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GardenSMART :: Poison Ivy and Poison Oak

Poison Ivy and Poison Oak

By Zanfel
Photographs courtesy of Zanfel

Are you surrounded by poison ivy while working in your yard? Here are some tips for reducing exposure and misery:

  • Plant Identification: In the US, there are two species of poison ivy and two species of poison oak. The shape of the plants' leaves can vary widely from one place to the next. Poison sumac is fairly uncommon, and grows in swamps. Be suspicious of any climbing vine with three leaves that uses aerial roots to attach to trees.

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  • Remember that all parts of the plant are toxic. The plant's toxin, urushiol, is an oil that is found not only in the leaves, but also in the vines, aerial roots, stems, and roots. Running a chainsaw or weedeater through a poison ivy stem or vine can spray your skin and clothing with urushiol, the plant's rash-inducing oil.
  • It only takes about 60 minutes for the plants' allergenic oil to absorb into the skin. If exposure is suspected, wash the exposed skin ASAP with soap and cool water to remove as much unabsorbed urushiol as possible. If it has been more than 60 minutes, the urushiol is already in your skin and "regular" soap and water is no longer effective. Zanfel can be used as a post-exposure preventative to remove the urushiol that has already bonded with the skin, thereby either preventing, or greatly reducing the severity of the reaction.

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  • Rash treatment: Zanfel Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac Wash is the only product clinically shown to remove urushiol from the skin anytime after outbreak of the rash. For most mild to moderate reactions, the use of Zanfel completely stops the itching, and puts the body in a position to heal the rash.
  • For severe or systemic cases, Zanfel can be used in conjunction with a prescribed steroid medication. This combination provides complete relief for someone who has a severe case, and reduces the incidence of the "rebound effect" that sometimes happens when the steroid wears off.

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Poison Ivy Facts and Myths

Myth 1: The blister fluid of poison ivy reactions can spread dermatitis from one part of the body to another and from one person to another.

Fact 1: The blister fluid does not contain urushiol and cannot spread the rash. Patch tests with this fluid cause no reaction.

Myth 2: The rash of poison ivy spreads from one part of the body to another.

Fact 2: Approximately 60 minutes after exposure, the poison ivy plant's oil (urushiol) has been absorbed down into the skin, and has bonded with skin cells. Only unabsorbed urushiol can be transferred from one part of the body to another.

The rash only seems to spread because different areas of the body have different thicknesses of stratum corneum (the outer layer of skin) leading to different rates of absorption of the poison ivy toxin, different amounts of ultraviolet exposure (that can reduce skin white blood cell activity), and different amounts of urushiol present. Therefore, some affected areas of the body may break out up to several days later than others.

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Myth 3: Antihistamines help the rash and itching of poison ivy-related contact dermatitis.

Fact 3: No study has ever demonstrated that the rash or itching of poison ivy-related contact dermatitis are affected by antihistamines. In fact, at least one study has shown that they do not help. Histamine has not been demonstrated to be an important mediator of itching in any form of dermatitis. Sedating antihistamines, however, can make patients sleepy and notice their itching less.

For more information about Zanfel Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac Wash, please visit


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