What is poison ivy?
Poison ivy is a common plant that contains urushiol, an oily compound found in the plant’s leaves, roots, flowers, and stems. Many people are allergic to urushiol and develop painful, itchy rashes after touching any part of the plant.
This type of reaction is known as contact dermatitis. If you’re allergic to urushiol, you may also notice swelling, redness, or oozing blisters.
While you can usually avoid a rash by washing the urushiol from your skin immediately, this isn’t always easy to do. In many cases, you might not even know you’ve encountered poison ivy until a few hours later, when you start to notice signs of a rash.
If you find yourself with an uncomfortable rash from poison ivy, diluted essential oils may help.
Best essential oils for poison ivy
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Calendula, also called marigold, is a yellow flower that’s been used to sooth irritated skin for centuries. A 2011 review found that calendula helped with symptoms of contact dermatitis.
In addition, there’s lots of anecdotal evidence that calendula’s soothing properties help with redness, dryness, itching, and pain.
Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile, Matricaria recutita)
Chamomile works similarly to calendula, which makes sense since they’re from the same plant family. While you might be familiar with drinking chamomile tea for relaxation, you can also use it in the form of an essential oil to calm down irritated skin.
A 2012 study suggests that applying a compress containing chamomile twice a day is more effective than applying a 1 percent hydrocortisone cream once a day for painful, itchy, or inflamed skin.
Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus)
Eucalyptus is a native Australian tree. A 2013 study found that eucalyptus was effective for rehydrating skin and preventing dryness. These properties may help during the later stages of a poison ivy rash, when your skin becomes dry and itchy.
Juniper (Juniperus, all species)
Thujone has antimicrobial properties, which can help to prevent infection, speed up healing, and reduce inflammation.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Lavender is one of the most popular herbs, due to its soothing scent and medicinal properties. A 2012 study confirmed the anti-inflammatory effects of lavender essential oil on the cellular skin level.
In addition, a 2015 study concluded that lavender essential oil also has analgesic properties, meaning it relieves pain. This aspect makes lavender essential oil a good choice for painful, inflamed rashes from poison ivy.
Myrrh (Commiphora, all species)
Myrrh, a resin that can come from several types of trees, has long been used to treat pain and inflammation.
A 2014 animal study found that myrrh extract worked as both an analgesic and anti-inflammatory, which may help with the pain and swelling that often accompany poison ivy rashes in their early stages.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
Peppermint’s minty fragrance makes it another popular essential oil. Similar to lavender and myrrh, it’s considered to have both analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. In addition, a 2012 study found that peppermint oil reduced symptoms of itchy skin in pregnant women.
Pine (Pinus, all species)
Constituents of pine, such as pine tar, are common ingredients in soaps made to treat poison ivy rashes. While there’s plenty of anecdotal research that these pine-containing soaps work, there haven’t been any studies that prove pine’s effectiveness in treating poison ivy rashes.
However, a 2012 study confirmed that essential oils of two types of pine had strong wound-healing properties, especially compared to other types of essential oils.
Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
Tea tree oil is one of the most effective essential oils for skin conditions. A 2013 review of tea tree oil’s uses in dermatology noted its use as a treatment for dermatitis. It may also speed up the healing of wounds, including rashes, and prevent itching.
In addition, tea tree oil’s antimicrobial properties may help to prevent infection as your rash heals.
How do I use essential oils for poison ivy?
There are a few ways to use essential oils for skin conditions, including poison ivy rashes.
Never apply pure, undiluted essential oils directly on your skin, regardless of what you’re trying to treat but especially if you have a rash.
Doing so can cause a rash similar to the one caused by the poison ivy.
To make a compress, add five drops essential oil to one cup of warm water. Stir or shake water and oils together. Soak a clean washcloth in the mixture and apply it to your rash. Repeat until all the water is gone. You can do this several times a day if it provides relief.
Lotion or salve
You can also make a soothing topical treatment by mixing essential oils with your favorite lotion, salve, or carrier oil. Add five drops of essential oil for every ounce of product. Apply the mixture to your rash as often as needed.
Important safety information
While essential oils are derived from plants, they’re still very powerful and should be used with care.
Before applying any diluted essential oils to your skin, do a small patch test first. This involves applying a small amount to an area that doesn’t have a rash to make sure your skin doesn’t have any kind of reaction.
If using essential oils seems to make your rash worse, stop using them right away, even if you did a patch test without any problems. The affected skin may just be more sensitive than the rest of your skin.
Most importantly, never take essential oils orally, regardless of your symptoms. Some essential oils are toxic when swallowed.
While research suggests there are health benefits, the FDA doesn’t monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. It’s important to talk with your doctor before you begin using essential oils and use caution when choosing a quality brand.
Try to purchase only essential oils that:
- include the plant’s Latin name
- list the country of origin
- contain 100 percent essential oil
- are produced through steam distillation or mechanical cold pressing
You can also try talking to someone who works at your local health food store. They’ll likely be able to recommend some high-quality brands.
When to see a doctor
While you can usually treat poison ivy rashes at home, some rashes require medical treatment.
Call your doctor if:
- your rash seems to spread
- you notice painful blisters
- you feel like your throat or face is swelling
If you notice any of these signs, you may need additional treatment to avoid complications, such as an allergic reaction or infection.