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Taking itch out of poison plants

Marketer thinks remedy could go global

Bob Karl was tired of festering.

I'm very allergic to poison oak, he explains. I've had it so bad I had to have shots. One time I got a systemic case that would sporadically appear as itching red dots on my palms or the soles of my feet. It went on for a year and a half.

So Karl, a Medford resident for the past 12 years, stepped back from his marketing business to develop UnItch, a remedy for poison oak, ivy and sumac.

He figures it will be useful for hikers, firefighters, hunters, guides, anglers, gardeners and others who spend time outdoors.

He doesn't go into details about the process. Let's say I did a lot of research, he explains.

The active ingredient in the resin of poison oak is urushiol, potent enough to cause painful itching in tiny quantities, he says. It also adheres stubbornly to skin.

If the light's just right it looks like shellac, he says. The first thing you have to do is get the stuff off.

His research and development led to a three-step process, with three separate bottles of the UnItch formula. Somebody who's been exposed to one of the poison plants can use the UnItch oatmeal gel cleanser to remove the resin. That may be all that's necessary.

If the itching has already begun, the next step is what's called a stripper.

That causes a mild burning sensation for maybe three-quarters of a minute, he explains. Normally the itching will be over within a few minutes to a few hours, he adds.

The third step is an emu oil, applied to damaged skin as an emolient.

The product is water-based and can be used to treat arm-sized exposures in a minute or less. The one-pound kit has enough ingredients to treat 8 or 10 small cases, he says.

This isn't a medication, he says. It fits under the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) regulations as a cosmetic.

He has a variety of testimonials to the value of the product, which he's also tested on his own tender forearm.

UnItch does not repair damaged skin, he says, adding, Most importantly, it stops the spread of the rash.

He and his wife, Charlotte, are producing the ingredients at their home. One of their sons, Jon, who is a graphic designer in Corvallis, designed the packaging.

It's just past the prototype stage, he says. The kits are available for $29.95 at Crater Chain Saw, Dewclaw Archery, Loggers & Contractors Supply, West Main Pharmacy and Wolfard Equipment. They'll soon be available at McKenzie Outfitters, Rogue Chainsaws, Black Bird, Cantwell's Markets and Oregon and California Supply.

He is taking steps to seek a patent to protect the ingredient.

Karl, an enthusiastic hunter, already has one patent.

I have the patent for a plastic-coated gun barrel, he says. I never made a dime off of it, but I have the patent certificate with the red ribbon and everything.

He's not sure of the value of a patent. The big thing is the marketing, he explains. And that's Karl's forte.

He grew up in poison ivy country in the East, where his father was the original mailing list broker, he explains. Karl himself created two mailing list companies of his own. A variety of reasons -- including cold winters and snow -- led Karl and his wife to move to Medford when he took a job as a marketing consultant for Harry and David.

He now runs Jon Jay Corp., a Medford business that places direct response fliers in other companies' mailings.

UnItch is being promoted in four mailings going out this month, he says.

Karl figures there's a national market, with poison oak through much of the West and poison ivy and sumac in the East.

And he figures there's potential for global distribution. Some friends who visited the Bahamas found UnItch was effective for a toxic plant called poison wood. Poison oak also grows in Japan, he adds.

Bill Karl developed UnItch, a system for treating poison oak's effects. - Photo by Jim Craven