A hike in the great outdoors is always a good idea to get a breath of fresh air, but sometimes, you may get into an unfortunate, literal brush of nature if you come across and expose yourself to poison ivy. Just a light contact on any part of these unassuming bushes and you’ll know why they are aptly called “poison” ivy or oak.
Fortunately, there are natural essential oils for poison ivy relief that will help soothe the pain and itch that comes with poison ivy rashes and reactions.
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Keep in mind though that using essential oils are not meant to be a cure and are just alternative treatments to the pain and swelling. Basic first aid should be administered and observe precautionary measures to prevent any further injuries or adverse reactions.
The moment any severe allergic reaction like swelling of the tongue and airways is felt, or when you feel faint or could lose consciousness at any moment, skip any alternative treatment and call an ambulance immediately as this could be a life-threatening allergic reaction called an anaphylactic shock.
What is Poison Ivy?
There are numerous species of the genus Toxicondendron plant that hold the title and characteristics of what a “poison ivy” or “poison oak” is. Asian, Eastern, Western, Poison Sumac, Poison Oak are just some of the examples and should give one an idea how rampant this plant is and how it’s inevitable to come across this virtually anywhere.
They get their “poison” title for the oil these plants all secrete: urushiol. Urushiol is secreted by almost all parts of a poison ivy plant and stays on its leaves and branches. When a person (or even animal) comes in contact with these oils, they will have what is known as a urushiol-induced contact dermatitis.
How can you tell if you have an allergic reaction?
Roughly 85% of humans are allergic to urushiol and will cause the pervasive allergic reaction to it. Most allergies manifest through rashes, blisters, swelling, inflammation, all with a known burning and itchy sensation.
When you are exposed to urushiol, you may not even know and notice it for about the first 48 hours until any allergic reaction develops. The rashes and itchiness can last from a few days up to three weeks depending how much urushiol you’ve come in contact with.
The Best Essential Oils for Poison Ivy Relief
Luckily, there are essential oils you can use to help alleviate the pain and itchiness you feel from the rashes and swelling brought about by coming in contact with poison ivy.
Roman chamomile oil is known to combat and treat different skin conditions like burns, eczema, and inflammation. As a main ingredient in numerous skin products, roman chamomile provides relief to poison ivy allergies.
Aside from being a popular essential oil for its calming scent, lavender is also a very potent anti-inflammatory and can provide instant relief to itch and pain.
Eucalyptus oil is a very powerful antiseptic, antispasmodic, and anti-inflammatory, so it’s a very popular ingredient in poison ivy relief recipes. It helps relieve and soothe spasms, and inflammation which may come with urushiol-induced contact dermatitis.
Popular for treating wounds and skin lesions, tea tree oil is an amazing poison ivy treatment. It helps soothe skin and accelerate healing, as well as treat bug bites.
As a potent moisturizer and analgesic, clove oil is excellent at preventing dryness at the irritated areas of the skin and relieves the pain and swelling.
How To Treat Poison Ivy Allergies
Before diving into using essential oils as an alternative to treat poison ivy allergies, it is vital to know how to even prevent getting the irritating oil in the first place, as well as how to administer first aid when the allergic reaction develops.
As mentioned earlier, species of the Toxicodendron plant that release the main skin irritant urushiol, are practically everywhere. You may accidentally come into contact with poison ivy plants even when you know what these plants look like.
You may have heard the popular rhyme, “Leaves of three, leave it be” as a cautionary tale on how to spot and avoid poison ivy plants. Poison ivy and poison oak species are most likely identifiable with a cluster of three leaves that grow on their own stems. This is a good place to start to remember what plant to avoid when you see them.
When going out for a hike or when gardening, it is usually best to wear long-sleeves and avoid wearing shorts. This is to make sure you don’t get your skin in possible contact with urushiol.
Once you get home, immediately remove your clothing and thoroughly wash them with detergent to get rid of the irritants. Also wash up and thoroughly soap your body and rinse with warm water, as this greatly reduces the chances of any allergies to show if you indeed come in contact with urushiol.
Basic First Aid for Poison Ivy
Once symptoms of the allergy show, you usually will get acquainted with how persistent and relentless the itch, pain, and swelling that comes with urushiol-induced contact dermatitis will be.
Here are some basic first aid to remember when poison ivy allergies show:
- Wash the affected area with soap and water to get rid of any urushiol residue on your skin.
- Take antihistamines to help against the itching and blistering.
- Place cool wet compress on the affected area.
- Resist the urge to scratch the rashes as this could develop painful blisters.
- Also avoid scratching your eyes, nose, mouth, and genitals especially when you’re not sure the urushiol has not been thoroughly washed off from your skin.
- Observe and watch out for severe allergic reactions such as swelling of the eyes, lips, tongue, and airways. The moment this happens, call an ambulance right away.
- If you have access to an auto-injecting EpiPen or any variant of a prescribed epinephrine, administer it right away to counter any severe allergic reactions.
- When the pain and swelling persists, or the itching becomes too unbearable, contact your doctor right away.
How to use Essential Oils for Poison Ivy Relief
When you can observe that the reaction and symptoms are mild enough to be treated at home, you can then proceed with exploring using essential oils as an alternative treatment.
There are several ways you can use essential oils for poison ivy allergies. We recommend that you use high quality oils like those from our recommended brands.
Warm Compress with a Cloth
Mix several drops of your essential oil or oils of choice in a bowl of warm water. Then soak a washcloth or towel with the essential oil solution, wring any excess water out and apply on the affected area as a warm compress. Leave this on for about 15-30 minutes, several times a day.
Create a topical essential oil ointment
You can also prepare an essential oil salve which you can directly apply on the affected areas to soothe the pain and itching.
In an ounce of the carrier oil of your choice, blend around 5-10 drops of any of the essential oil or oils mentioned above.
Don’t forget to do a patch test first before putting the essential oil ointment on the affected area. Place a dab on an unaffected area of your skin or dab a bit of the ointment of a very small part of the affected area and observe for any feeling of discomfort or pain.
When any adverse side effects show up, discontinue using the ointment. But if you find relief and feel some soothing effect on the affected area, you may go ahead and use the essential oil ointment.
Use as a spray
In a spray bottle, dissolve ½ teaspoon of sea salt, 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon 190 proof alcohol, and several drops of the essential oils mentioned above in distilled water.
This spray is great to use when the allergic reactions are just showing up. The sea salt, apple cider vinegar, and 190 proof alcohol help dissolve and fight any residue of urushiol that could still be on your skin.
This spray recipe also helps relieve the pain and itchiness of rash and blisters as this helps to dry it up and prevent them from getting worse.
Poison ivy may be known for its “itch till you bleed” allergic reactions, but there are many ways to treat and manage the pain and itch you might experience. And using the essential oils and natural remedies in this post can help.
Poison ivy photo taken by S. Carter.