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Buying guide for best poison ivy treatments

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.

Found in every state except Alaska and Hawaii, poison ivy 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.

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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. natural

Like many over-the-counter remedies, poison ivy treatments are available in both pharmaceutical and natural 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.

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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.

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.


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


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.

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