OK, so you've just gotten the perfect picture of a wildflower. You stand up, look down, and realize you were just kneeling next to poison ivy. Did your arm brush into in? Did your camera strap touch it? Did you accidentally kneel in it instead of next to it?!
Do not panic! There are things you can do!
Poison ivy tends to grow amongst other plants, which makes it especially difficult to spot sometimes. Here it is with a raspberry bush and some other plants.
If you think you have come in contact with poison ivy or an item contaminated with the poison ivy oil, the best thing you can do is wash with soap and cool or cold water as soon as possible. Use cool or cold water because hot water can open your pores and let the oil in. Remember that it's the urushiol oil that causes the rash and irritation, so the goal is to get it off of your skin effectively and as soon as possible. If you can get the oil off in under 10 minutes, you may be able to prevent the rash. The sooner you can remove the oil, the better.
There's some disagreement about what kind of soap to use. Some say regular soap is OK to use, but others say that soaps that contain oils (such as moisturizing soaps) might just spread the urushiol oil around on you. I prefer Dawn dishwashing liquid since it has the ability to dissolve grease and oil. I don't spread it on thin, either, I really lay it on thick and wash my suspected area of exposure several times.
If you're at home, this procedure is easy. But if you're outdoors with no sink in sight, that's another story. Since a portion of this website is devoted to photography in the great outdoors, here are some first response ideas for contact when you're not at home:
Rubbing alcohol can dissolve the oil on the skin. I carry rubbing alcohol pads in my first aid kit that can double for poison ivy duty. Lately I've also been carrying a very small spray bottle of 91% rubbling alcohol. The higher the concentration of alcohol, the better. Be sure to follow up with washing the area as soon as possible.
Carry Dawn dishwashing liquid (or any grease-removing dish detergent) with you. I put it in an empty film canister when I go on photo shoots and when I am camping. Since you may not be able to get your paws on an empty film canister (or film, for that matter), empty 5-hour energy-type drink bottles work well, too. Of course, you'll also need water to complete the washing, so I carry some of that, too. A product called Technu is also supposed to be good for oil removal, but I have never tried it out.
A product called IvyBlock is supposed to prevent problems with urushiol when applied per the directions. I have never tried this method, but supposedly it will help protect the skin from the oil in case it gets on you.
If possible, remove contaminated clothing as soon as it's convenient or at least try to arrange the clothing so it does not come in further contact with your skin. (Of course, if you're walking through a field with lots of possible ivy contact, having your clothing between you and ivy will be better than bare skin. Just be prepared to wash your pants in Dawn later.) If your camera strap got into it, take it off of your camera. I put anything contaminated in little Ziplock plastic bags so I can wash it all in Dawn later.
Carry a homeopathic remedy called Rhus Tox and start taking it, following the directions on the bottle, the minute you notice a rash or even sooner if you think you got into ivy. It's really cheap, comes in a small container, and my friends swear this stuff works. I carry it everywhere but I've never had a chance to field test it. :) Carry Benadryl or a similar histamine blocker in case the rash starts later, but try Rhus Tox first because it won't knock you out like Benadryl. (I'm not a medical professional, so consult with one of those ahead of time if you're uncertain about remedies.)
Rubbing crushed Jewelweed leaves or the pulp from Jewelweed stems on the area is supposed to be very helpful, especially if done very soon after coming in contact with poison ivy. Interestingly, Jewelweed always seems to grow near ivy. Jewelweed has a beautiful orange flower on it when it blooms, but the photo below is just of the leaves.
Both broadleaf (common) or narrow leafed (or "lance leaf") plantain leaves are also supposed to be very helpful - just grab a few leaves and crush them or chew them up a little, then apply to the area. Plantain grows just about everywhere. As a bonus, both varieties of plantain are edible and can help when applied to bee stings and other insect bites. I have not had a chance to field test the effectiveness of Jewelweed or plantain on poison ivy, but I know they both work well on mosquito bites.
Broad Leaf Plantain
Narrow Leaf (or Lance Leaf) Plantain
Other Poison Ivy Topics: