Q. How harmful is poison oak when contacted?

Answered by
Dr. Sudhir Kumar. N
and medically reviewed by iCliniq medical review team.
This is a premium question & answer published on Oct 06, 2015 and last reviewed on: Dec 14, 2021

Hi doctor,

I disk golf in an area where a decent amount of poison oak is present. I would like to know how fast urushiol binds to skin, and once it does, is there any possibility to spread?

I use an electronic cigarette which requires me to handle cotton that I feed into the atomizer. My doubt is if urushiol vaporizes automatically, what will be the harm?



Welcome to

I have read your query. Poison oak causes allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) and is the most common cause of ACD than all the other causes combined. The allergen which causes ACD is usually present within the sap named Urushiol, and it will be mainly present in the leaves and the inner stems of the plant. After contact with any part of the plant, it usually takes 12 - 48 hours for the symptoms to occur. But the resin will bond immediately to the skin on contact. So, you should remove it with a mild soap wash immediately. If within 10 - 15 minutes of contact washing is done, 50% can be removed. But, if it is beyond one hour, washing does not help much.

You can use Bentonite barrier creams which can prevent the bonding of Urushiol to your exposed parts. Once bound to the skin, Urushiol does not vaporize and does not spread to other parts of the body. As it is a local reaction, its intensity depends on the amount of resin contacted.

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