Before we get into essential oils for poison ivy, we should say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Those words are never more true than with poison ivy. Learning to identify, avoid, and fend off poison ivy is worth all the secret remedies in the world. But sometimes it’s unavoidable. Whether you’re hiking in the backcountry, spending the day on a lake, or just walking your dog, there’s a decent chance you’ll encounter poison ivy sometimes in your life. You can find it on every continent, and in almost every state (Alaska and Hawaii are safe, for those curious). Along with poison ivy, you should also learn to identify poison oak and sumac. All three cause an intense allergic rash between 24 and 72-hours after exposure characterized by bumps, blisters, severe itching, and sometimes swollen skin.
Depending on where you’re spending your time outdoors, the risk of each plant either increases or diminishes. None of them grow very well over 4000 feet, in deserts, or the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest. While they are rare, it’s not impossible to encounter them in those conditions. Here’s where you’re most likely to find the poisonous plants:
- Poison Ivy: common in Eastern and Midwest states, as a vine or shrub along rivers, lakefronts, and beaches.
- Poison Oak: grows well as a vine or shrub in the West and sometimes in the East but rarely in the Midwest.
- Sumac: The least common, it grows as a shrub or small tree in wooded and swampy areas, like Florida or the Northern woods of the US.
Familiarize yourself with the plants common in your area. Keep your skin covered with long pants tucked into socks to avoid skin contact with the leaves. If you live in the Rocky Mountains, above 4000 feet, your risk of exposure is low, but not impossible. Read on to learn how to treat poison ivy if you encounter it, and check out our first aid guide for more tips to treat common wilderness ailments.
How To Use Essential Oil for Rashes
Never apply undiluted essential oils to your skin. They’re super-concentrated and might make the discomfort even worse. But the good news is it takes just a few drops of essential oil to treat a poison ivy rash. Here are a few ways to dilute essential oils for relief.
- Compress: mix 3-5 drops of essential oil with 1 cup of warm water. Soak cotton in the diluted essential oil and apply it to the rash, letting the water dry on the skin. Keep applying until you’ve used up all the water; the essential oils will help to dry out the rash.
- Lotion: mix 3-5 drops of essential oil with a cream or a carrier oil like coconut, avocado, or sunflower. Apply the lotion to the poison ivy rash 2-4 times a day for relief from itching.
Shopping for essential oils can be a little overwhelming, especially with the number of online retailers who may not be on the up-and-up. When possible, buy from a reputable retailer or producer on sites like Amazon and eBay. Make sure the label states the bottle’s contents are 100% oil. Before applying an essential oil to a rash, test it on a small area of skin to make sure you’re not allergic.
What Is the Best Essential Oil for Poison Ivy?
The key to getting rid of poison ivy rash is to dry the affected area out. Tea tree oil is one of the most effective ways of doing that. An assortment of essential oils can help throughout your poison ivy reaction, from soothing itchy skin to reduce swelling, and rehydrating after the rash passes. Using essential oils for poison ivy is a safe and effective natural remedy. Stock your medicine cabinet and camping bag with these essential oils and you’ll be prepared for any survival first aid situation.
- Tea tree: works as an anti-fungal and anti-septic and a drying agent, making it a triple threat among oils for poison ivy rash. If you scratch the rash, tea tree oil can prevent infection.
- Pine: you’ll often see pine soap as a treatment for poison ivy rash because of its drying properties.
- Peppermint: besides smelling delicious, peppermint can reduce itchiness, irritation, and swelling. It should provide relief for poison ivy rashes.
- Lavender: if you have a particularly painful reaction to poison ivy, try the essential oil from lavender. It has analgesic properties that will relieve moderate pain.
- Juniper: this essential oil is another triple threat, shown to help soothe skin with anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. It can also reduce healing time in severe reactions.
- Chamomile: along with essential oil, try chamomile tea bags as warm compresses to reduce itchiness and soothe irritated skin.
- Eucalyptus: as your rash heals, eucalyptus will rehydrate and soothe irritated skin.
Remember to never apply concentrated essential oils to the skin, but use a warm-water compress or carrier oil as a salve. If you don’t experience relief from using oils alone, add a calamine lotion as part of your treatment regimen.
How Do You Neutralize Poison Ivy Oil?
If you notice that you’ve encountered poison ivy, there are a few hours in which you can neutralize the oil, which causes the rash, before it develops. The ivy poison is a highly transferrable oil called urushiol. It oozes out of the stem, leaves, roots, and berries of the plants. But, not from the flowers, or dried leaves. Even if you avoid skin contact, touching clothes that touched the leaves can cause a rash. Sometimes, something as small as petting a contaminated pet can transfer the ivy’s poison to you.
Neutralizing the oil is preferred to later treatment. You can avoid the rash ever appearing.
- Rubbing alcohol: soak a cloth or sponge in rubbing alcohol and pass it over the area.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: see the section of how to dry up poison ivy for more on how to use vinegar.
- Gasoline: this is a last-resort option, as gas is an irritant. But if you know you’ve touched urushiol, it will neutralize the oil and prevent a rash.
- Cool water: you can rinse the area with cool water, which is sometimes useful. Never use hot water, as it will open the pores of the skin, making urushiol’s effects much worse.
Urushiol spreads from clothing to skin or other surfaces like furniture and sleeping bags. If you suspect you’ve encountered poison ivy, be cautious as you undress at home or your campsite. Keep your clothes bagged and separate until they’re laundered. Avoid showering until you can neutralize the urushiol, as you can spread the oil over more of your skin.
What Will Dry Up Poison Ivy?
If you have an allergic reaction, the chemical compound of the urushiol has changed, and so treatment also varies. You can use apple cider vinegar as an astringent which will dry the surface of the skin. An astringent relieves itching because pores become smaller, and the weeping poison ivy rash dries out. There are a few preferred ways to use apple cider vinegar to dry a rash.
- Spray: a spray bottle filled with apple cider vinegar and water may provide the most relief for extensive areas covered by a poison ivy rash.
- Cotton ball application: in this method, you soak a cotton ball or pad and press it to the poison ivy rash 2-4 times a day. As the apple cider vinegar dries, the irritation on the skin will subside.
- Cold compress soak: use a cold compress soaked with a 50/50 mixture of apple cider vinegar and water. Hold it against the skin, covering the poison ivy rash for up to 30 minutes. It should provide instant relief from the outbreak.
Apple cider vinegar is acidic and can cause skin irritation on its own. Use it with caution, if you find that you’re reacting to the treatment, dilute the apple cider. You can always increase dilution, but the benefits may decrease.
How Can I Get Rid of Poison Ivy Overnight?
While we wish we could tell you a surefire way to get rid of a poison ivy rash overnight, we don’t want to mislead you. The fastest way to get rid of poison ivy is to neutralize the urushiol oil before it can cause an allergic reaction. If you’re in the unfortunate position of not knowing you were exposed or you’re unable to offset the oil, you can try to treat the poison ivy rash overnight. Instead of a compress, spray, or rinse with essential oils, you want to create a paste that will stay on the skin overnight.
- Cold coffee: make a paste using three tablespoons of baking soda and slowly add teaspoons of cold coffee until thick paste forms. Spread the paste over the rash and let it dry. Leave it on overnight.
- Banana peel: rub the fruit side of a banana peel on the rash before going to bed and let it dry without rinsing it off. You can also use watermelon rind for a similar drying and itch relief effects.
- Vinegar: be cautious because pure vinegar will sting inflamed and irritated skin. Still, it’s a fast, effective way of drying out a rash.
- Saltwater: dilute one ounce of sea salt in a quart of warm water and let it cool. Dab the saltwater onto the rash and let it dry, repeat until the quart is gone. The salt will help to dry out the rash.
Drying out your skin is the fastest way to treat a rash overnight. After the rash heals, apply aloe vera or hydrating essential oils like eucalyptus.
Avoidance is the Best Treatment
Hopefully, these essential oil treatments helped you to treat poison ivy. But the best way of dealing with poison ivy is by familiarizing yourself with the flora in areas where you camp and hike to avoid poisonous plants. Give poison ivy, oak, and sumac a wide berth. Keep your skin covered while out in nature, and finesse clothes that come into contact with the leaves. It’s hard to practice constant vigilance while you’re out enjoying nature. But poison ivy rashes are painful, uncomfortable, and sometimes, can last an entire month before healing.
As a general rule, remember, “Leaves of three, let it be.” While several plant species exhibit leaves growing in clusters of three, both poison ivy and poison sumac have this quality. Better safe than sorry, avoid touching any plant with leaves growing in threes. Poison ivy is reddish in the spring, bright green in the summer, and orange and red in the fall. It produces yellow flowers and has white berries in the summer. While the leaves can have both jagged and smooth edges, they always have pointed tips. Commonly, the center leaf is larger than the two side leaves.
Keep a careful eye out and keep a bottle of tea tree oil in the medicine cabinet for emergencies!