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TAKING THE STING OUT OF INSECTS, PLANTS

For campers, hikers and walkers, avoiding two scourges of the great outdoors -- poisonous plants and insects -- can mean the difference between having a great time or being miserable.

Thankfully, there are new and novel ways to avoid and treat poison oak, ivy and sumac and to keep insects at bay.

IvyBlock, a lotion that went on the market in March, is the first drug to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for protection against poison ivy, oak or sumac. IvyBlock's active ingredient, quaternium-18 bentonite, is a claylike substance that's designed to absorb urushiol, the chemical that causes the allergic reaction, helping to keep it from penetrating the skin.

The lotion should be applied 15 minutes before going outdoors and then reapplied every four hours. A 4-ounce bottle costs about $12 and is sold at major chain and discount stores. Or for availability information, call EnviroDerm Pharmaceuticals Inc., the developer, at (502) 634-7700.

A similar option is Poison Oak-N-Ivy Armor Pre-Exposure Lotion, which works as a temporary barrier. The lotion includes tricaprylyl citrate, white mineral oil and beeswax, which together work as a physical barrier to the toxic compounds in the plants.

Like IvyBlock, it should be applied about 15 minutes before exposure and reapplied every four or five hours. A 2-ounce bottle, about $4.99, is sold at drugstores and lawn and garden supply stores. Or call Tec Laboratories at (800) 482-4464 for distribution information.

What should one do if unprotected exposure occurs?

If a reaction from poisonous plants is severe, seeking medical help is recommended, but for more minor problems, there are options.

"The simplest thing is to wash off your skin," said Dr. William Epstein, of the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine. Epstein recommends using rubbing alcohol to rid the skin of the oil. Changing into fresh clothing is also suggested, to reduce exposure to the irritating chemical.

Some products are designed to minimize the damage once exposure occurs. Tec Laboratories' Tecnu Outdoor Skin Cleanser, with deodorized mineral spirits, is designed to remove the oils that cause the rash. A 4-ounce bottle is about $4.99.

There also are some new options in the war against insects.

Repello's Insect Repelling Wristbands, impregnated with 10 percent DEET and believed to be the first insect-repelling bands for human use, went on the market last year. The insecticide is activated upon exposure to air and is released in vapor form.

Each wristband lasts about 130 hours and should be stored in a plastic bag between uses.

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