Common Misconceptions About Treating Poison Ivy or Oak Rash

By Caileen  |  Thursday, August 02, 2012  |  , , , , ,  |  23 comments

computer guyIf you ever post a request on a social network or forum for help with a poison ivy or oak rash, you will get a whole lot of advice. Unfortunately, when it comes to poison ivy and oak there are many misconceptions about what you should do to treat the rash so "helpful advice" can become confusing. And these misconceptions about how to deal with a poison ivy or oak rash can cause more problems for you.

Here are a few that we come across quite often:

  • Use household bleach on your skin - Bleach can cause chemical burns, irritation and swelling when exposed to skin. It can also destroy melanin (pigment) in the body. Why would you want to put this on your already irritated skin? Stick to a cleanser designed to remove urushiol (the rash causing oil) like Tecnu.
  • Wash with very hot water - Some people will tell you to use very hot water when washing your poison ivy or oak rash because it feels good. The problem with using hot water is that it opens up the pores in your skin creating a pathway for urushiol to enter. Using cool water will keep the pores closed.
  • Not understanding why the rash is spreading - Most people think that the continuing spread of their rash is from the initial contact with the plant. However if you have a rash that is continuing to spread for weeks, you are coming in contact with the plant oil again. Look for sources of contact with the urushiol such as shoes, tools, or a pet that may have come in contact with the plant and are carrying the oil. Urushiol can stay potent on objects for years.
  • Breaking blisters - The blisters that form during a poison ivy or oak rash outbreak are part of your body's allergic response and do not contain the rash-causing oil. Blisters do not cause the rash to spread. The blisters should not be broken on purpose as it creates a potential point of entry for bacteria that could result in a skin infection. Keep blistered skin loosely covered with a bandage to help protect it.

What you do need to know is that there are two important steps that should be taken when treating a poison ivy or oak rash.

First, you need to remove the source of the rash from your skin. This is an oily substance found in all parts of the plant including leaves, stems, and roots called urushiol (pronounced ooh-roo-she-all). Because urushiol is an oil, traditional soap and water is not always enough to remove it and can sometimes result in spreading the oil around. A cleanser designed to break through the oil, such as Tecnu Original or Tecnu Extreme, will be more effective at removing urushiol from your skin.

Second, you need to treat the symptoms of the rash. The itching and burning sensation can be quite painful for some people, and some rashes can blister and ooze quite badly. Over-the-counter medications such as Calagel or Tecnu Rash Relief Spray can help alleviate the symptoms. If you have a very intense rash and the OTC medications are not enough for you, be sure to consult a doctor.

So remember the two steps to treating poison ivy and oak rash are remove the oil and treat the symptoms. If you need advice about what products to use, consult a medical professional such as a pharmacist, nurse or doctor.

The intention of this blog is to be an informational resource for our customers. We are not medical professionals and are not distributing medical advice. Any questions you have about your health should be directed to a physician. We want to hear from you and welcome your comments - please note all comments submitted will be moderated and we reserve the right to refuse to publish any comment that may be negative, contain foul language, suggest medical advice, or offer tips that may be harmful to our readers. It is not our intention to defame, purge, discriminate or humiliate any party directly or indirectly in any way. We do not represent or endorse the accuracy or reliability of any information or content contained on, distributed through, or linked, downloaded or accessed from any of the services contained on this website. If you have a question or concern that must be replied to right away, please contact or call 1-800-482-4464.

23 comments for “Common Misconceptions About Treating Poison Ivy or Oak Rash”

  1. Posted 8/7/2012 at 8:42:02 AM
    Gravatar of Elaine H Schachter

    the information is excellent and written in a way that anyone can understand. thanks

  2. Posted 8/7/2012 at 8:55:43 AM
    Gravatar of Margaret

    As ever thanks for the information. I got a really bad case of poison oak that needed medical attention about 2 years ago. Now I am ever so careful if I am getting close to any source of contact (live on 4 acres with plenty of poison oak in the thicket) and use TECHNU products if I suspect contact. I am curious, is poison oak reaction same as bee sting? If I inadvertantly come in contact will I respond as that huge outbreak years ago or could it be possible it was just such a massive dose of oil (clearing dead brush pile I am sure). Thanks for the help and info!

  3. Posted 8/13/2012 at 1:03:39 PM
    Gravatar of Lisa

    We can't predict what your reaction would be the next time you are in contact with the plant. People react differently depending on their body's immune system at that moment when coming in contact with urushiol.

  4. Posted 9/1/2012 at 11:17:02 AM
    Gravatar of Lori

    I am so thrilled that I came across the Calagel/Tecnu combo pack at Walmart yesterday! I had been using Ivarest as I thought I graduated from Caladryl...I got poison all over the inside of my arms last Saturday and have been MISERABLE! I put Calagel on as soon as I got home and got immediate relief! I can't thank you enough for this wonderful product! It started to dry up immediately and I actually was able to sleep through the night last night.

  5. Posted 9/9/2012 at 1:42:45 PM
    Gravatar of Danny

    The best thing that I have had success with is to take a long cool/cold shower with tecnu, tecnu extreme or zanphel. After that wash everything that you were wearing with mild soap and water and don't forget your boots. If your going to scrub your boots down try to wear rubber gloves if possible. Take as many showers as you can to ensure your getting all the oil off and also your drying out your skin which for me speeds up the whole poison oak process. After I take a few cool showers I crank up the heat in the shower which gives me about 3-4 hours of relief. I am exposed to poison oak on a regular basis as a Hotshot (Wildland Firefighter), in just about every beautiful county in the U.S. that sits below the 5000' level. On average I get between 1-2 prednisone shots a year and always have my prescription prednisone tablets on me and after 10 years as a Hotshot the best advise I can share is to know what it looks like in all it's different forms, stay out of it if possible, don't inhale smoke off of burning poison oak and wash everything you come in contact with as much as you can.

  6. Posted 10/14/2012 at 12:17:21 PM
    Gravatar of TDP

    I agree with the reasoning in "no hot water" - when cleaning the area of exposure the first and second time. After a couple of cool water & soap washes and 24-48 hours - the exposure is set and the excess oils will have likely been washed away (assuming no continuing indirect exposure). From that exposure +48hr point forward... Treating the body's continuing histamine reaction is generally the focus of the victims efforts.

    The hot water therapy used in that "post-cleanup +48hrs" context is very useful... It seems to trigger the "mass consumption", or "use up" all the itch inducing potential of the histamines in the affected locations that are treated with the hot water... and all at once. It is an intense thing... the hot water initially causes an insane amount of itching in the heated areas... But it subsides within a few seconds to minutes, and is usually followed by hours of comfort... during which the body slowly rebuilds the histamine levels. It even reduces the hard raised stiffness of the exposure sites... For several hours.

  7. Posted 8/14/2013 at 5:20:50 AM
    Gravatar of Barry

    Got Poison Ivy over the weekend weeding on both arms. Tried several products before and nothing works like Calagel to relieve itchiness for 6-8 hours. Finally got a good sleep last night! Plus doesn't drip or stain clothes. Great product. Wish I used the tecnu right away but I'll know next time. It's great to use a product that actually does what it claims to do. Thanks for creating and marketing such a great product!

  8. Posted 7/20/2014 at 5:25:31 PM
    Gravatar of Cathy

    Is it true that the oozing liquid can spread the poison oil to creat and spread more rash spots?

  9. Posted 8/8/2014 at 9:43:49 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Cathy: No, the liquid that oozes from the blisters caused by poison oak or poison ivy does not contain the rash-causing oil, urushiol. If you notice new rash spots appearing, it is possible that you could be coming into contact with urushiol and experiencing what we call secondary contamination and should be cleaned. Tecnu Original Outdoor Skin Cleanser can be used on all of these items to remove urushiol.

  10. Posted 8/8/2014 at 8:36:56 PM
    Gravatar of Michael

    Hi, I was exposed to poison ivy on Monday while clearing brush. I immediately washed with soapy water and continued clear for another hour. I first noticed spots coming up on Tuesday and by Wednesday it was getting worse despite having eliminated any possible additional exposure (I left town with clean clothes on Tuesday). Today (Friday) I woke up with new blisters on my torso, arms, scalp, and other (unmentionable) parts. Is it possible that the urushoil is in my body and reactions are randomly occurring...or that it takes 3-4 or more days for blisters to develop? What's going on? Thanks!

  11. Posted 8/10/2014 at 12:50:10 PM
    Gravatar of lenore

    its the sixth day since the first rash appeared and new rashes keep coming, another one this camping clothes, shoes
    and sleeping bag are not in my house at this time. is there contamination on my sheets, pillowcases, bedclothes? I am freaking out and in so much pain...the itching in middle of night is a nightmare
    could be that I am scratching in my sleep? comments will be appreciated

  12. Posted 8/14/2014 at 8:12:13 AM
    Gravatar of caileen

    Michael: Urushiol, the rash-causing oil from poison ivy is very difficult to remove, and often soap and water are not enough to do the trick. Tecnu Original Outdoor Skin Cleanser is able to bond with the oil and remove it from the skin's surface. At this point, it sounds like your body has already absorbed the majority of the oil you came into contact with and in turn, has broken out in a rash. It might not be a bad idea to wash with Tecnu at this point, just in case you have any oil remaining on your skin. As for breaking out a few days after exposure, that is a very common reaction for most folks; also, on average, a poison oak or poison ivy rash can last approximately 2 weeks.

  13. Posted 8/14/2014 at 8:22:45 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Lenore: Yes, it is very important to wash your bedding and towels. It is possible that they may have urushiol on them, and are continuing to expose you. For those items, we recommend washing through two cycles in the washing machine with warm/hot water and a heavy-duty detergent like Tide®. This will help remove any urushiol that may still be on them. You may also consider wiping down your steering wheel and seats in your car with Tecnu Original Outdoor Skin Cleanser. Spot test first to make certain the surface doesn't discolor. Tecnu is available at Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, & Dollar General. To help with the itching and irritation, you might want to consider a topical anti-itch such as Calagel or Tecnu Rash Relief Spray. Both are available at the previously mentioned stores.

  14. Posted 8/15/2014 at 3:31:22 AM
    Gravatar of Brittany

    Hello, is it possible that the oils could be on my couch? It is a microfiber suede type couch, other than taking the cushion covers off and cleaning, how would I treat the couch such as the back and arm of the couch as they are not remove able? I too am having new spots appear.

  15. Posted 8/18/2014 at 10:06:16 PM
    Gravatar of Kim

    Hi. I believe I pulled a vine in my flower bed that was poison ivy, so I immediately washed with soap and water, then drenched my hands and arms with rubbing alcohol (mentioned on some web sites). I then ran to the store and bought Tecnu wash and applied it all within an hour - two hours after exposure. I am fearful of developing a rash and worse for me, the itch, because I will be on a cruise in 10 days!! I don't want this to ruin an expensive and beyond needed vacation. Do you think the symptoms can be avoided due to the quick response time? Thank you for hopefully any good news!

  16. Posted 8/19/2014 at 8:15:18 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Brittany: It is certainly possible that urushiol has been transferred to your couch, and you are experiencing secondary contamination. Tecnu Original Outdoor Skin Cleanser can be used to remove urushiol oil from surfaces such as your couch, car seats, etc. We do however, recommend spot treating in an inconspicuous are with Tecnu first, to test for color fastness. If no discoloration is noticed, you can follow the directions to wipe-down your couch. Be sure to follow up with a water-saturated cloth after to remove any excess Tecnu.

  17. Posted 8/26/2014 at 11:21:26 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Kim: It's great that you were able to wash up immediately after exposure. However, we never recommend using rubbing alcohol as it can be harsh on the skin, and is not known to help avoid developing a rash. Washing with Tecnu® Original Outdoor Skin Cleanser sooner rather than later is great as well. Typically, if you can wash within the first 8 hours after exposure with Tecnu, it can remove the rash-causing oil. If a rash does develop and the itching begins, Tecnu Rash Relief Spray can help relieve itching, as well as promote healing. Also, keep in mind, the average poison oak or poison ivy rash lasts approximately 2 weeks.

  18. Posted 8/29/2014 at 6:57:30 PM
    Gravatar of Rhona

    My daughter's dog sat on my lap and was rubbing her head lovingly on my neck . The next day I started to itch, and broke out with a rash on my left cheek, and neck. It has now spread all around and in my left ear, into my scalp, or my left eye lid and brow, down my jaw line and under my chin. It has also spread onto my chest. Is it possible that the dog rubbed against poison ivy, the got the poison on me. It is red, bumpy with blisters. I want to rip my skin off. My Dr sent me a med pac, and I've been using Caladril, Cort open ointment, and Benedryl. Nothing has helped. Any auggestions?

  19. Posted 10/1/2014 at 11:19:06 AM
    Gravatar of Herman

    After 3 weeks I've still got large itchy rashes esp inside of thighs and armpits. I've been taking prednisone, applying calamine and taking oatmeal baths. How long can the rashes and itchiness last and is there anything else I can do to shorten the healing time. Thanks

  20. Posted 10/7/2014 at 9:40:23 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Rhona: Yes, it is very common for pets to rub up against poison oak or poison ivy plants and transfer the oil to humans when we pet or come into contact with them. In fact, Tecnu Original Outdoor Skin Cleanser can be used to remove urushiol (the rash-causing oil) from: skin, tools, clothing, and your pets! As far as the rash you currently have, following your Dr.'s recommendation is always best. If the over-the-counter topical products you've tried aren't working well for you, you may consider our product, Calagel Medicated Anti-itch Gel, but be sure to avoid contact in or around the eyes.

  21. Posted 10/7/2014 at 10:29:51 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Herman: It sounds like you've got it bad! If you're taking Prednisone, I can assume you've been to your doctor (which is what we would recommend). If the topical creams you are using don't seems to be doing the trick, I would recommend our product Calagel Medicated Anti-Itch Gel. Although Calagel doesn't shorten the healing time, it will help relieve the itch while you go through the natural healing process. You may also consider Tecnu Rash Relief Spray, which provides relief from painful itching and also promotes healing. You can find both products at Walgreens and CVS. As far as the duration of a rash, it varies from person to person. On Average, a poison oak/ivy rash will last approx. 2 weeks, in more severe cases they can last a month or longer. We'd recommend staying in contact with your doctor until you get through this!

  22. Posted 12/14/2014 at 7:13:43 PM
    Gravatar of Brett

    Are you sure that hot water is bad? I have had a poison oak rash on my left wrist and my ankles, and when I run pretty hot water over it it feels really good and the relief lasts a good 3 hours. I asked my doctor about it too and read online somewhere else that it releases a lot of histamine in one big burst and then takes a while to build back up.


  23. Posted 12/22/2014 at 7:50:32 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Brett: Hot water isn't bad per say, we just don't recommend it for the first wash after exposure to poison ivy; hot water opens the pores which can allow the urushiol (rash-causing oil) to seep into the pores, potentially causing a worse reaction. After the first wash with Tecnu or Tecnu Extreme it is OK to use hot water, and in most cases, the hot water can help soothe itching.

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