It’s spring time! Along with the abundance of daffodils and wildflowers, poison oak leaves are budding their leaves full of oily residue wreaking havoc on the skin of forest lovers. From the dogs to dirty clothes, I don’t even have to go for a hike to get this annoying rash that leaves me itching and oozing for two weeks. I’ve struggled with poison oak since I moved to northern California 17 years ago, and I have tried a plethora of natural remedies to alleviate the itch, reduce inflammation, and stop the spread. The following recommendations are listed in order of their effectiveness based on my personal experiences, and you will notice calamine lotion did not make the cut.
1. Tea Tree and Lavender Essential Oils
Last year, when I had poison oak in an embarrassing, uncomfortable location and planned to drive six hours to see the Dalai Lama, a midwife friend recommended tea tree and lavender essential oils. At the time, I had only tea tree, and the immediate relief it offered was incredible. Ideally, these essential oils are used in a 50-50 mixture and directly applied to the rash. I am amazed at how quickly this natural remedy speeds healing. Lavender and tea tree oils, whether alone or in combination, are the most effective poison oak remedy I have tried.
2. Homeopathic Tecnu Extreme
I cannot verify this product is all natural, and it does contain alcohol, but it uses homeopathy to cure itching and speed healing. It can also be used to prevent a rash from ever occurring if applied after exposure. The active ingredient in Tecnu Extreme is Grindelia Robusta, common name wild sunflower or gum plant. I have successfully used this product to prevent rashes on my children after obvious exposure, but I do prefer tea tree and lavender oils when it comes to direct application for a rash.
3. Oatmeal Bath
Oatmeal maybe be a tasty, warm breakfast meal; this whole grain also has skin soothing properties. I have tried commercial oatmeal bath products that were not entirely all natural, but eHow.com explains how you can make your own:
Prepare a lukewarm bath using collodial oatmeal, which are rolled oats that have been ground into a fine powder that will easily dissolve in water. Use several cups of oatmeal in the bath for the best results. Take care when climbing in to the tub, since the moisturizing agents in the oatmeal can make bathroom surfaces slippery.
Add a few handfuls of Epsom salts or baking soda to the bath in order to treat your poison oak rash with oatmeal. This will increase the effectiveness of the oatmeal bath by providing a longer period of relief from itching.
Soak in the tub for 15 to 30 minutes to treat your poison oak with oatmeal. Ensure that all exposed areas of your skin are completely submerged in the bath water the entire duration of the bath.
Hot water always feels good on my poison oak rashes, so soaking in a soothing hot tub does offer relief. I would recommend adding lavender and tea tree to the bath for added comfort and relaxation. I have also successfully used oatmeal baths on my dogs when they have had bad skin reactions to fleas.
4. Aloe Vera
Every home should have an aloe vera plant to respond to burns and other skin ailments. I find the gel is most effective near the end of the poison oak rash for healing the dry, itchy skin, but I do not find it useful during the oozing stage. Aloe vera has a cooling effect, and it can be used near sensitive parts of the body, like the face, where other remedies may not be advisable. It can also be taken internally to help your whole body defend against the rash.
5. Rhus Toxicodendron
Rhus Toxicodendron is a homeopathic remedy that is actually made from poison ivy. As recommended in a Homeopathic Medicine: First Aid and Emergency Care by Lyle W. Morgan, Ph.D., H.M.D., I tried taking Rhus Tox. as a method of “desensitization” in order to build up natural immunity. Morgan claims this method is “90% effective in clinical use” and is accomplished by taking higher potency Rhus Tox. orally for four to six weeks prior to exposure.
When I tried this desensitization method, I had one of the worse poison oak rashes of my life. It was all over my body, and I was miserable. I don’t know if it was from the remedy or if I was exposed to poison oak from the dogs. It is pretty much unavoidable where I live. This homeopathic method may be highly successful if you can avoid exposure completely and under the care of a homeopath.
An herbalist friend of mine calls poison oak the “guardian of the forest” and reminds me to respect this nemesis of mine. Truly the best defense is to simply use soap and water and change your clothes after possible contact, but sometimes getting a rash is unavoidable.
Common medical treatments for poison oak, ivy, and sumac involve steroids, so seeking out natural alternatives is advisable.