun 10, 2008

Is there any gear (clothing) that I could wear to prevent contact I like you am hyper-sensitive and have been hosptalized for exposure. other than living in a bubble any ideas.


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