Poison Oak

poison_oak2Wherever you see Oak trees you will likely also find Poison Oak.

The three leaved plant is found along parts of Sunset Ridge Trail and the entirety of El Prieto Trail.  Poison Oak is found near oaks and areas with moisture.  The bottom of Ken Burton has a well known Poison Oak “forest” and the plant is found in many areas throughout the Angeles National Forest.

What is Poison Oak?

Poison Oak varies in growth habit and leaf appearance; however, it is pretty easy to identify once you know what it looks like. It does lose its leaves in the winter, but that doesn’t mean the oils are not present. Poison Oak contains a surface oil called Urushiol which causes an allergic reaction in some people. Other lucky folks have no reaction at all.

Poison Oak with bigger leavesWhat it looks like

You will always see three leaves on Poison Oak and the leaves do resemble those of an oak tree. At certain times of year, the leaves change to a bright reddish orange color andthe plant is easy to pick out along the trail.

Avoiding direct contact is the best way to prevent a reaction. Stay covered so if you touch the plant your clothes are a barrier.

A long sleeve jersey, tall socks, etc. can go a long ways in preventing a Poison Oak rash. Its not a bad idea to bring a change of clothes to the trail head so that you don’t transfer the oils into your car upholstery. Wash your clothes and riding gear thoroughly with hot water and a good grease cutting soap to remove the oil. If you don’t thoroughly clean your gear, there is a good chance you can infect yourself down the line. The oil on Poison Oak doesn’t just disappear once its on your gloves, backpack, shoes, etc.

oak1There are many different theories of how to prevent a rash on your skin but they all are based with the concept of removing the oil from your skin before a reaction can begin.

Shower promptly after your ride and use a grease cutting soap. Wash more than once because you will miss spots. Some people swear by using multiple products back to back. In general, a luke warm shower is best at first so your skin pores do not open wide and let the oil in deeper. Washing quickly after exposure is key to preventing a bad outbreak.

Everyone develops their own personal favorite products in the fight against Poison Oak. Dish detergents like Dawn and Palmolive have a loyal following as well as the old school soap Fels Naptha. Tecnu is a well known product to remove Urushiol oil but is also very expensive and does not lather like dish soap.

I’ve got a nasty rash.  What can I do?

A few of over the counter options for Poison Oak relief
A few “over the counter” options for Poison Oak relief

Avoid scratching. If you scratch, the rash will get dramatically worse. Try a variety of products to manage the itch. Each person reacts differently and you’ll need to find the remedies that help you. Anti-histamines can help and are available in topical products like Ivarest. Your local drug store should have a number of products on hand for you to try.

Keeping the rash covered with clothing can help minimize abrasion and reduce itching. After the rash is full blown, direct hot water can provide temporary relief. Some people believe that hot water on the rash actually speeds up the healing process too by hyper stimulating the area’s nerves and jump starting the body to address the area.

If you rash is unbearable, visit your doctor. Topical steroid creams can speed up the healing process dramatically.

Again, the best way to avoid a Poison Oak rash is to avoid contact.

Wear long sleeves, full finger gloves, etc and avoid touching your face during a ride. Clean yourself and your gear with an oil cutting soap immediately after your ride to minimize spreading the oil. And if you end up with a lovely rash, do your best not to scratch it. Scratching may feel good in the moment, but it will make the rash dramatically worse and possibly cause scarring.