Getting into a batch of poison ivy, poison sumac or poison oak can ruin a trip and make you pay for weeks afterwords. For those of you that have the allergic reaction to urushiol, like me, I have come across a protocol that I have implemented with success at preventing or dealing with it. There are prescription steroids that help your body cope, but those have their own side effects I prefer to avoid.
Whatever the reason I am in the woods, I am always on a look out for the "poison itchy". Most often I encounter the ivy version that is a fuzzy vine that grows tight to a trees trunk. It is nasty. It seems more potent than other forms of ivy and I have been into it more times than I care to recount. I have not come up with these ideas on my own. Instead, I have read or discussed these ideas with other sufferers and seen the results personally.
If I know I am going into hostile territory, I liberally apply a cheap, oily sunscreen to all exposed skin. I read that tip on a logger forum years ago and it really works. My thoughts are the oils in the sunscreen bind to your skin, and prevent the urushiol from binding to your skin. Remember, urushiol is more like a grease than an oil.
With or without the sunscreen, if I know or suspect I was exposed, I implement my shower routine. The point of this is absolute mechanical removal of the invisible grease that has likely spread already. Removal is key. Think of it as the worst truck or tractor oils and axle grease on you. After a day or wrenching on the tractor, that stuff doesn't just come off with regular bar soap.
Enter the shower with at least 5 wash cloths and your favorite concentrated liquid dish soap. I liberally apply the dish soap to one wash cloth and fervently scrub one exposed area. I then rinse the cloth and remove it from the shower. Continue this method for each exposed body part. I typically use one for each arm, face, head/neck, then another for the rest of my body. Be extra careful not to touch any part of yourself with the cloth after its touched a suspected exposed area.
After the initial dish soap wash, I move to the commercial hand de-greaser/cleaner. Think of the stuff auto mechanics use every day. This stuff has grit in it and a bunch of powerful de-greasers. This stuff will act as de-greaser and exfoliate your skin at the same time. Might as well remove the top layer of skin is it has poison itchy on it. My method is similar to the dish soap. I vigorously scrub each exposed part and rinse thoroughly in between. The grit is a little tough on the sensitive skin around the neck and under arms, but it's worth it.
After the hand cleaner, I wash again with the dish soap in the wash cloth. I am less cautious about spread and typically use one cloth for both arms, another for head, neck and face, and another for the rest of my body.
After the second dish soap treatment, I will use regular bar soap so I smell better than dishes.
If you have any symptoms at all, repeat soon. Even without symptoms, I will repeat this at least one time the next morning, about 10-12 hours after.
There are other tricks like getting the shower water super hot to open your pores up. This will allow a better cleansing while showering. It stands to reason the pores are typically opened when exposed to the poison to begin with, so get them opened back up when cleaning. I have also used commercial engine de-greaser and gasoline with success, although those are getting pretty toxic.
If you do find yourself having a major reaction, I have had some relief by taking a really hot shower. Your body will release all the histamine at one time, which is indescribable, but then it takes 30-60 minutes to build up again to make you start itching. That is the time you can get a little sleep. Overall, the urushiol just needs to be removed from your body. The sooner you get it off you, the less of a reaction you will have.
If you would like a list of the products I have successfully used, feel free to text me with a request at 616 299 1349.