Humans and animals can suffer the same itchy fate when exposed skin makes contact with poison ivy, oak or sumac. That’s because you get exposed to urushiol, the oil from these plants that is responsible for causing the rashes and blisters. This oil is very hardy and lasts a long, long time. It may persist in the environment and on clothing, shoes, etc. for years!
Urushiol has to be absorbed through the skin before it can cause an allergic reaction. The oily resin can take some time to penetrate through thicker skin, that’s often why there is a delay before a reaction, and why it seems to spread (for example from your hands and up your arms).
If you understand how urushiol works, you will know what to do if you are exposed in order to prevent getting an itchy rash and blisters. In the video below, scientist and outdoors enthusiast Jim Brauker explains in more detail how urushiol works and what you should do if you are exposed to it. He also explains the best and most effective way to wash the greasy oil off your skin.
First, you need to clean the oil off your skin within 2 to 8 hours. The grease is a lot like car oil, so the main reason people get the rash despite washing themselves right away is because they haven’t washed effectively.
Brauker reveals the key to effective remove the rash is to use necessary amount of friction. A washcloth, loofah or towel is more important than what kind of soap you use. You will need to wash at least three times too to ensure the oil is gone.
If you are wondering about your pets, dogs and cats don’t suffer the same allergenic effects of urushiol because of their fur, although they may be more sensitive on their tummy and legs, which can cause them to get the same reaction as humans. The primary issue with pets being exposed to poison ivy, sumac or oak is that they can transmit the oil of these plants to humans through their fur.
You can minimize the effects of urushiol on your pet by washing it off immediately with a degreasing soap (like Dawn dishwashing soap) and cool or lukewarm water. I’d recommend wearing gloves and a long sleeve shirt and pants to lessen the chance of getting the oil onto your skin, in case your pet shakes while you are washing him/her.
It may take two to three washings to get all of the urushiol washed off your pet (and don’t forget Brauker’s friction tip). Once you’ve done washing, make sure to wash the towel you dry your pet with and all clothing you were wearing immediately afterwards.
Another tip to keep in mind when dealing with these poisonous plants is to never burn them! Burning releases the oils in the air, which can potentially cause very serious allergic reactions.
Have a safe time in the woods and please share this tip with your friends and family, just in case they get exposed to poison ivy, oak or sumac.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.