The Fastest Way to Clear Up Poison Ivy

Summer makes it easy to spend time outdoors enjoying camping, hiking, biking, gardening and more. But nothing throws an itchy, uncomfortable, wet blanket on those activities—and daily life in general—like a surprise bout of poison ivy. If you’re unlucky enough to have a reaction to this unfriendly plant, you may be wondering if it’s possible to cure an outbreak overnight and get back to your activity.

According to Joshua Zeichner, MD, an associate professor in the department of dermatology and the director of cosmetic and clinical research at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, poison ivy, and its cousins poison oak and poison ivy sumac, contain a resin on their leaves that leads to an allergic reaction in the skin known as contact dermatitis. If you come into contact with these plants by brushing up against any shrubs or vines, you’ll want to act ASAP to clean your skin.

“If you have been exposed to the plant, it’s important to thoroughly wash the skin with soap and water as soon as possible,” he explains. “While the rash is not contagious, if there is fresh resin on part of your body, it will cause a rash on other parts of the body that it touches.”

If you have been exposed to poison ivy, it’s not only extremely important to wash your hands, but also not touch your eyes or genitals. No surprise, a poison ivy reaction on the skin in these areas is…let’s just say extremely uncomfortable.

So what can you do to treat and eliminate poison ivy, stat? First of all, manage your expectations. Of course you’d like to cure that poison ivy rash overnight. Unfortunately, it’s going to take longer than that. It takes about a week to clear, and if 7 to 10 days have passed and it’s not improving, see a doctor.

How to treat poison ivy fast

Reach for creams and lotions

Dr. Zeichner recommends reaching for over-the-counter moisturizers to hydrate the skin and repair the skin barrier. Vaseline Intensive Care Essential Healing Lotion, for example, contains triple purified petrolatum to form a breathable seal over the skin. It also contains oat extract to calm inflammation, he says.

“Anti-itch ingredients like calamine lotion can be very effective, symptomatically improving the feel of the rash and reducing your need for scratching,” he explains. “Anti-itch cream like 1% hydrocortisone can also be effective. However, don’t apply cortisone cream for more than two weeks in a row and make sure to touch base with your doctor if it is not working.”

Consider oral corticosteroids

According to Brian Kim, MD, co-director at the Center for the Study of Itch at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, one of the most effective treatments for poison ivy are corticosteroids, typically oral rather than topical.

“Topical steroids work as well but they are not as potent,” he says. “We recently found a new pathway that causes itch in poison ivy-type dermatitis and this could be a new future therapeutic approach.” Steroid pills or injections tend to be used for poison ivy rashes that cover large or delicate areas of the body.

Don’t be tempted to use antihistamines to stop the itching; they don’t help relieve the itching you get with contact dermatitis caused by poison ivy, according to the medical resource Up To Date.

Naturally, you’re not going to find these items the moment you need them up in the mountains or out in the woods, so if you’re prone to poison ivy reactions or are visiting an area where you know you’re likely to have an encounter, make a note to purchase and pack these products before your next adventure into the great outdoors.

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