The People's Perspective on Medicine

Can You Use Beer to Wash Off Poison Ivy?

A reader advocates using beer to wash off poison ivy oil. Dermatologists say what matters most is speed–get the resin off within 15 minutes or less.
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If you spend time outdoors in wild places, you have undoubtedly encountered poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac. You’ll find it worthwhile to learn what these plants look like so you can avoid an itchy uncomfortable rash. If you contact it by accident, you’ll need to wash off poison ivy resin. Dermatologists tell us that ordinary soap and water works just fine for this purpose. The most important factor is to wash within 10 to 15 minutes of exposure. However, many people have developed unusual tactics for avoiding a poison ivy rash. One reader likes to use beer.

Do You Use Beer to Wash Off Poison Ivy?

Q. In my refrigerator I have a bottle of beer, and in the freezer, a small carton of milk. Either one will wash off poison ivy plant oils, just as they each soothe fire of hot Mexican peppers. I have lots of poison ivy here in the mountain woodlands. I’m surprised no one else has mentioned these remedies. Just thaw the milk in hot water if there is none in the fridge.

A. Washing the urushiol resin of poison ivy off the skin promptly is the best way to prevent the rash. Readers have offered a wide variety of strategies for this purpose including Fels-Naptha soap, witch hazel, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, jewel weed or good old fashioned soap and water. Many readers also recommend OTC products such as Zanfel Poison Ivy Wash or Tecnu Outdoor Skin Cleanser.

Beer or Milk for Poison Ivy?

Yours is the most unusual solution for washing off poison ivy resin. Because urushiol is somewhat oily, plain water won’t do. But the alcohol in the beer might help, because urushiol is soluble in ethanol. We really don’t know how the milk would work to wash off poison ivy oil. Be sure to do so within fifteen minutes of exposure.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Dawn dish soap works great. I’ve had poison ivy many times when i didn’t realize i’d come in contact. Like from petting the dog or from my hiking boots. I find Gold Bond Lotion works better than calamine for relieving the itch.

I use Fells Naphtha soap. Whenever I am in poison ivy I shower as soon as I get home. It is the only soap I know that will cut the oil.

If I even suspect I’ve been exposed to poison ivy, I use blue dish liquid and scrub with a washcloth. It is not practical for me to do anything within 15 minutes; I do lawn care for a living. Since doing this, I’ve not had a severe outbreak; only a couple of spots here and there.

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