Plants That Cause Skin Irritation

This time of year, many of you are like­ly spend­ing a lot of time out­doors. Whether in the gar­den, hik­ing on nature trails, or going on pic­nics, being in nature expos­es you to sev­er­al plants that can cause skin irri­ta­tion that you should avoid. 

One of the most com­mon­ly known plants for skin irri­ta­tion is Poi­son Ivy. It is known to cause a red burn­ing rash that can last sev­er­al weeks and in severe cas­es, can have boils that ooze. Not every­one is aller­gic” to poi­son ivy though; only 50% of adults are known to have sen­si­tiv­i­ty. You can get it from direct con­tact like touch­ing any part of the plant, inhal­ing it when it is being burned, or even indi­rect­ly from a pet, gar­den­ing tools, or cloth­ing that has been exposed. 

Poi­son Ivy con­tains an oil called urush­i­ol which caus­es a nasty rash when it comes into con­tact with the skin. It is eas­i­ly absorbed with­in 3 – 30 min­utes and can­not be removed by any soap. The oil, if left on a dry sur­face, can be active for over five years, so wash any cloth­ing imme­di­ate­ly with a heavy deter­gent fol­low­ing expo­sure. Despite what most think, the rash itself is not con­ta­gious. You can­not get the rash from some­one else who has been exposed. You can only get it if the oil from the plant is still on their clothes or skin, but the rash itself does not con­tain any of the urush­i­ol oil from Poi­son Ivy. If you are aller­gic or even if you aren’t sure, I rec­om­mend going to a web­site that will help you iden­ti­fy Poi­son Ivy when you plan to be out­doors. It is impor­tant to be able to iden­ti­fy the vari­eties of Poi­son Ivy and what each one looks like in the dif­fer­ent sea­sons. And yes, you can get poi­son Ivy in the win­ter when the plant is dead.

Poi­son Ivy grows on trees like a vine, but it can be in a bush form or even ground cov­er at the beach. There are sev­er­al web­sites that have pic­tures iden­ti­fy­ing the dif­fer­ent species, but my favorite is poi​son​-ivy​.org. This site is full of infor­ma­tion, aids in iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, and even has some Poi­son Ivy” humor. 

One oth­er impor­tant fact about Poi­son Ivy is that there are sev­er­al plants relat­ed to Poi­son Ivy that also con­tain urush­i­ol. If you are known to be sen­si­tive to Poi­son Ivy, you can also get a both­er­some rash from touch­ing the skin of a man­go, the shells of cashew nuts, and the sap of the Japan­ese lac­quer tree. It does­n’t mean you can­not eat man­go or cashew nuts — it’s just the skin or shells that con­tain the urush­i­ol oil. So basi­cal­ly, you can eat peeled man­gos and eat de-shelled cashews. 

Some peo­ple are sen­si­tive to plants that have spiny nee­dles and thorns. They can break out in hives when they brush up against the spiny nee­dles. Sting­ing net­tle plants, prick­ly pear, fig, rose, mul­ber­ries, this­tles and saw pal­met­to are all exam­ples of plants that can cause an itchy skin erup­tion. Most irri­ta­tions go away on their own, but there is a risk of a staph or fun­gal infec­tion if there are microbes on the skin when the spiny hair or thorn enters the skin. 

Pret­ty flow­er­ing plants are not always safe from caus­ing skin irri­ta­tion either. Orchids, tulip bulbs, chrysan­the­mums, daf­fodils, and but­ter­cups are all known to induce aller­gic reac­tions in some people. 

By tak­ing the prop­er pre­cau­tions when out­doors, you can avoid both­er­some skin irri­ta­tions. Know how to iden­ti­fy poi­so­nous plants and be sure to wear pro­tec­tive cloth­ing when gar­den­ing with long sleeves, pants, and boots to pre­vent expo­sure to pos­si­ble irri­tants. Wash cloth­ing in hot water after being exposed to any pos­si­ble tox­ic plants. And if you do get a rash or are suf­fer­ing from an aller­gic reac­tion after being exposed, don’t try to do it alone. See a der­ma­tol­o­gist who may give you a pre­scrip­tion to ease the dis­com­fort and speed recovery. 

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