Best Poison Ivy Treatments

Updated November 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

21 Models Considered
5 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
206 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best poison ivy treatments

Last Updated November 2019
By Kristin Yarbrough

You knew your seven-mile hike through the mountains last weekend might be risky. You just thought the hazard would be in the form of spectacular cliffs, not harmless-looking foliage. Next time you’ll be on the lookout for “leaves of three,” but that little ditty won’t help you now that you’ve encountered poison ivy.

Poison ivy is found in every state except Alaska and Hawaii. The plant features telltale clusters of three almond-shaped leaves, and it can appear as a shrub, groundcover, or climbing vine. It tends to grow at the edges of paths, trees, and fences rather than in open fields, so it’s easily accessible to hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

What is it about poison ivy that causes so much agony? It’s urushiol, the oily resin found in the plant’s leaves, stems, and roots. Urushiol’s thick, sticky texture enables it to adhere to your skin, clothing, and other objects. If you wash it off quickly, you might escape with only minor skin irritation. If your exposure develops into a rash, it can take weeks to stop the itching – unless you find a good treatment.

No one wants to suffer for weeks experimenting with creams that may or may not work. Let BestReviews help you find the poison ivy treatment that will give you the best results as soon as possible. Read on to discover the different types of treatments and which one will work best for you. When you’re done, be sure to check out our product recommendations.

About the author

Kristin Yarbrough enjoys the great outdoors and has camped, hiked and played everywhere from Florida to Alaska. She knows you're looking for quality products that won't let you down or slow you down when you're out on an adventure.


Kristin Yarbrough  |  Writer
Some varieties of poison ivy turn an ominous red in the fall, but you’re more likely to be exposed in the spring when the leaves are less noticeable.

Key considerations

When deciding which poison ivy treatment to try, assess your symptoms. Different treatments work best depending on how advanced the symptoms are, and you want to pick the formula that targets your stage.

Cure vs. prevention

When looking at treatments, be sure the item you choose is intended for relief, not prevention. Some poison ivy formulas help block urushiol from affecting the skin before exposure, a valuable feature for those who react particularly poorly to the oil. It’s not a bad idea to stock up on preventive products while it’s on your mind, but these won’t help relieve your suffering once you’re exposed.

Pharmaceutical vs. homeopathic

Like many over-the-counter remedies, poison ivy treatments are available in both pharmaceutical and homeopathic formulas. Some customers prefer pharmaceutical varieties, which often provide quicker relief but may include chemicals that are harsher on the skin. Other individuals trust only natural ingredients in order to avoid irritating the skin further, but these are often slower to act.

Which treatment path you take is a personal choice. But if you eventually go to the doctor, be sure to take whichever formula you choose with you. Some poison ivy treatments may interfere with a drug prescribed by your doctor, so you might need to discontinue use of the remedy if you start a course of prescription medicine. When in doubt, ask a medical professional.

Quick relief at the source

This effective formula binds with urushiol so the irritant can be washed away. It often starts providing relief in less than a minute, but it’s still gentle enough for use by kids and pregnant women. Since Zanfel removes the toxin from your skin, it helps to keep you from reinfecting yourself or spreading the rash further. Zanfel can be used at any time after exposure, but it’s most effective in the early stages.

TESTING POISON IVY TREATMENTS

After spending nearly 25 hours researching 5 poison ivy treatments we purchased our top pick and tested it in the BestReviews lab for effectiveness and comfort.

Poison ivy treatment features

Washes and scrubs: Many highly rated poison ivy treatments are cleansers that wash urushiol from the skin; removing the source of the irritation and preventing the rash from spreading. These formulas are extremely effective when used soon after contact, but they may not provide as much relief in more advanced cases. Effective use also requires that you know you’ve been exposed. Most poison ivy rashes take at least 12 hours to develop.

Creams: Creams are a better choice if your rash has already advanced to the stage where blisters have formed. These treatments dry quickly to protect irritated skin from further damage. Gently applied creams can introduce calming ingredients that heal raw skin and relieve the itching sensation that encourages harmful scratching.

Lotions and ointments: Poison ivy lotions and ointments offer many of the same ingredients as creams but without as many benefits. While these deliver healing compounds to the skin, lotions tend to absorb quickly, limiting the length of time they provide topical relief. If you prefer a lotion, look for formulas that dry quickly and provide some type of barrier over irritated skin. Ointments tend to stay on skin longer than lotions but are thicker, stay wet longer, and can mark clothes and other belongings. If you want an ointment, check for one with drier natural ingredients that will stay put rather than transfer to other surfaces.

Pills: Some manufacturers offer pills that help prevent poison ivy rashes and combat symptoms once you’re exposed. Many are homeopathic and include extracts from the poison ivy plant itself. Some people find these supplements to be effective; others do not.

EXPERT TIP

Blisters from poison ivy rashes can’t spread poison ivy – even if they pop – because they don’t contain urushiol. The only way to spread the rash person to person is if someone still has urushiol on their skin or clothing.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Many poison ivy treatments are also effective against poison oak and poison sumac, since they also secrete urushiol.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Apply hand sanitizer to the site of poison ivy exposure if you’re in the woods and don’t have any other products available. Hand sanitizer is primarily alcohol, which can remove the oil.


Staff  | BestReviews

Poison ivy treatment prices

Inexpensive

Whether delivered in cream, pill, or ointment form, the least expensive – yet effective – poison ivy treatments cost $10 or less. Both medicinal creams and homeopathic pills are available in this price range.

Mid-range

Some salves, scrubs, and other treatments in both pharmaceutical and homeopathic options cost between $10 and $20. These may be more expensive, but they will often provide more complete relief for a longer period of time.

Expensive

The best OTC poison ivy treatments cost $25 or more. While this price may seem steep, it’s better than suffering weeks of uncomfortable itching and interrupted sleep. These formulas both remove urushiol and treat affected skin.

Prescription

Prescription treatments for poison ivy vary in price depending on the prescription and your insurance plan.

Gently removes toxins

The Tecnu exfoliating silicone dioxide microbeads remove urushiol from the skin using a formulation that’s less abrasive than some others. It’s best used within eight hours of exposure, but many users say it provides relief several days in, even after prescription products run out.

Tips

  • Clean under your fingernails. When using a poison ivy wash, be sure to clean carefully under your fingernails where the urushiol can easily hide and be spread to other body parts.

  • Never set fire to poison ivy. The smoke contains urushiol, and if inhaled, it can cause a poison ivy rash in your lungs, which is painful at best and fatal in the worst cases.

  • Clean boots, jackets, hats, and gloves that have been exposed. Poison ivy oil can remain potent for years, so clean any items you were wearing before storing them.

  • Be careful what you touch. Even if you don’t touch the poison ivy plant, urushiol can be transmitted by garden tools, clothing, and even pets that have touched the plant.

Other products we considered

While it’s not labeled specifically for treating poison ivy, Mean Green Power Hand Scrub serves as a budget alternative to the highly rated, high-priced Zanfel wash. It does a fantastic job scrubbing urushiol from your skin. While it can’t rival Zanfel’s calming properties, it does wonders for damaged skin. If you don’t like messy creams and would prefer an oral medication, you might want to try the homeopathic WHP Be Gone Poison Ivy Pills. Take them prophylactically to help ward off rashes, or take a larger dose after exposure. Keep in mind that Be Gone is more effective in the earlier stages of poison ivy exposure and may not help a full-blown rash.

Besides the three telltale leaves, poison ivy plants also have white berries that are eaten by birds, deer and some insects.

FAQ

Q. How do I know if I need to see a doctor?

A. Most poison ivy rashes don’t need a doctor’s attention, but if you’re concerned or in severe discomfort, it can’t hurt to call. You should definitely see your doctor if you’re experiencing  allergic symptoms, if the rash covers your eyes, if you have a fever of more than 100°F, or if your rash develops blisters or scabs with yellow pus. Pus can indicate a bacterial infection, which may require antibiotics. Your doctor might also decide to give you an oral steroid if the rash is too large or produces too many blisters.

Q. Should I keep using my OTC treatment if my doctor puts me on a prescription?

A. Be sure to bring any treatments to the doctor with you just to be safe. Your doctor will know if your topical treatment can be combined with the prescription. It varies on a case-by-case basis.

Q. How can I dispose of poison ivy in my yard?

A. Once you’ve been exposed to poison ivy, you want to make sure it never happens again. But getting rid of the plant can often lead to repeated exposure. To reduce your risk, treat the plant with herbicide, then wear thick rubber gloves to uproot the dead plant. If you don’t want to risk damaging nearby plants with herbicide, you can uproot the plant and place it in a thick plastic bag. Be sure to wear rubber gloves and protect your hands and face. Wash your gloves thoroughly after removing the poison ivy because the oil remains potent for years. Never burn poison ivy because burning releases the oil into the air, potentially exposing your eyes and lungs to irritation.

The team that worked on this review
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    Alvina
    Photographer
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    Amos
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    Videographer
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    Editor
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    Digital Content Producer
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    Kristin
    Writer
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    Web Producer
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    Post Production Editor

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