Summer has arrived and adventure is calling. The allure of the sultry sun and the calming blue sky beckon us to the outdoors. It’s time for long treks in shaded woods, scenic strolls through fields, and camping trips in mystical forests. Nature lovers are out and about, basking in the sun and ‘forest bathing’.
Life feels dreamy. Then, seemingly out of nowhere you begin to feel itchy. Just hours after a hike deep into the woods, you develop an unsightly and unbearably itchy rash; in desperation for relief you start scratching yourself incessantly. UH-OH. You have been smitten by the “poison ivy cupid.” Unfortunately, this is more frustrating than flattering.
What are these poisonous plants?
Poison ivy, oak, and sumac are three different plants that belong to the same plant family (known as anacardiaceae) and all produce urushiol, the skin-irritating oil found in the leaves, stems, and roots of these noxious plants. Urushiol, this oily resin, causes contact dermatitis when skin brushes against any part of the plant, or by touching something that is contaminated by it (i.e. clothing, gardening tools, pets, etc.). Our skin is so exquisitely sensitive to urushiol that all it takes is one toxic touch to wreak havoc on the skin.
Symptoms of exposure to poison ivy range from mild to severe and include: redness, itching, painful swelling, oozing and blistering skin, labored breathing (if you have inhaled smoke from burning poison ivy, oak, or sumac). In some very rare cases, these exposure can even cause anaphyactic shock. To avoid the wrath of a poison ivy, oak, or sumac rash, it’s important to know where they grow and what they look like.
These plants are found in wooded or swampy areas throughout North America. Poison ivy and oak can either grow as a single plant, ropey vine, or a shrub. In contrast, poison sumac always grows as a bush or tree. While poison ivy and poison oak both grow in bunches of three leaflets, poison ivy leaves are almond shaped and pointed at the tip, whereas poison oak leaves are lobed and rounded. Poison sumac leaves grow in a cluster of 5 to 13 leaflets with a bright red stem––a striking feature and perhaps a whisper of warning from nature. I hope you stay away from these summer spoilers.
Feel free to check out our poison ivy/oak/sumac relief soap bar here.
Stay safe, healthy, and happy in the summer sun!
More information on poison oak by US region can be found on the USDA’s website (click here)