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"Outsmart Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac"
-Cadey O’Leary Hershoff
date posted: June 08, 2008

Help You and Your Family Outsmart Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac This Summer

Whether you are enjoying group runs, walks or trail hikes or simply playing outdoors, don’t let one of Mother Nature’s nastiest aggravators trample your outdoor fun and fellowship this summer.

This article will provide you an overview on this common allergic reaction and offer practical recommendations that will allow you and your family to venture outside more confidently.

An Overview on Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac

Poison ivy, oak and sumac belong to a family of plants that produce one of the most common allergic reactions in the United States. The allergic reaction is caused by an oil in the sap of the plants called urushiol. When people come in contact with the oil, it often adheres to the skin within minutes to a couple of hours, producing the telltale allergic responses of itching, swelling, rashes and oozing blisters. Reactions can result from direct contact with broken leaves or stems of the plants, indirect contact by touching something that has urushiol on it, such as socks or bed linens, or through airborne exposure to burning plants.

What It Looks Like

There is no simple way to describe what poison ivy, oak and sumac look like. The plants grow almost everywhere in the United States, except Hawaii, Alaska and some desert areas of the Southwest. In addition, the plants do not typically grow in elevations above 5,000 feet. The prevalence and structure of each plant vary by region and season. However, there are some general features specific to each plant noted below that may help you and your kids avoid a run-in:

Poison Ivy


Poison ivy is the most common and widespread plant of the three. Its leaves are characterized by three or five serrated-edge, pointed leaflets and assume bright colors in the fall. Poison ivy grows as a vine or free-standing plant in the East, Midwest and South and as a shrub in the far northern and western United States.

Poison Oak


Poison oak has three leaves and grows as a shrub in the East and the West, where it is most prevalent. The plant produces whitish flowers from August to November that dry and can remain for months. Its leaves also form bright colors during the fall season.

Poison Sumac


Poison sumac has seven to 13 staggered leaflets with one on the tip of the plant. It grows as a shrub or small tree and is found mainly in the eastern United States, primarily in peat bogs and swamps.

The Importance of Preparation

Everyone is well-acquainted with the advice to avoid the plants. Sometimes, that is easier said than done. Still, there are steps that can be taken to minimize poison ivy’s possible consequences on your outdoor enjoyment. Here are a few key recommendations:

1. Whenever possible, wear long clothing when heading out into areas where there may be poison ivy, oak or sumac.

2. Apply a pre-contact lotion, such as the new büji Block™ product, to help protect against allergic reactions. büji Block forms an invisible layer on your skin that helps prevent absorption of urushiol and features an SPF 20 UVA/UVB sunscreen for added protection.

3. Wash all exposed areas thoroughly upon returning indoors, taking special care to remove clothing, which can often be a prime carrier of urushiol oil. büji™ Wash is a new, gentle, exfoliating cleanser that removes the plant oils from the skin anytime after contact or symptoms begin to offer relief from itching and irritation. Both products are sold at Rite Aid. Visit www.bujiproducts.com for more information.

This high-level overview on poison ivy, oak and sumac is intended to provide practical advice that you and your family can follow this summer and beyond. There are countless resources and education papers that delve into more specific information about these plants. As is typically the case, an on-line search is the best place to start.

Cadey O’Leary Hershoff is president and founder of Cade Laboratories, maker of the büji™ line of poison ivy/oak relief and protection products. She may be contacted directly at coleary@cadelabs.com.

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