The 411 on Poison Ivy

The 411 on Poison Ivy

Uma Thurman portrayed the villainess Poison Ivy in 1997’s Batman and Robin and her effort earned her a nomination for that year’s Razzie, or Golden Raspberry, for worst supporting actress! Seems Uma’s Poison Ivy wasn’t rash enough–and moviegoers weren’t itching to see her.

The same can’t be said for real poison ivy, that villainous denizen of the forest floor frequently causes a severe, itchy rash! That’s because around 85% of you are allergic to the toxin in the plant’s oil, called urushiol. But if you come in contact with it–and 10 to 50 million of you do every year!–the Tennessee Poison Center at Vanderbilt University says you can effectively wash away 100% of the plant’s oils, found in the leaves, vines and roots, in the first 15 minutes after exposure. But if you let it linger, it’s guaranteed to penetrate your skin and cause those painful, itchy blisters.

The smart move is to learn how to identify the plants; check out images of poison ivy, oak and sumac online. And if you come in contact with the plants, use soap and lukewarm water or a specially formulated soap (you can carry the solution in your backpack) to wash away the urushiol–and do it pronto.  Remember, oil can cling to your dog’s coat, so wash Poocher off too.

If you can’t stop the reaction before it starts, there are somewhat effective over-the-counter creams. And if the rash or swelling persists or it becomes infected, call your doctor for prompt treatment.

Medically reviewed in March 2020.

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