Ask a Top Doctor: What’s the Best Way to Prevent Poison Ivy?

Top Doctor Michael D. Cirigliano, M.D., associate professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, shares his top tips for an itch-free summer

As careful as you might be to avoid the dreaded, itch-inducing, almond-shaped, “leaves of three” as you hike, camp, and mow the lawn this summer, a single run-in with poison ivy—or its just-as-irritating buddies, poison oak or sumac—can make you miserable. “The resin on poison ivy, oak, or sumac is a chemical irritant that causes severe inflammatory reactions in the skin,” says Top Doctor Michael D. Cirigliano, associate professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “Though mild cases can be treated with over-the-counter steroid creams and extreme cases can be treated with oral steroids prescribed by your doctor, the absolute best thing you can do is prevent contact in the first place.” Check out Cirigliano’s top tips for making it through the season safely.

Create a barrier. You’ve heard it before, and you’re hearing it again. “Long pants and long sleeves help to protect your skin from contact with the resin,” says Cirigliano, noting that the itchy substance binds to skin on contact, and that socks and close-toed shoes are also a smart idea. “There’s also a product called Ivy Block that you can apply to the skin prior to going into the woods, mowing the lawn, or wherever you think you might be exposed. It dilutes the resin and puts up a barrier from the resin on your skin.”

Take a cold shower. Immediately after being in the woods or cutting the grass, hop in the shower. “You want to wash off any resin as quickly as possible,” says Cirigliano. “And make sure the water is cold. It will keep pores from opening and prevent the resin from going deep into the skin.”

Beware of pets. “If a dog or cat is out in the woods and they brush up against you or sit on your lap you can get loaded with poison from contact with the resin on their hair,” says Cirigliano. If you think your pet has come into contact with poison ivy, don a pair of plastic gloves, cover exposed skin with clothing, and wash and rinse the animal thoroughly. Make sure to launder towels immediately after.

Wash clothes asap. “If you’ve been outside and think you may have come into contact with the plant, take your clothes off immediately after getting inside and put them directly in the washer—by themselves,” says Cirigliano. The resin is very oily and can easily transfer to other garments and areas of your body, even if you come into contact with it days later. The same goes for blankets and sleeping bags—if you think there’s even a remote chance they’ve been exposed, toss ‘em in the wash.