The Poison Ivy Update

By James Fallows

Poison-ivy-uma.jpgLast week, advice on the miracle protector against/cure for poison ivy, Tecnu. (Uma Thurman's rendering of Batman-world character Poison Ivy at right.)

This week, readers' additions and clarifications. One writes:

>>Maybe you don't know it, but soap and cold water usually works if used quickly. Even more effective is rubbing alcohol. No need for Tecnu.<<

No "need," perhaps, but it's worked for me. Next, on the surprising fruit-world parallels to poison ivy:

>>I too am crazy sensitive to poison ivy. My family physician once told me that one of my outbreaks was the worst case he had ever seen.

You probably know this, but mangoes are in the poison ivy family (this was the next thing my physician told me).

A couple of summers ago I broke my mango fast and had a mango smoothy. I was hideously itchy all over my body for weeks. My wife nearly killed me because I was driving her nuts with my self-inflicted itching.

Stay away from mangoes!<<

Hmm. So far I have coexisted with them without harm. The Japanese angle:

>>No poison ivy here in Japan that I know about, but we do have lots of lacquer (aka urushi).  I found out the hard way doing some lacquer repairs that the active toxin in poison ivy and poison oak is called urushiol, which, no surprise, is present in copious amounts in uncured urushi.  I read somewhere that American troops returning from Japan after WWII with souvenir Japanese rifles--with the lacquered stocks--were coming down with mysterious rashes after killing time on the boat home sanding down their toys.  If only we all had Tecnu.<<

More low-tech alternatives:

>>Actually chlorine-free bleach works very very well for getting rid of poison oak! tecnu is many times more expensive.... I was skeptical at first. its a pretty wonderful trick. it does dry out your skin a bit at first.<<
Fels.png

And another:

>>Up here in northern MN, where I have now spent 63 summers, the standard treatment for exposure to poison ivy is Fels Naptha laundry soap, which comes in a bar.  It's brown, it's unattractive, it looks toxic, but it works, and has for a long time.  One merely slices off a small sliver of the soap and then uses it in the shower, just like any other soap.  Our household has been using the same bar of Fels Naptha for at least a decade, so it's economical, too.  I've used it when just exposed to poison ivy and I've used it when poison ivy has taken hold, and it has always been effective.  It has been around a long time.<<

Thanks to all; may this be of use. Back to politics, the economy, and language shortly.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/08/the-poison-ivy-update/243353/