May 30, 2009 by Phil Houtz

Use Witch Hazel to Cure Posion Oak Rash

Poison Oak in the middle red phase

Poison Oak in the middle red phase

Witch hazel is something you may have seen in your mother’s medicine chest, but she probably didn’t tell you why she was using it. Consequently you may not have discovered the extract’s many magical properties.

Fact is, witch hazel is good for a lot of things, some that you can talk about in mixed company and some that are mainly of interest to “us guys.”

Witch hazel is very good for treating a urushiol rash. Urushiol is an oily compound found on poison oak and poison ivy that quickly binds to the proteins in the skin. A rash develops when your body interprets these urushiol-modified skin cells as foreign agents and tries to kill them off. This bonding happens quickly, 10 to 30 minutes after exposure. The rash can take two or three days to appear and might last up to two weeks, untreated.

My trail buddies tell me that a good scrub with Tecnu Extreme Medicated Poison Ivy Scrub will prevent poison oak as long as you do it immediately after exposure. My problem is that I don’t always know when I’ve been exposed – a person can get a rash from oil on clothing, on a hiking stick, backpack or a friendly four legged creature. I’ve never found topical treatments such as calamine or cortisone cream to be effective or helpful. Witch hazel, applied twice daily, is nothing short of miraculous. Instead of a 7 to 14 day spell of tragic itching my most recent poison oak rash cleared up in three days.

I’m guessing that the astringent properties of the witch hazel quickly dry up the blisters, which in turn reduces skin damage and relieves itching. Or it may be the placebo effect. Who cares? As long as it works.

If you’d like to volunteer for further field-testing and research, have a testimonial about the amazing properties of witch hazel, or if you have a poison oak experience that bears retelling, by all means feel free to leave a comment.



  1. Jen
    September 11, 2012 - 10:00 pm

    Contracted somekind of rash which looked like poisen ivy, I tried several other things that had worked on itchy areas.. Benadryl spray, polysporon… Bought some witch hazel and applied with qtip and within hours the itch has subsided and the bumps which were pussy are now not pussy and just red bumps.
    Go witch hazel!

  2. Phil Houtz
    April 22, 2010 - 3:17 pm

    Sorry to hear that. A really bad case could need medical treatment. I once had such a bad case that my eyes and mouth were swollen shut. After a cortisone injection I could feel myself deflating like a balloon. Weird.

    In a pinch you might try applying vinegar topically to the rash. I’d also suggest an analgesic such as ibuprofen (itching, apparently is a form of pain and travels along the same neurons.) Sunshine is also good, but be VERY careful not to add sunburn to your agony!

  3. r lewis
    April 22, 2010 - 4:33 am

    Have posion oak really bad. Can’t sleep. Will try witch hazel first in morn.

  4. Richard
    September 27, 2009 - 11:38 pm

    Well I just arrived home from Virginia. I went down there to find my dream vacation property. 10 acres of land surrounded by the State Forest. Perfect location. One hour to Virgina Beach. One hour to Williamsburg one hour to Richmond. Two hours to Washington D.C.

    I walked the property with a stick hacking away at brancches in the way. I followed the mark trail on the outside edge of the property. When it came time to leave I had to turn around in a tight spot. When I got back to town I found a 3 foot branch that attached to the bumper. I did not think anything of it. I threw it the back of the truck and eventually found an area where I could disgard the branch.

    Well two of the leaves found there way on my work out sweats. after wearing the sweats I said what the heck leaves attached inside, Two of them.

    Well I found out what the heck they were. My leg was something to see.

    My buddy from the Navy who still lives in Virgina laughed. He was the one who told me to bring the stick to make noise to give the snakes a chance to leave before you walked up on one. He forgot to tell me about this stuff. I was Five years old the last time I had posion IVY (OAK), Sumac,

    Well never again I will tell you that much.

  5. Molly
    June 23, 2009 - 8:33 pm

    I arrived in San Francisco (after hiking in South Dakota) with a horrifying case of poison oak. I saw my Dad’s witch hazel and had the sneaking suspicion it would work for drying this accursed rash out. This (and other online sources) have confirmed my suspicions. I will proceed to experiment and perhaps report back with the results. Thanks for the info.

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