Poison Ivy: When Nature Attacks

Given my general inclinations, the only kind of rash I run the risk of contracting when I ride is of the road variety. So when I found myself covered with poison ivy after a recent jaunt on some local mountain bike trails, I was at complete loss as to how to treat the insipid condition.

According to my trusted physician, Dr. Webmd.com, poison ivy – or Toxicodendron radicans for the eggheads in the crowd – is a type of plant that can cause a skin rash called allergic contact dermatitis when it touches your skin. The red, uncomfortable, and itchy rash often shows up in lines or streaks and is marked by fluid-filled bumps (blisters) or large raised areas (hives). Sexy! The poison ivy plant contains a type of oil, called urushiol, that can trigger an allergic reaction when it comes in to direct or indirect contact with the skin. So even if you don’t directly touch the plant, you can still be exposed if you touch something that has the oil on it, like the wheels of your bike. Not everyone who touches the oil is lucky enough to develop poison ivy. You must be sensitized to the oil in order to be affected.So I’m guessing “repeatedly falling in nature” is a really good way of becoming more prone to poison ivy. Fantastic.

Thanks to the miracle of social media, I have amassed a stable of real and imaginary mountain biker friends who are wise in the ways of “nature”. After posting a series of pleas, whines and threats, they came to the rescue with all sorts of advice I decided was far too valuable to keep to myself.


Assuming staying out of “nature” is out of the question, there are a few things you can do before and after your ride to prevent getting poison ivy in the first place. These would be really smart things to try if you don’t currently have poison ivy – otherwise, feel free to slap yourself in the forehead after reading this section. Assuming of course you don’t have urushiol all over your hands. Ew.

1) Schoolgirls SocksIn addition making you look like a page out of a sexual fetishes handbook, knee socks will protect the most vulnerable parts of your legs from coming into contact with poison ivy. But don’t be surprised if creepy weirdos try to follow you home.

2) Ivy Block
Since I already have a rash, using Ivy Block would be of no use whatsoever. But the next time I attempt to frolic in “nature” you can bet I will be lathered from my head to my knee-socked toes in this stuff.

3) Apres-Ride Wash Down
The first thing you should do post-ride (yes, even before you crack the first beer, because you don’t want poison ivy in your mouth) is wash yourself down to remove as much of the oil as possible. Hey, maybe you can get the creepy weirdos to help you.

Water will work, but other suggested options are (in order of combustibility):
– dish soap (alkaline, like Sunlight)
– Gojo Orange hand soap
– shaving cream
– Varsol  (which will seriously fuck up your fingernail polish)

Ok, so you didn’t do any of the other stuff listed above and you are a contaminated, weepy, itchy (and very likely irritable) mess. Welcome to my world. Time to break out the big guns  before you kill yourself or someone else.

1) Tecnu Poison Ivy Scrub
It is a little known fact that on the seventh day, God went shopping at Mountain Equipment Coop. You should too. In addition to finding all sorts of cool stuff that will help you deal with “nature” and it’s associated inconveniences, you will find “Tecnu Medicated Poison Ivy Scrub”. I had several hardcore mountain bikers suggest this, so it must be good. While you’re there, buy yourself some knee socks. And maybe some tubes… and a cute outdoorsy Patagonia sundress that’s long enough to cover your oozing scabs. You deserve it.

1) Natural Household Hippie Remedies
If anybody knows about nature, it’s hippies. Here are some things you may have lying around the house that will give you some relief. Some, like tea tree oil, will also make you smell to high heaven. Perhaps to mask the smell of the patchouli.
– witch hazel
– tea tree oil
– baking soda to negate the acid
– Calamine Lotion

2) Medicine
If all else fails, you may be making a trip to the pharmacy or your (real) family doctor for some actual medical help. This is something to consider, especially if your case is really bad – ie. the rash covers an unacceptable percentage of your body, or is in a particularly heinous spot like your eye, or (God forbid) crotch. Here are a few things that have super long names and therefore must be good.
Over the counter:
– hydrocortizone cream (which I am currently and rather comfortably stewing in)
– Benadryl
– betamethasone valerate (a thick steroid clear cream)
– prednisone

Instant Relief

1) Hot scalding water
It’s hard to believe that hot, scalding water applied to your skin could provide relief, but so many people recommended it I had to try it.  Perhaps it’s just a distraction – but for a blissful few minutes you will be able to think of something other than the violent removal of your own skin.

2) Hot hair dryer
I’m assuming this remedy works on the same principle as the scalding water, with the added benefit of making your hair look like this:(that one’s for you KK).

Thanks to all my wise and fat-wheeled friends who freely offered advice. Even the well-meaning twitter friend who confused poison ivy with a jellyfish sting and recommended peeing on it. Otherwise, all of the suggestions were practical and effective, and will no doubt make any future forays into “nature” far more enjoyable.

My favourite response:
“Use sandpaper and gasoline. Remember, you’re not just a fairy roadie anymore.”