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Poison oak
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Dan Magdoff
(highsierraguy) - F

Locale: Northern California
Poison oak on 11/10/2010 11:50:10 MST Print View

Hey all
Wondering if any of you have any products, tips or tricks to either protects against getting poison oak, and to treat it once you have it?

I do a bit of weekend backpacking in Big Sur and I always get it when I go there, which is the only bad part about the area. If I could avoid getting poison oak while there I would be stoked!

Any ideas or tips would be awesome!


Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Poison oak on 11/10/2010 12:04:06 MST Print View

There are two separate types of medicine. First, you want to use a preventative. Long clothes. Next, if you have much exposed skin, you want to use a poison oak blocker, typically an ointment that contains Bentoquatam. That keeps the stuff from getting into your skin.

If you have gone in without protection and the rash starts to show up, then you want to use an OTC medicine that contains Calamine and Benadryl. The stuff that I last used was called Caladryl since it had both in it. This does not cause the rash to disappear 100%. It does cause the scratchiness of the rash to be reduced so that you can live with yourself while it heals.

If you do get the rash, there is an old axiom about poison oak. If you treat it, the rash will go away in about 14 days. If you do not treat it, the rash will go away in about two weeks.


Dan Magdoff
(highsierraguy) - F

Locale: Northern California
poison oak on 11/10/2010 12:09:09 MST Print View

SO I always wear long clothes, and tuck everything in to minimize skin exposure. At the end of the day I wash up REALLY well with stuff called Tecnu which is supposed to break down the oils and get them off your skin. But it seems to matter what I do, I ALWAYS get it. And your seems no matter what I do to treat it once I have it, it never heals any faster.

Are there certain times of year to go when the plant is dormant, or is not producing the oil?

Hikin' Jim
(hikin_jim) - MLife

Locale: Orange County, CA, USA
Re: poison oak on 11/10/2010 12:18:04 MST Print View

I don't think there's a time of year where you can't get PO. Would that there were!

The protocol is basically:
1. Apply PO blocker.
2. Cover as much of your body as you can (minimize skin exposure).
3. Wash with Tecnu. Supposedly cold water is better to wash with. Warm water opens up your pores and allows the PO to get in.

I might try applying PO blocker even to areas that aren't going to be exposed.

Dunno. Sometimes when you go through really bad PO, you're just going to get PO. At least that's my experience. I try to find trails without too much of the stuff if I can.

The worst part of PO is that it typically gets worse with exposure. In other words, the more you're exposed to it over time, the more your body will react to it. Isn't that a nice thought? I hate PO!


Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: poison oak on 11/10/2010 12:19:03 MST Print View

What I am about to state only applies to California's poison oak. Other plants may be different.

Tecnu or something like that can go on your skin. Long clothing covers the skin as well. If you still get the rash, I can guess about how that happened. It happened when you removed the contaminated clothing, got the oils on your fingers, and then migrated it to other skin surfaces. When you remove contaminated clothing, wash that clothing immediately before it can spread the oils to anything else. It is particularly easy to pick up the oils if your skin is sweaty.

Poison oak plant looks green and fresh in the springtime. The oils are on the leaves. Then it turns green and red during summertime, and the oils are still on the leaves. In the autumn, it turns brown and then the leaves drop, exposing woody stems. The oils are still present, but you won't get as many of the oils onto your skin. (However, the last time I got a rash by the coast, it was from walking past a thicket of woody poison oak bushes without leaves.)

The plant can grow as a bush, or it can send a vine up along a tree trunk. I've seen poison oak vines 60 feet up in a tree.


Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Re: poison oak on 11/10/2010 12:22:32 MST Print View

Pay attention to your clothes, shoes(laces), and pack.

The oils will be there after you get home, and if you're prone, you'll get it the day After the trip.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Re: poison oak on 11/10/2010 12:46:51 MST Print View

I did an East Bay hike one time, and poison oak was all around me, but I was wearing at least two layers of clothing. I got home about two hours after the hike, and I was going to shower when I noticed a weird pink streak across my ribs. By the next day, that had matured into a standard poison oak rash. I could never quite figure out how it got through clothing in that area, but that is the nature of the beast.

Poison oak is especially bad if you get the oils on your hands, and then you "water a bush."

The only good news is that in California, poison oak plant does not grow much above 5000' elevation. That's why my summer trips are all 7000' and above.


Adan Lopez
(Lopez) - F

Locale: San Gabriel Valley
Tecnu on 11/10/2010 13:33:15 MST Print View

My experience with poison oak has been completely different after meeting tecnu. With tecnu, i cover my body before exposure, then i wash my body with tecnu after exposure. using this method i still get small rashes but it does not spread, dries out quickly and it does not itch nearly as much. YMMV.

Willie Evenstop
(redmonk) - F

Locale: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
Poison oak on 11/10/2010 13:40:30 MST Print View

I don't think the rash is limited to the point of contact, the oil spreads through the blood, IIRC. The rash appears later.

K ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Zanfel on 11/10/2010 13:42:58 MST Print View

I get poison oak all the time, as I work in it. The best product I have found is called Zanfel, sold at CVS. A small tube, 4 oz. costs 45.00 dollars :( but if I use it in the first 2 days after exposure, my rashes don't get too bad. When I use it, my skin just has a bunch of red dots that don't itch too bad; when I don't use it,my skin swells, oozes and all that. Of everything I have tried, this has worked the best for me.

Justin McMinn
(akajut) - F

Locale: Central Oklahoma
Re: Zanfel on 11/10/2010 14:59:27 MST Print View

+1 on Zanfel. I saw an huge change within 10 minutes of application. Itching and swelling were greatly decreased. If anything started back up, a second application did the trick.

Nico .
(NickB) - MLife

Locale: Los Padres National Forest
PO in Big Sur on 11/10/2010 15:10:00 MST Print View

If you haven't seen it already, the folks over on the Ventana Wilderness Forum also have a thread on treating/avoiding PO, here:

(sorry don't know how to do a hyperlink here)

I don't have any first-hand advice to share as I have yet to become succeptible to the stuff, but the pre-treatment and covering yourself up and treating/washing again once you're exposed method seems hard to beat. I've heard a dip in the ocean helps to soothe the itching; maybe plan to end each hike in Big Sur with a quick rinse before the drive home.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Poison oak on 11/10/2010 15:16:10 MST Print View

"I don't think the rash is limited to the point of contact, the oil spreads through the blood, IIRC"

The initial reaction is at the contact points. If things get out of hand it can go systemic, presenting anywhere.

Hikin' Jim
(hikin_jim) - MLife

Locale: Orange County, CA, USA
Re: Re: Poison oak on 11/10/2010 17:11:48 MST Print View

Thanks for the Ventana Wildnerss Forum link to their thread on poison oak.

To do a link on this forum, use standard html tag (a href=, etc).


David Lutz

Locale: Bay Area
"Poison oak" on 11/10/2010 17:31:13 MST Print View

Kat and Adan - Let us know how you guys fare after this coming weekend in Ventana.

Maybe one of you can be the control and not use any prevention measures.

You'll have to draw straws, I guess!

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
Re: Re: Poison oak on 11/10/2010 17:40:00 MST Print View

Poison Oak/Ivy/Sumac is a form of contact dermatitis. The urushiol oil is spread strictly through contact. It does not get in the bloodstream and spread. That one is 100% myth.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Re: Re: Poison oak on 11/10/2010 19:45:01 MST Print View

I wear long clothing and also wash with water on the trail if I think I've touched it.

I've been asked about the poison oak in the Ventana wilderness. I've never been there. Is it really that bad? Do you have to fight your way through it or does it just lean over the trail here and there?

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Re: Re: Poison oak on 11/10/2010 22:45:38 MST Print View

"Is it really that bad?"

There were bad trail places all over prior to the big fires, but afterward, some of the trail areas were maintained a bit, so the poison oak situation changed.

I heard just the other day that the Pine Ridge Trail (Barlow and Sykes Camps) is in good condition and the poison oak is cut back.


Eric Fredricksen
(efredricksen) - MLife

Locale: Silicon Valley
Pleasure and pain on 11/10/2010 23:08:05 MST Print View

Once you've got it:

One time when I had poison oak really bad (to the point where I wished I could be put into an induced coma until it went away), I discovered that holding the rash up to water as hot as I could stand for as long as I could stand resulted in some sort of histamine release that felt like the world best itch-scratching, after which it didn't itch at all for a period of time.

Also, it has seemed to me that getting a sunburn on the affected area seems to clear it up; but I'm not sure of this and it's scary to risk compounding your woes.

/A .
(biointegra) - MLife

Locale: Puget Sound
Re: Pleasure and pain on 11/10/2010 23:23:06 MST Print View

+1 on hot water.

I have had similar success with this, and even better if you follow up with hot air a la hair dryer.

This reduced severity of itching significantly and seemed to help it clear up quicker. This is my go-to method for dealing with it, if the rash appears anywhere after the mandatory immediate aggressive soap and warm water bathing asap after exposure. Usually this results in no or very isolated areas of minor rash. It is easy to brush up against clothes that were exposed while disrobing, which makes it crucial to be very careful about and also laundering clothes carefully and without others.