Essential Oils for Poison Ivy

(Last Updated On: August 3, 2018)

Essential oils have long been used to treat health complaints, and there’s a growing body of evidence to support their effectiveness.

An essential oil is the essence of a plant. It’s extracted from the leaves, bark, stem, root, or flowers of a plant by a steam distillation process. The oil plays an important role within a plant, and not only that, it brings us some considerable health benefits too.

Pollination

Insects have pollinated flowers for hundreds of millions of years. Insects are attracted to plants for a few reasons; their aroma, their colour, or their structure. The aroma is the biggest attractor however, and because the oil gives plants their unique scent, it attracts insects and aids pollination.

They help plants win their evolutionary ‘competition’

Oils in plants help them to release chemicals that prevent competing plants or vegetation from growing around them. Plants will compete for soil nutrients and the ideal position to get light from the sun, so it’s about the ultimate survival of the fittest.

They help to protect them from insects and other animals

Plants need to protect themselves from predators, just like animals do. Plants use chemical compounds to deter insects and other animals from coming close to them. Many of these chemicals are natural insect repellents. The oils are useful in helping the plants to survive in a harsh environment.

To protect the plant from other organisms that may harm it

Plants release chemicals and other resins which have antimicrobial and antifungal properties. This helps to kill off any organisms which may threaten the plant’s survival, such as fungi or bacteria. The oils do a similar job, and many oils have antifungal and antimicrobial properties.

How do you use an essential oil?

You can use essential oil as a:

Massage oil

Massage

Simply dilute it with an appropriate carrier oil such as jojoba oil or sweet almond oil.  It is better to dilute oils as they are very concentrated and can cause sensitivity if they are used neat on the skin. Essential oils are easily absorbed into the skin and provide systemic or local benefits. They can be used in aromatherapy massage to ease stress and anxiety, treat headaches and migraines, to treat insomnia, pain, and muscle tension, and to boost immunity.

Facial cream, body lotion, or oil

You can add essential oils to your favourite face creams or body lotion to create a skin treatment with plenty of health benefits. Certain oils can reduce the appearance of scars and stretch marks, reduce the signs of ageing, improve skin tone and texture, and hydrate the skin.

An addition to your bath

Add some essential oil to your bath and stir well to disperse the oil. Be careful to rinse your bath afterwards though, as the oils can make your bath slippery. Adding oil to your bath can help to reduce stress, get rid of muscle aches, reduce fatigue, boost circulation, and detox the body.

They can be used in steam inhalation treatments

Place 3-7 drops of essential oil into some boiling water. Good oils to use in steam inhalation are eucalyptus, lemon, and tea tree oil. Cover your head with a towel and inhale the vapour. Keep your eyes closed throughout. This method is great for treating congestion from colds and flu, and boosting respiratory function.

You can use them as a spray

Mix 10-15 drops of essential oil with water and add it to a spray bottle. The spray makes a good room freshener and body spray. They can also be used to clean kitchen worktops, showers, and toilets when used in this way.

They can be added to a diffuser

The oil can be added to a diffuser to be dispersed through a room to reduce stress and anxiety, boost mood, and to promote a good sleep.

They can be directly inhaled

You can add some oil to a handkerchief or a cotton wool ball and directly inhale it or you can apply some to the palms of your hands and do the same. This can be used for respiratory and sinus problems, and to produce effects on the nervous system, for calming or relaxing you, for example. You can also inhale an oil straight from the bottle. Inhalation is very effective for affecting the mood, as the smell receptors in the nose are linked with a part of the brain which governs emotion, mood, and memory.

Essential oil safety

Keep all essential oils out of reach of children and pets, as some of them can be very toxic.

Be careful with some oils, especially citrus-based ones, as they can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Do not sunbathe for 24 hours after you apply these types of oils. These oils can cause sensitivity otherwise too, so check for a reaction by doing a patch test on the skin of your upper arm.

Avoid prolonged use of the same types of essential oils as sensitivity can develop.

Always dilute an oil with a carrier oil like sweet almond oil or coconut oil before using it on your skin.

Always follow the instructions on usage and suggested doses.

Always seek advice before using an oil if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. This also applies if you are taking any medication or if you have an existing medical condition.

Keep oils away from the eyes and ears, and any areas of sensitive or broken skin.

Poison Ivy

Getting rid of poison ivy from your garden

Poison ivy, or Toxicodendron radicans, to give it its scientific name, is a poisonous plant, native to Asia, North America, Canada, the mountainous areas of Mexico. It is normally found in wooded areas, and it can also be found in exposed rocky areas.

The plant is well-known for causing an irritating and painful rash when it comes into contact with the skin. The skin reaction is caused by a liquid compound in the plant’s sap, which is called urushiol. This compound is not a defensive mechanism for the plant, it merely helps it to retain water.

The plant is not actually ivy, and it belongs to the cashew and pistachio family. The plant is eaten by many animals, especially birds, deer, and bears.

The leaves of the plant range from light green to dark green. They turn red, orange, or yellow in the autumn. The plant has yellowish or greenish-white flowers, and greyish-white fruits which look like berries. The vine of the plant has reddish hairs on it, and the vines are poisonous to humans.

How to identify poison ivy

As a general rule, if a plant has 3 leaflets, it is likely to be harmful to health. Here are some other distinguishing features that will help you to identify the plant:

The middle leaflet has a longer stalk than the other leaflets

The leaflets are wider near their base

The leaflets are all the same size

There are no thorns along the stem

The plant may have clusters of green or white berries

The appearance of poison ivy can vary however, depending on whether the leaves are damaged, what season of the year it is, and what conditions the plant has grown in.

What happens when you come into contact with poison ivy?

Some people can actually be immune to poison ivy, but even if you have come into contact with the plant before without developing a rash, remember that it can take a few exposures to it for an allergic response to develop.

Symptoms of poison ivy contact

Treat poison oak or ivy

After exposure to the leaves, stems, or roots of a poison ivy plant, symptoms can develop within 8 hours or even up to a week after exposure. Here’s what you can expect:

A very itchy rash

Red bumps appear which look like streaks where your skin has made contact with the plant

Blisters that are filled with fluid

Other characteristics of contact with poison ivy are that the rash will get worse over days or weeks, and it might linger for around 3 weeks if it is not treated.

How to treat exposure to poison ivy

Ideally, skin that has come into contact with poison ivy should be treated within 10 minutes.

First, clean the affected areas with rubbing alcohol.

Then wash the affected areas with water, no soap, as soap can move the poisonous compound around the body and make the reaction worse.

After this, you can shower with soap and warm water.

Put a pair of gloves on and wipe everything you had with you when you came into contact with the poison ivy, including shoes and clothes, with rubbing alcohol and water.

If you wait more than 10 minutes, to treat the skin, the urushiol will stay on your skin and trigger the nasty poison ivy rash. Even if you can’t stop it from spreading on your skin, you can still remove it from your clothes and shoes so you don’t spread it to other areas.

If you don’t want to use rubbing alcohol, there are products available to decontaminate yourself and your clothes, including Ivy Cleanse Towelettes, and Tecnu Extreme Poison Ivy Scrub.

Poison ivy isn’t contagious so touching the rash won’t spread it.

Other poison ivy treatments

How to treat exposure to poison ivy

Typical treatments for poison ivy are focused on controlling the intense itching that the rash causes. Treatments include nonsteroidal topical medications, topical steroids, oral antihistamines such as Benadryl, and oral steroids like prednisone.

Wet dressings, compresses, or soaks with a medicated solution mixed with water or oatmeal baths can be very soothing for itchy rashes.

Getting rid of poison ivy from your garden

Once you can identify poison ivy, you will know it as soon as you see it in your garden. Getting rid of it can be dangerous and difficult, and you are at risk of exposure to it while you are trying to remove it.

Consider hiring a professional landscaper to get rid of the poison ivy.

Spray the poison ivy with an herbicide, but bear in mind that this can kill other plants too.

Manually remove the poison ivy plants, including the roots. If removing the poison ivy plants on your own, always wear protection and keep in mind that the urushiol can stay on your clothing and gloves, and cause a rash later if you come into contact with them. If you are removing the poison ivy yourself, think about wearing clothing and gloves that you can just dispose of so you aren’t bringing the nasty compound into your home.

You need to dispose of the plant correctly too, as even a dead plant can cause a reaction. Never burn poison ivy, as the smoke can trigger a deadly reaction.

Essential oils for poison ivy

Other poison ivy treatments

Essential oils have been used for thousands of years to treat poison ivy symptoms, due to their anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antiseptic and antibacterial properties.

Eucalyptus Oil

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This essential oil has several powerful active ingredients including menthol, which can remove the inflammation and pain from the poison ivy rash. It will quickly reduce pain and promote faster healing of the damaged skin.

Most of the time, you don’t need to dilute this oil on your skin, as it is not known for being toxic and will absorb almost fully into the skin very quickly. Simply apply 4-5 drops of the oil to the inflamed areas, 1-2 times per day until the symptoms reduce.

Lavender Oil

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Lavender oil is best known for its restorative and healing properties. When you use lavender oil on poison ivy symptoms, it can really speed up the healing process and reduce inflammation.

There is no need to dilute this oil, unless you have sensitive skin. Simply apply 4-5 drops of the oil on the site of the rash or the inflamed skin, and apply regularly until the symptoms have calmed down.

Cypress Oil

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Cypress Oil

There is a risk of infection with poison ivy, as the skin can become so itchy that people can scratch it, break the skin, and allow bacteria to enter. Cypress oil has strong antiseptic properties, so it protects the skin from infection as it heals, and also reduces pain and inflammation.

Mix this oil with a carrier oil, such as coconut oil or aloe vera gel, and then apply it to the affected skin 1-2 times per day.

Geranium Oil

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The oil has anti-allergenic properties so it can help to quickly soothe a rash and the associated itching. The oil prevents any more histamines from being released and so it helps the immune system to return to normal function.

Do not use this oil undiluted, mix it with a tablespoon of coconut oil and massage the mixture into the affected skin.

Rose Oil

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Rose oil can help to control immune response and reduce the symptoms of allergic reactions. This oil will also promote healing and soothe pain, when used in appropriate amounts.

Blend 4-5 drops of rose oil with lavender or peppermint oil and apply the mixture to the inflamed, itchy, and swollen areas of skin. Re-apply it 1-2 times per day until the symptoms and redness disappear.

Myrrh Oil

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By hydrating the skin and soothing the pain from the rash, myrrh oil can help to speed up skin healing.

An effective remedy is adding 10 drops of myrrh oil to a bath and then having a long soak to soothe the skin and promote healing.

Tea Tree Oil

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Tea tree oil is one of the best oils for poison ivy because it can help to reduce information, prevent infections, get rid of pain, and promote healing. You should always blend tea tree oil with a carrier oil as it can worsen inflammation if it used neat. Mix 5 drops of the oil with olive or jojoba oil and massage the mixture into the affected skin.

Peppermint Oil

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Peppermint oil can help to relieve inflammation and soothe itching. The oil is full of antioxidants and menthol, which helps to cool the skin and reduce inflammation. The oil can also reduce itching and prevent the skin from becoming infected.

You can use undiluted peppermint oil directly on the site of a poison ivy rash, but if you have sensitive skin, you might want to dilute the oil slightly with olive or coconut oil to be on the safe side.

Helichrysum Oil

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Helichrysum Oil

Helichrysum contains rejuvenating and anti-inflammatory compounds that can eliminate pain and speed up skin healing. The oil can also regulate the immune response to lessen the intensity of the allergic reaction.

Blend 5 drops of helichrysum oil with a tablespoon of coconut oil and massage it into the affected skin. Repeat this 1-2 times per day until the redness and irritation have gone.

Safety advice

Using essential oils for poison ivy is an effective remedy, but it is not without its risks. The chemical compounds in some oils can make inflammation worse, especially in people with sensitive skin. All incidences of contact with poison ivy are serious, but if the rash starts spreading to other areas of the body, seek medical advice. Seek advice too, if home treatment isn’t alleviating the pain of the rash, or if you experience any shortness of breath.

As always, if you want to use any alternative remedies, speak to your doctor first for advice, as natural doesn’t always means safe.

Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.