You may have heard the adage, "Leaves of three, let them be." It's a popular schoolyard rhyme that helps children recognize poison ivy, a shiny, three-leafed plant that can wreak havoc on a camping trip or nature hike.
If you've ever come in contact poison ivy, you know the price that's typically paid for disturbing it: a red, itchy rash that's often accompanied by blisters. This reaction occurs because urushiol, a chemical found in poison ivy, causes a form of eczema called allergic contact dermatitis. Certain people get similar rashes from allergic reactions to metals, foods or antibiotics [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. Although it takes only a few minutes for urushiol to penetrate the surface of the skin, it can take hours -- anywhere from 12 to 72 -- for a rash to develop [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
The best treatment for poison ivy is proactive care: If you know you've been exposed, immediately clean the area with warm water and soap. For more intensive treatment, apply rubbing alcohol to the area. Also, be sure to remove and clean any clothing that might have come in contact with urushiol. However, if it's been more than an hour since exposure, the urushiol has already had time to penetrate your skin [source: Mayo Clinic]. If you're one of the 85 percent of people who are allergic to poison ivy, it may be time to start looking for ways to relieve the inevitable itch -- such as an oatmeal bath [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
While doctors aren't positive why oatmeal baths relieve the itchy symptoms of poison ivy, some studies show that avenanthramides and phenols, chemicals in oatmeal, have anti-inflammatory properties [source: Sur., Kurtz]. Because avenanthramides and phenols reduce the inflammation caused by the skin's reaction to urushiol, this may explain why oatmeal can temporarily relieve itchiness.
Oatmeal and oatmeal baths aren't just used to treat poison ivy. Keep reading to learn about other uses for oatmeal baths.