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Skin Rashes from Plants

I have a calendar full of dates when I've treated my rashes. Rashes of all kinds. There has not been a season go by that I've not suffered at the leaves of poison ivy, poison sumac, poison oak, stinging nettles, juniper bushes, vetch, coleus and nearly 150 other plants that cause skin irritations.

Why does this happen? Basically plants have sap and in this liquid is a substance called calcium oxalate. Calcium oxalate is composed of needle like, microscopic crystals that cause immediate irritation and burning. There could be swelling if any of this comes in contact with the lips, mouth, or is ingested.

Thomas Leo Ogren has created a list of potential rash-problem plants. You can find it in chapter nine "Skin Rash Plants" of his book "Safe Sex in the Garden". Some of these will never create an adverse condition for some people and some of these plants will create lingering rashes.

Everyone has a family home recipe that might relieve them of pain and itching: from apple cider vinegar, to jewelweed, to aloe lotions. I have even gone to a lake for relief. The salt water of the ocean dries skin irritations.

Steroidal creams may also help, but there is one key word that we should pay attention to and that is a drug called hydroxyzine. It is not a widely prescribed drug any more. Not commonly known, Mr. Ogren reminds us to ask our Doctor about it. It originally was developed to prevent anxiety but they also found it prevented itching. It now is on the market under several names. This is not a recommendation either from me or Mr. Ogren, just a suggestion and statement.

Encountering rashes as often as I do I've had to shop around and use a variety of products. When one stops giving me any relief, I move on to the next for a while. This is probably do to repeated exposure and some sensitivity shifts.

Rashes are just plain no fun. Keeping a mental note what plants to look out for helps. Wearing proper clothing (long sleeves and gloves - not rubber). Shower after gardening - some pollens and allergens easily are washed off. Pay especially attention to white saps - they are high on the culprit list. Wipe pruners with alcohol after use.

If your pets have been near poison ivy their fur can easily transmit the oil onto your skin. Don't cuddle your cats.

After exposure to the urushiol from poisonous plants you have about 10 minutes to remove the oil before it binds to the skin. Wash the effected area thoroughly with slightly warm water and use soap. Then wash again. A product called Tecnu will remove the resin without water. It is supposed to be used within 2 - 8 hours. Small areas can be cleansed with alcohol wipes.

This may be hard to avoid but being sweaty makes one more susceptible than having dry skin.

Bright and sunny days are known to worsen skin rashes. Evidently, some allergenic plants produce sap that creates sensitivity to ultra violet radiation. Burns and blistering may occur.

When the pollen count is high stay indoors.

By minimizing some of the outside factors that create and expose us to rashes, one can once again be a happy gardener.

One never knows what is going to get us next in the garden.