Urushiol is an oily organic allergen found in various plants including plants of the genus Toxicodendron (e.g., poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac). It causes a skin rash known as urushiol-induced contact dermatitis (also called Toxicodendron dermatitis and Rhus dermatitis). It is the medical name given to allergic rashes produced by the oil urushiol, which is a yellow liquid that is miscible in alcohol but nearly insoluble in water. It is a mixture of several closely-related organic compounds.
Normally, it takes about 24 hours for the rash to first appear; for those with severe reactions it worsens during the next few days. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that there are up to 50 million cases of urushiol-induced dermatitis annually in the United States alone.
If you are exposed, according to the FDA, you should quickly (within 10 minutes):
- Clean exposed areas with alcohol.
- Wash the exposed areas with water only (no soap yet, since soap can move the urushiol around the body and make the reaction worse).
- Take a shower with soap and warm water.
- Lastly, put gloves on and wipe everything you had on, including shoes, tools and clothes using alcohol and water.
Commercial products like Zanfel, Ivy Cleanse Towelettes, and Tecnu Extreme Poison Ivy Scrub, are also available over-the-counter.
Newer medications that are supposed to target symptoms include:
- Burts’s Bees Poison Ivy Soap
- Cortaid Poison Ivy Care Treatment Kit
- Ivarest Medicated Cream
- IvyStat Cleanser
— Text by Purvi Gajjar