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To Avoid Poison Ivy Rashes, Make the Plant’s Sap Glow

What happens when a geologist who's immune to the poison ivy, marries a chemist who's allergic?

Feeling itchy? Image: kodyhedger

What happens when a geologist who’s immune to poison ivy marries a chemist who’s allergic? In the case of Rebecca Braslau and her husband, the chemist gets a lot of poison ivy from the geologist that he doesn’t know he has.

Braslau, a chemist, was constantly getting itchy rashes from her husband’s forays into the field. Neither of them knew when he was or wasn’t carrying on him the pesky urushiol—the oily sap that makes poison ivy leaves so irritating. NPR writes:

“When we first got together he wasn’t very careful about it, and so he would get it on his arm and he wouldn’t even know it,” Braslau says. And then he’d put his arm around her and she’d break out. So Braslau got to thinking: “There’s got to be some way to deal with this, and I just had this eureka moment because I thought about it for a couple years.”

What Braslau figured out was that if she could make urushiol visible, she could avoid it. So she developed a florescent spray that makes the normally hidden compound glow. The study, more of a proof of concept than anything else, was published in the Journal of Organic Chemistry. But before you go and spray yourself with Braslau’s concoction, you should probably wait until we know it’s safe. “She says until there is thorough safety testing, it’s probably best to use the spray on inert things like shoes or backpacks to see if the oil is there,” says NPR.

If only there was a spray for other allergens too, like cat hair or peanut residue. We might all be glowing, but at least we’d be less itchy.

More from Smithsonian.com:

One Writer’s Garden
Uncovering the Secrets of Forest Canopies

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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