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Myth or Fact: Scratching Poison Ivy Will Cause it to Spread

Posted Date: 8/28/2012

Coming into contact with poison ivy can cause a very uncomfortable, itchy rash. You may be tempted to scratch it to relieve the itch, but haven’t you been told that will cause the rash to spread? We spoke with Dr. Penina Burnstein, Director of Dermatology, to determine whether this is a myth or fact.

“When a person comes in contact with the oils found on a poison ivy plant, a skin reaction can occur, causing a rash,” explains Dr. Burnstein. This rash is known as contact dermatitis, meaning that it results from direct contact with the irritating substance.  “Contact dermatitis is not contagious, but poison ivy can remain on a person’s clothes, if they are not properly cleaned,” notes Dr. Burnstein. “A person may mistakenly believe that scratching the rash caused it to spread when, in reality, they came in contact with a contaminated item.” If you think you came in contact with poison ivy, Dr. Burnstein recommends the first thing you do is shower and throw your dirty clothes in the wash in order to prevent the accidental spread of the rash.

Verdict: MYTH – But don’t scratch those bumps! “Scratching irritates and breaks the skin, and any bacteria under the fingernails could lead to a skin infection” notes Dr. Burnstein.


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