I’ll be honest. This is not a post I planned – or even wanted – to write.
Because that would mean I needed actual real-life (recent!) experience on the subject.
Which I was sure I did not want.
Because I had plennnnnty of practice as a kid. I was a P.I.-pro. I used to say I didn’t even need to touch poison ivy to get a rash. I just had to walk past it or think about it and boom! Rash. Everywhere.
I had no need to go back that place. Again. Ever.
I had the misfortune last weekend of revisiting my childhood with an epic poison ivy rash on both of my arms. More on one and less on the other, but enough on either to make me insane.
Now double it.
Oh, this itching. It’s really unlike any other.
So since I’m over here, slightly out of my head with oozing, itching, blisters I thought the time was right to test natural remedies for PI care.
Because I love you that much!
You’re so welcome.
(You know me. Just takin’ one for the team.) Okay. Not really. Just desperate for comfort. Desperate, I tell you!
So here’s my take on the best-of-the-best natural ways to beat the itch of Poison Ivy.
If you don’t need it now, pin it for later. Because you never do know!
(Sorry in advance if I just cursed you.)
Natural Poison Ivy Care
Knowing how to identify poison ivy is your first and best defense!
Poison ivy tends to be found in abundance in disturbed areas like along trails, roadways, or in campgrounds. This fun green party is right across from my mailbox. Good times abound.
Here are three simple rhymes to help you ID poison ivy when you’re out and about:
Leaves of three, let it be.
Red leaflets in spring is a dangerous thing!
Longer middle stem? Stay away from them.
Other key distinguishing characteristics are the slightly shiny leaves and a red or pink base of each leaflet stem where the three leaflets come together. (See photo above, bottom right and upper left).
Being sensitive to PI since childhood and also being a naturalist, I have ID’d and avoided the plant easily for years. (You only have to roll around in poison ivy once as a kid to never again miss-identify this plant! Yes. Really.)
So how did I get such a bad rash this time around? I picked it up off of my goat! She was helping me clear out a nasty patch along our road (by eating it, as goats will do), and days later I came in contact with her hair, unfortunately transferring and abundance of the oils to my skin.
So let’s pretend that you either messed up on the ID part or were hanging out with my goats and think you have come into contact with poison ivy. Now what?
If you suspect you have come into contact with poison ivy wash up your skin. And fast!
Soap and water are ideal, but if you’re out for a hike that’s rarely possible.
Because I’m so sensitive to poison ivy I often carry homemade baby wipes with me on hikes. If my children or I stumble into a plant I quickly and thoroughly wipe us down, then toss the contaminated wipes in an empty zip bag. (I use washcloths soaked in my Baby Wipe Juice but store-bought or homemade disposable wipes work, too.)
If you don’t have wipes with you, use soap and water to wash up as soon as possible! For. Real.
Edited to add: no short of a dozen of you sent me this video after I shared this post. And it makes so much sense! Give it a watch and use this technique next time you think you may have been exposed.
Clean Your Stuff
Don’t stop with skin! When you get back home also launder all clothes, shoes, socks, bags – anything that might have come into contact with the plant oil.
Things that are not washable (your camera for example) can be carefully wiped down with alcohol or witch hazel dampened paper towels.
Wash hands well after this job.
Treat the Rash
So let’s say (hypothetically speaking) that you end up with a rash anyway.
Since I took one for the team this week and slathered myself in PI oils, I’ve tested bucket-loads of remedies. And I’ve got the scoop on what works and what doesn’t.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to reduce the itching and speed healing (and – hopefully – keep your sanity while you do it), as well as a couple of “eh” remedies that didn’t work for me but might be the ticket for you.
We all have different skin types and there is not magic bullet that will work for everyone. Experiment and see what is best for you.
Edited to add: my poison ivy got very bad very fast after I shared this post. In the end one of my favorite items never made this list since I posted before I discovered it. I mixed french green clay with with hazel and peppermint essential oil and spread it on my rash as needed. It worked beautifully. 10 out of 10.
The homeopathic remedy Rhus Tox. has been my saving grace. If you are anxious and agitated with your rash, this might just be your remedy! Try a 12 C, 4 pellets at a time as needed to quiet the itch and your racing brain.
I sleep with one under my pillow and completely freak out when I can’t find it. No. Really.
I give this remedy 10 out of 10 points. If you see me this week ask me where it is. I promise it’s in my pocket. Because I can’t cope without it.
Jewelweed Oil or Salve
Jewelweed is the herbal antidote to poison ivy. Where you find one growing you often find the other, and the juicy, tender leaves and stem of jewelweed can both help prevent a rash and help sooth one you already have.
Harvest jewelweed (look along creeks and streams), bruise the leaves, and rub gently onto your rash. Instant aaaaahhh! Or immerse the plant in olive oil to cover, warm gently, and allow to steep for 24 hours or more.
Apply oil to rash as needed to quiet the itch.
I like this. I like it a lot. 6.5 out of 10.
Full disclosure: I make and sell Da Balm. You know that already. But despite my bias of devotion and love for this herbal salve, I think you’ll find it’s tops – as I do – for red, itchy rashes.
So now that I have poison ivy for the first time since I started making Da Balm it was the first remedy I had to try. Along with the other natural treatments listed here I’ve been applying Da Balm daily and finding comfort in the chickweed, burdock, and calendula infusion I base the salve on.
While it doesn’t get rid of the itch completely, it’s helping! I keep one in my back pocket when I’m out and about.
I give it a 5 out of 10 for quieting the itch, 6 out of 10 after I mixed in a few drops of peppermint EO.
A paste of baking soda has been the greatest comfort I have found on the days the rash is raging and the itch is making me insane.
Make a paste of baking soda and water, and gently pat onto your rash. The soothing comes fast! Ho. ly. Cow.
It’s a bit of a mess though, and not at all suitable for when you’re out and about.
I was desperate enough for the comfort of baking soda that I cut off a chunk of my baking soda-based deodorant and combined it with a little Da Balm to soften it. It was good comfort all day, but was still a little gritty for my liking.
I give baking soda paste a 9 out of 10 for quieting the itch, but a 1 out of 10 for the epic mess it causes.
The gutter over-the-counter version of this that I found in the back of our medicine cabinet is another weapon in my PI arsenal. As I looked over the ingredients I kept thinking, “I could surely make a better version of this…”
And it turns out you can! Here is a brilliant formula for all of us to make. Yes, please!
I give even my skanky OTC version a 7 out of 10 for quieting the itch and a 4 out of 10 for being an ugly mess all over my bathroom. And now I need to mop.
Apple Cider Vinegar
The theory goes that you soak a thin cotton towel in apple cider vinegar and drape it over your poison ivy rash. The ACV is supposed to help draw toxins from your rash as well as cool the skin and soothe the itch.
Okay. Nice theory.
I tried this method and while everyone’s body is different, it didn’t work for me. It actually burned a bit which made me never want to try it again.
And as Sage put it, “WHAT is that horrible smell? Oh. Of course. Vinegar again.”
0 out of 10. It sucked.
(But who knows. It might work for you!)
Lavender Essential Oil
If you find yourself being driven wild with the itching, calm your mind with lavender EO. I have been reaching for my Relaxing Essential Oil blend constantly during the past three days.
Thank goodness for this.
I actually rubbed it on my face yesterday trying to calm myself down. Yeah, I’m that girl.
10 out of 10 for keeping me sane. Good for everyone in my life. For reals.
As I researched the best way to quiet the itch and heal the rash of PI I noticed a pattern. Many of the remedies I had already combined in my Baby Wipe Juice concentrate. Like witch hazel, calendula infusion, aloe juice, and soothing essential oils. So I tried it on a whim/in a moment of I’m-going-insane-with-this-horrific-rash.
And… it worked. Like magic.
Soothing, cooling, itch-quieting. Yes, yes, and yes. Is all the itch gone? No. Is most of it? Hell yes.
I used it undiluted, but diluted would probably be a good idea.
Most amazing? How long this remedy is lasting. I applied it two hours ago and only just no needed to reapply. Winning!
9 out of 10. Feels like magic.
Aloe and/or witch hazel with peppermint EO
I didn’t try either of these solo since I only had my After Sun Aloe and Witch Hazel spray on hand. But combined? It was cooling, soothing, and just what I needed to take of the itchy edge while out and about.
6 out of 10. Slower to start with the comfort, but super long-lasting on the cooling and itch-quieting fronts. Thankful for this experiment right now.
Edited to add: when my PI got very, very bad I slept with this under my pillow. It rose to a 8 out of 10, especially after the rash was mostly gone but I had the post itch-itch of healing.
Here is how I made it:
- 2 parts witch hazel extract
- 1 part aloe juice
- a few drops of peppermint EO
Put in a spray bottle and use as needed.
Other helpful Tips
Wrap it up
Keep your rash completely covered at night. Otherwise you’ll scratch the h**l out of it in your sleep and really regret it.
Tuck a bottle of Rhus Tox under your pillow while you’re at it. No, really. Do it now.
Don’t leave home without it
Keep your remedies with you! Don’t leave home without your homeopathic remedy or your Baby Wipe Juice – whatever is working magic on your rash.
When I shared last night that I’m struggling with poison ivy a blog reader suggested I try a vitamin C protocol. Essentially high-dose vitamin c to reduce swelling, oozing, and itching. I’m trying it, but it’s too soon to know how well it’s working. (Thanks, Elizabeth!)
Soaking with pink salt, black tea, baking soda, or oatmeal
Friends have recommended these three for soaking the rash in. I have not tried them yet, but intuitively all sound like they would be incredibly soothing.
And no, the rash is not contagious
Contrary to belief when I was a kid, you can’t catch the rash from someone else’s rash. Once the oil has been washed off you won’t be sharing with your friends. Fear not.
Support your immune system
I’m taking elderberry and echinacea tincture twice a day (1 tsp of each) to help boost my immune system to speed healing.
Don’t mess around
If you are seeing signs of infection or have a truly awful case, get in to see your doctor. And soon. PI takes a toll on your body and can cause serious infections if not treated properly. Don’t hesitate going in for some off-the-natural-list help.
And with that, we’re healing.
Here’s hoping you never need this advice. Ever, ever, ever.
But if you do? I’m here for ya.