I didn’t know what poison oak looked like before I lived on the central coast, nor was I aware of the misery it could inflict. My realtor pointed out the three distinct leaves and said simply, “Don’t touch it.” A year later after a series of small rashes on my wrists and ankles (presumably from the cats) I recognized that the widespread “bushes” on my hillside, which were turning a beautiful red color, were actually poison oak.
For the next several years I tried to have the ominous leaves and roots removed by any willing person, including my young industrious neighbor who quickly became covered in the invasive rash from head to toe. Finally, I hired an official “poison oak removal” company who told me the reason they are so costly is because sometimes their workers have to go to the emergency room.
The brave young men who came to do the clearing left me with an open hillside, free from poison oak. Or was it? I ambitiously set out, rake in hand, to level the dirt and clear away small sticks, branches, and debris left behind. It was a hot day. Sweating, I wiped my face several times as I happily pondered the possibilities for new planting.
Within a few hours I felt the invasion. An itchy rash spread rapidly over my left arm, turning to unsightly and even itchier red blisters that looked like a bad burn. Before long my right arm, both legs, lower back, belly, and my face joined in. Over the next two weeks, new spots seemed to randomly emerge though I went nowhere near the scene of the crime. I was trapped in a shell of hot misery with flu-like symptoms. The muscles in my neck, shoulders, and right hip began to spasm.
In the midst of this grand-scale invasion, I heard many stories of what others have done with their own nasty rashes. (I think everyone has a story.) I heard numerous remedies – everything from going to the hospital and getting injections (which one person said made them sicker) to “just scratch it ‘til it doesn’t itch anymore” which made me think of scarring. Now I have my own story and my own remedies, which I get to pass along to you. After several weeks of new rashes showing up, I had lots of time to experiment with different anti-itch techniques. Here is what I came up with, and I think it’s pretty good. My plan requires no doctor visits, no toxic chemicals to apply or ingest, and it eases the misery of it all with natural products.
1. Once you know you’ve been exposed, or even if you have an inkling you might have been exposed, immediately put all of your clothes (and shoes) in the washer, not in your hamper or on the floor. Walk directly to the shower.
2. Take a shower using Dr. Bronner’s liquid peppermint soap - which lately you can buy at Trader Joe’s. Continue using this soap while the rash is present. Peppermint is anti-inflammatory and relieves itchy skin.
3. Wear loose clothing that doesn’t rub against the rash area. Anything touching the rash will cause it to itch.
4. When tempted to touch the rash, instead apply essential oils immediately. The most effective essential oils for me were lemongrass, peppermint, and lavender with either Purification or RC (both are blends made by Young Living). Purification contains an effective blend of citronella, lemongrass, lavender, rosemary, eucalyptus, and myrtle essential oils. RC contains a blend of eucalyptus, myrtle, marjoram, pine, lavender, cypress, spruce, and peppermint essential oils. These stopped the itching and inflammation. Someone had said that for poison oak the Young Living lavender is superior to others, and I tend to agree.
5. If possible, take a nightly hot bath to which you add 1-2 cups Epsom salts, 1 cup apple cider vinegar, and 1 cup baking soda. This will stop the itch, make it at least seem like you are healing, and help you sleep soundly.
6. Avoid sugar and alcohol. For a couple of days I was feeling really good, the itching was under control, and I thought I was out of the woods. Then I had a piece of cake at a birthday party and immediately every portion of the rash from head to toe flared up. It took two days to get it to calm down again. I also had this experience after a glass of wine, although it wasn’t as intense as with the cake. My best days were when I was treating myself as if I had a cold or flu - eating really well, no sugar, only supportive healing foods.
7. Drink a lot of water with optional juice from a fresh lemon. This helps cleanse the body.
8. Finally, if you find yourself with an all-over rash coinciding with muscle spasms like I did, go ahead and use the mantra I used to keep my sanity, “This too shall pass.”
Indeed, it did finally pass. Muscles relaxed again, skin returned to normal. I am left with an entirely new respect for those little leaves of three, and for nature herself, who apparently won’t be trifled with.