Recently a woman came to my home seeking advice on clearing a driveway and home site on her forested lot. She drove me a few blocks to where she was clearing underbrush. I stepped out, crossed the occasionally mowed roadside and stopped. I spotted many Poison Ivy plants with their compound leaves of three leaflets with reddish stems. I have a 50-year history of “urushiol induced allergic contact dermatitis.” My rubber boots, long pants and long-sleeved shirt should protect me from any contact with any part of these toxic plants and the urushiol oily resin they contain. At home I keep a tube of Zanfel Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac Wash on hand. Zanfel is clinically shown to unbind urushiol from skin.
In U.S. and Canada, the cashew Family Anacardiaceae has six plants containing urushiol oily resin.
Eastern Poison Ivy, Toxicodendron radicans, is a vine and ground cover native to the Southeastern U.S., including Florida.
Eastern Poison Oak, T. pubescens, a shrub, ranges from Florida to New Jersey to Kansas and all southeastern states.
Western Poison Ivy, Toxicodendron rydbergii, a low-growing shrub, occurs across Canada from the Maritimes to British Columbia, and most of the contiguous United States except southeastern states, New Jersey, Delaware and California. It grows in forests, and wooded areas, often near streams and rivers. Western Poison Ivy hybridizes with Western Poison Oak in the Columbia River Gorge area.
Pacific or Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum, ranges from British Columbia (Canada) south through Washington, Oregon, California, Baja California and the mountains of Nevada up to 5,000 feet elevation. Los Angeles was built on the site of a village named Yangna or iyaanga’, meaning “poison oak place.”
Poison Sumac, Toxicodendron vernix, is a small tree, up to 30 feet tall, with compound leaves having 7 to 13 leaflets that ranges from Florida to Texas, north to Maine and across the Great Lakes states to Minnesota.
Tropical Poisonwood, Metopium toxiferum, a South Florida tree is restricted to South Florida’s Keys and Everglades
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, about 85% of U.S. residents are sensitive to urushiol oily resin. Each year, some 50 million people in the U.S. — about 16% — experience urushiol-induced allergic reactions. Urushiol is in every plant part, including leaves, stems, roots and berries. Urushiol in dead plant parts and berries remains active for 5 to 9 years. The allergic reaction is a rash, swelling, blisters, clear yellow oozing, redness and chronic itching. Without treatment, urushiol contact dermatitis lasts 2 to 3 weeks. Re-exposure can occur.
The best precaution is to learn to identify these plants and avoid all contact. If contact is possible, gardeners, outdoor enthusiasts, work crews and drivers should wear protective clothing: boots, socks, long pants, long-sleeved shirt, hat and heavy-duty vinyl gloves. Urushiol on tools, shoes, vehicles, tires, etc. can stay for years to contaminate any skin that touches it. Wash the oily resin off equipment and pets with dish soap and water. Washing clothes, towels and bedding in a washing machine with laundry soap removes urushiol. Topical antihistamines and antibiotics do not reduce itching from urushiol induced contact dermatitis. Both can be absorbed through breaks in the skin to cause their own allergic reactions. Hydrocortisone 1% is too weak to be helpful. Calamine lotion only covers, but does not remove urushiol.
After contact with urushiol, immediately wash exposed skin with soap and water. Rinse thoroughly under running water. Urushiol under fingernails can be spread to any skin they touch. Sixty minutes after contact, urushiol is completely bound to human skin and cannot be washed away with regular soap and water or products like baking soda, alcohol or gasoline. Rash onset is usually 12 to 48 hours after exposure. Sufferers can remove urushiol within a minute with Zanfel wash. In more resistant people, onset may be up to 9 days after contact. It is never too late to use Zanfel.
Smoke particles from burning plants that contain urushiol may be inhaled, resulting in serious internal problems and difficulty breathing. Seek immediate medical help for widespread severe rashes; if skin continues to swell; if the rash is on eyes, mouth, ears or genitals; if a fever develops; or if smoke is inhaled. Prescription oral and injectable steroids are available. Clear blister fluid does not contain urushiol, so cannot spread the rash. Areas with pus are bacterial infections from scratching.
In my experience, after the rash and blisters occur, urushiol can be unbound from the skin with Zanfel, sold in the first-aid section of drug stores. A 1-ounce tube contains 15 treatments and has a shelf life of up to 10 years.
My doctor prescribed Zanfel. I got a discount prescription card online sent by email sent to my phone to show to the pharmacist. Insurance plans may not cover this clinically proven product because it is readily available over-the-counter. My first prescription of Zanfel cost $20.98 but a week later the second tube cost $25.79. The discount card had changed during the week.
The folks at Zanfel told me they do not advertise with the Mayo Clinic to promote their marvelous product that removes urushiol from skin. Shame on the Mayo Clinic to not mentioning a clinically shown product in their list of home remedies. (The Mayo did not return my calls.) Zanfel works!
Sufferers must read and follow the Zanfel directions. Squeeze 1.5-inches of Zanfel onto a palm, mix with water for 10 seconds, apply the froth to wetted rash areas massaging gently. Within 30 seconds the itching stops. Continue lathering the rash area for 1 to 3 minutes then rinse under a tap, hose or shower. The redness soon fades. Blisters subside in a day or two. Cure, not just relief.
Jane Weber is a professional gardener and consultant. Semi-retired, she grows thousands of native plants. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 352-249-6899.