Can I preemptively treat poison ivy exposure?
May 21, 2011 5:47 PM   Subscribe

Can I preemptively treat poison ivy exposure?

Typically I don't realize I've been exposed to poison ivy until a few days after when the various itching and rashes associated with that devil plant show up.

But today, while working in the yard, I'm almost positive some of it touched my skin.

So, is there anything I can do to sort of pre-treat things so the rash and itching either don't show up or aren't as bad?
posted by JPigford to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
the only thing i can think is to have your doctor put you on a round of steroids now, but you'd probably have to be like me and react anaphylactically for them to do that.
posted by nadawi at 5:50 PM on May 21, 2011


If you are exposed, according to the FDA, you should quickly (within 10 minutes):
first, cleanse exposed areas with rubbing alcohol.
next, wash the exposed areas with water only (no soap yet, since soap can move the urushiol, which is the oil from the poison ivy that triggers the rash, around your body and actually make the reaction worse).
now, take a shower with soap and warm water.
lastly, put gloves on and wipe everything you had with you, including shoes, tools, and your clothes, with rubbing alcohol and water.

Unfortunately, if you wait more than 10 minutes, the urushiol will likely stay on your skin and trigger the poison ivy rash. You may not be able to stop it on your skin, but you might still scrub your nails and wipe off your shoes, etc., so that you don't spread the urushiol to new areas.

was from here.
posted by tomswift at 5:51 PM on May 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

but! to make it less bad - shower in cool water, wash everything you wore/touched/sat on and keep showering and washing things through the rash. it does help a little.
posted by nadawi at 5:51 PM on May 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I use Tecnu for such exposures, and there's a fair amount of poison oak, with a similar action mechanism, around me. It is a sort of oily soap that you wash with, after exposure (they say 2 - 8 hr). Every time I use that stuff after exposure it prevents the rash. I have no pecuniary interest in Tec Labs.
posted by jet_silver at 6:08 PM on May 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There are two ways to deal with it, besides what people have already suggested:

1) Technu, shortly after exposure, but before reaction to the oils.

2) Zanfel, which works even after the oils have caused the skin to react. It's hideously expensive ($30 for a small tube of cream) but it works.
posted by Happydaz at 6:09 PM on May 21, 2011

My mother swears by Tecnu, although putting it on is a nuisance that involves a *great* deal of rubbing. She learned of the product from park rangers in Florida. They have some pretty nasty, ichy plants down there.
posted by Ys at 6:31 PM on May 21, 2011

The Mayo Clinic website says "Apply an over-the-counter barrier skin cream containing bentoquatam (Ivy Block) to protect your skin. Bentoquatam absorbs urushiol and prevents or lessens your skin's reaction to the oil."

Presumably they mean you should do this before you go outside. Urushiol is the irritant in poison ivy.
posted by Quietgal at 6:32 PM on May 21, 2011

Oops, sorry, got a little too literal with the "pre-emptively" part. Bentoquatam is only effective as a barrier, not a treatment for the rash.
Hey, I think I participated in an early clinical trial for this stuff around 1989 or so - a dermatologist at UCSF was doing some contract work on a poison ivy preventative that contained bentonite clay, and that's the active ingredient in Ivy Block. I was one of the guinea pigs that got the inactive control, dammit.

posted by Quietgal at 6:50 PM on May 21, 2011

Best answer: I'm extremely sensitive to poison ivy, and Tecnu works well for me within the first few hours of exposure. Their new Extreme formula (at the bottom of the page linked by jet_silver & Happydaz) only requires 15 seconds of rubbing rather than the 2 minutes they recommend for the original formula. I have also tried Zanfel after the rash has started, and it did nothing for me, but like I said, I'm at the super-sensitive end of the spectrum.
posted by gimli at 7:16 PM on May 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

a couple benadryl might help, too--it helps with bug bites. at least it'll relieve some of the itching.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:52 PM on May 21, 2011

Ivy block!
posted by candasartan at 10:22 PM on May 21, 2011

We just shower or wash our ankles and feet when we come in. Technically, that shouldn't work, I guess, but we walk through several poison ivy patches in the fields and woods by our house each day, and somehow we're not always crawling with poison ivy so it seems to work. This is what it looks like, so I'm pretty sure it's actually poison ivy and not just poison ivy fear.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:50 PM on May 21, 2011

If you suspect you may have contacted poison ivy leaves wash as soon as you can. The good news is that even hours later washing may avoid or reduce any reaction. Start with cold running water, then after thorough rinsing, use soap and warm water, or better yet an organic solvent like alcohol (unless that irritates your skin too).

If you do get a reaction a prescription strength hydrocortisone cream (rather than the 1% available OTC) can do wonders.

Also extremely helpful: hot water. I read this in a dermatology journal and tried it with excellent results. Wash the itchy parts in the hottest water that isn't actually painful. (Sink for small areas, shower for major body parts.) No soap. Then pat dry without rubbing. I found it itches unbearably when the hot water is on my skin, but afterward - HOURS of relief.
posted by wjm at 3:52 AM on May 22, 2011

Seconding, thirding, whatever number Tecnu.

One word of advice though, especially if you know you've been exposed, don't be conservative and just wash your hands/arms. Go the full monty and soap up in the shower since the oil spreads so easily.

I speak from experience: just last week I came in from outside, knowing I had probably been exposed. I was lazy and washed with Tecnu pretty thoroughly in the sink, but somehow the oil had spread to my neck and I broke out a day later. Not fun and now I follow my own advice again!
posted by jeremias at 9:07 AM on May 22, 2011

Oh, and one more thing, although it is in a few of the comments above, here it is explicitly: If you think you have been exposed and are trying to wash off the oil, do *not* use hot water. It is more likely to spread the oil.

If a rash breaks out, hot water may help, I've never heard of that treatment.

Also, pay careful attention to your fingernails, if the oil collects there you may be spreading it every time you scratch.
posted by jeremias at 9:18 AM on May 22, 2011

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