How Poison Ivy Rashes Form
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We begin with the urushiol oil. This clear oil, from the poison ivy plant, gets onto your skin. Your skin does its very best to keep all infectious items out of your body and blood stream. But urushiol is an oil, and soaks right into your skin. If you can wash the oil off immediately (say within an hour) it doesn't get a chance to soak in and you're safe. Otherwise, the trouble begins.

As the urushiol soaks into your skin, after 2-3 hours, it gets metabolized into a quinone derivative. Quinone is a molecule in organic chemistry - it's an "aromatic diketones" that has carbon and oxygen atoms in rings. Really what matters is that your body thinks this urushiol is dangerous and is trying to neutralize it. Unfortunately, the urushiol, and even quinon derivates, really AREN'T dangerous. Unfortunately for you, your body mis-interprets the threat and what happens next causes an all-out body warfare attack which is nasty.

That quinone derivative happens to be a good shape to hook up with keratins in your skin. Keratin is a normal part of your skin and is especially found in your fingernails, for example. The quinone derivatives hook up with the keratin, and suddenly this combined object looks like an EVIL INVADER to your white blood cells. We'll call this Object X since I haven't seen any real name for it yet. You now have a big Object X hanging out in your skin cells, a harmless object X, but then ...

Your white blood cells go on alert and think that Object X is the most destructive thing ever seen! They swarm in gigantic numbers to attack Object X. DIE DIE DIE they scream! It is that swarming of white blood cells that cause ALL of the reactions - the giant red blobs on your skin, the white pus within the skin, the itching and pain. The pus in those blisters you get is all of the white blood cells giving their lives to protect you.

You then have to let those white blood cells run their course, which can take 7-14 days. The best you can do is find ways to dry off / flake off the outer layers of skin, so that the skin has the best possible chance to refresh and renew itself.

Note that the oil does not soak in at the same rate. Although by 1-2 hours it is below that top layer of skin, the thickness of the skin determines how long it takes to get into the parts where the reactions occur. In think skin, you might see a rash in 8 hours. In thick skin, it might take 2-3 days. So from a single set of oil deposits, the rashes "develop" over time, depending on the skin types it touched. It's like time lapse photography.

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