Natasha is a writer, artisan, and recent graduate with a Master of the Arts in Teaching.
I was blissfully mid-bite on a mango last year when someone cheerfully announced that mangos were related to poison ivy. I couldn't have dropped the mango faster! Outside and nowhere near a source of running water, I frantically poured my water bottle's contents over my hands and tried wiping my mouth and lips off on my sleeve. I wasn't entirely sure this other person was correct, but I am highly allergic to poison ivy and thought if there was even a chance, I'd better play it safe! I spent the rest of my day panicking, envisioning contact dermatitis on my lips and maybe even inside my mouth. What about the inside of my throat? How much of the mango had I eaten?
I rushed home as quickly as I could and jumped on the Internet, wondering if I should just go straight to the doctor's care, instead. This article contains the information I learned about mangos, how to safely eat mangos if you suspect an allergy, and what to do if you've come into contact with a mango tree.
Are Mangos Related to Poison Ivy?
Weirdly, yes. I don't know what cruel joke of nature made a tasty fruit and a life-ruining vine related, but both mango trees and poison ivy leaves contain a chemical called urushiol (pronounced ooh-roo-she-all).
Urushiol is what causes people with a developed sensitivity to have what is officially called contact dermatitis, also known as a painful skin irritation/rash. You aren't born allergic to urushiol—it is a developed sensitivity. Some people, particularly those of Native American descent, never develop this sensitivity. Once you have it, though, it will probably just get worse each time you are exposed. The first time I got poison ivy, it was barely a rash. The next time I got poison ivy, it turned into a horrible mess that made one of my eyes literally swell shut and resulted in a quick trip to the doctor for antihistamines and steroids! Other, subsequent exposures have resulted in weeping sores and even bleeding, and lasted over a month. Yikes!
If you've developed an urushiol sensitivity, you can have contact dermatitis from your first contact with a mango. As fun as it may sound, scratch mango picking off your next Floridian or Hawaiian vacation to-do list if you even suspect you might be allergic to poison ivy or sumac. While most cases of urushiol sensitivity only result in skin irritation, it can actually lead to anaphylaxis.
Can I Eat Mangos if I'm Allergic to Poison Ivy?
Yes! Urushiol is an oil that is contained in the tree's sap and, in smaller concentrations, a mango's outer rind/peel. If you are sensitive to urushiol, you are more likely to have a reaction from picking the fruit than you are from touching the mango, itself, but highly sensitive people have been known to break out just from standing under a tree! Even little bits of leaking sap can cause dermatitis in people with a severe poison ivy allergy.
The edible portion of the fruit does not contain urushiol. Even if you are highly reactive to urushiol, you can eat peeled mango with no ill effects. Most people don't eat mango rind, anyway, so this isn't usually a problem. The bigger problem is peeling the fruit without putting yourself at risk for contact dermatitis.
Because most other allergy-inducing plants are not native to the islands, the biggest cause of contact dermatitis in Hawaii is contact with a mango tree. What a way to ruin your vacation! Keep an eye out for mango trees if you're on vacation somewhere that grows them and make sure not to use one of them for shade if you suspect an allergy.
How to Prepare a Mango if You're Allergic
The most popular way to cut and prepare a mango is the "hedgehog" method. If you're allergic to urushiol, this may not be a good idea. Ideally, you should have someone who is decidedly not allergic peel the mango for you, but that isn't always possible.
If you suspect an allergy or have a history of poison ivy-induced contact dermatitis, cover your hands when handling a mango. Pick it up with the produce bags at the store instead of putting it in the bag with your bare hands. When you get home, handle it with gloves or, more realistically, the bag.
Hold the mango in place with your covered hand and peel it with a vegetable peeler or sharp knife. A mango's skin is more like a rind than a peel, so it is pretty tough. Unless your knife is really sharp, it may not work well. I use my amazing Kuhn Rikon Swiss Peeler for all peeling jobs and its super-sharp carbon steel blade has always handled a mango's rind with ease.
After you've removed the entire rind, scrape the peelings in the trash, ditch the cutting board in the sink, give the mango a rinse, put it on a clean cutting board, and scrub your hands with hot water and soap just in case! Because urushiol is an oil, cold water won't cut it, and there's no reason to risk contaminating your fruit by putting it back on the same cutting board. Evidence suggests that urushiol can remain active for five years on dead plants or items that came into direct contact with it!
Now you're free to cut up your mango and enjoy it by itself, in a fruit salad, like mango salsa, or any other way your heart desires. Eat confidently knowing you protected yourself from urushiol and that it is not in the fleshy fruit portion of the mango.
Help! I Touched a Mango, and I'm Allergic to Poison Ivy!
If you've just been out picking mangos and wonder why your hands feel funny, it is not too late! There is an amazing product called Tecnu that really does work to neutralize urushiol. Regular Tecnu is best used within a couple of hours and can be used to clean tools and clothing, too. Tecnu Extreme is better if you already have symptoms. It will neutralize any remaining urushiol to ensure you don't spread the oil to other parts of your body and soothes the terrible itching, oozing pain.
I keep a bottle of Tecnu in my locker at work because I trust it. I straight up grabbed on to a poison ivy vine while pulling weeds out of a rosebush, used Tecnu immediately, and I never broke out. For someone who needs steroids to calm down an urushiol reaction, that is pretty amazing!
The Mango/Poison Ivy Connection
You'd think maybe someone along the line would have warned me of the mango's connection to poison ivy, but I only found out by accident. Luckily, my proactive approach has kept me from breaking out due to contact with mangos, but I'm pretty paranoid about standing near a mango tree!
Has anyone reading this ever broken out from eating or touching a mango? Does anyone even realize that the two plants are related?
SMC on July 08, 2020:
I moved into a house with a mango tree. I had a reaction to Mangos 25 years prior and was afraid to even try them. First year I gave them all away. Everyone commented that they were the BEST mangos they had ever had. The second year my daughter cut some up for me and they were delicious. I started cutting them up while wearing gloves, being very careful. Worked well. One year, a branch broke and there were a few green mangos, some had clear drops on them. Those drops must have been sap. I cleaned up the mangos and branches I must have gotten the sap on me ended up breaking out so severely I had to take steroids. Just an FYI, the greener the fruit, the higher the urushiol content. That year, I had already peeled and cut more that 125 mangos without any reaction, it was the sap from the broken branch and green mangos that did it.
JJ on November 15, 2018:
I did! One winter I had “chapped” lips for over a week and couldn’t seem to heal it the normal way. Months later I was watching Good Eats with chef Alton Brown. The episode was dedicated to the mango and low and behold he links mangos and poison ivy. I immediately remembered my “chapped” lips that wouldn’t go away and remembered that I had eaten around that time. Mystery solved...
No idea why the mango/poison ivy connection isn’t more common knowledge.
Thanks for your helpful tips. Since I made the connection, I’ve only eaten chopped mango from the store or a restaurant. Now I can go back to enjoying them at home too.
Jessica Dean on July 27, 2018:
I did know, and also found out the hard way. I worked with a lot of Mexicans on a farm long ago (before Google) and they'd bring mangoes in to work, cut them up, and I'd eat them right off the pit or while they were still in the peel. I wondered why I kept getting a horrible rash on my face afterwards. I think it was a dermatologist friend of mine who I eventually asked about this mystery who filled me in. I eat mangoes whenever I can - I LOVE them and am such a pig about them that sometimes I can't help myself and think "oh, I'll be VERY careful and just nibble the meat off the skin" - next thing you know, I'm Googling "urushiol and mangoes" AGAIN in order to find relief. OINK OINK!
Tim on July 11, 2018:
I have had severe systemic reactions from eating both mangos and cashews. I have avoided both for nearly two decades.
Parent on July 07, 2018:
My daughter is highly sensitive to poison ivy. We found out about mangos totally by mistake. Since she’s stopped eating them... well I won’t say it. Don’t want to jinx anything
peachy from Home Sweet Home on June 12, 2018:
Most mangoes sold here are ok, no poison ivy
Joe on December 15, 2017:
I am highly allergic to poison ivy and poison oak. All I have to do is walk past poison ivy and I have it to the point that I need steroids to get over it. One day i ate a mango and I could feel my eyes getting ready to swell up. I immediately took Benadryl to prevent an allergic reaction. I am so lucky that I recognized the sensation warning me that facial swelling was coming. i, too, seem to remember getting poison ivy from head to foot after being exposed to smoke from poison ivy burning. I had it every year growing up.
Doug Klotz on December 01, 2017:
The Poison Oak/Ivy-Mango connection is REAL.
Real bad in my case.
I had eaten mangos my entire life as a kid since my mom was from Costa Rica, and that's what Costa Rican mom's kids eat. One day after feasting on a whole mango with my hands around the age of 14, I broke out in an awful facial-skin allergic reaction. At the time I had no idea what caused it since I didn't do anything differently that I ever had.
Or so I thought.
As it turns out, about a year earlier I had a severe allergic reaction to exposure with poison oak while camping. First and last time for me to be exposed to poison oak since it resulted in painful and itchy skin rash over most of my body! Not fun.
I discovered the poison oak-mango connection in my early 20's in a bit of an "ah-ha" moment, but it has taken 3 decades to piece together why I was never allergic to mango until AFTER my severe reaction to poison oak.
1. The poison oak reaction initiated my severe allergy to urushiol as normal contact levels in mango were not potent enough to cause it
2. Once allergic, my body went after any exposure to urushiol with a vengence
3. Possible connection with one's body having changed out ever single cell after a 7 year period causing or stopping allergies? (7 x 2=14)
I have considered myself allergic to mango ever since and depressingly have not so much as tasted mango in over 30 years. Because of this post, I feel encouraged that I may be able to eat mango again!
Ally on September 03, 2017:
Yep, I'm finishing up my scabs on my lips, cheek and neck now. I had no idea mangos were so harmful to me and ended up getting pumped full of steroids at the hospital because my throat started swelling on the outside so bad that I couldn't swallow and could barely breath. Very scary!
Melissa on August 13, 2017:
I've never come in contact with poison ivy and never ate much mango until I moved to Asia a few years ago where the mangoes are plentiful and delicious! Didn't take me long to notice the rash and numbness on and around my mouth that lasted for days. Thankfully a friend who is a local knew the peel was the culprit, not the fruit. So I made an agreement with my roommate that I would buy the mangoes and she would peel them! Win win!
Pomfuz on August 13, 2017:
I have a terrible allergy to poison ivy; blistering, weeping sores. However, right now I am suffering from a severe case of hives (day 3) from Mango skin. Until I read your article I didn't know that they were related. Luckily I have technical in the cupboard fingers crossed I'll be able to see out of my red puffy eye. Thanks for the info!
Beth Urban on July 27, 2017:
I'm allergic to poison Ivy and I had a reaction to mango peels years ago after eating mangos every day for a week. Just yesterday I thought I'd be fine peeling one for my kids. Boy was I wrong
Lacy on June 11, 2017:
I am allergic to urushiol also but I can't ingest mangoes at all but haven't had a problem handling them (weird) and also be careful because I developed an allergy to cashews and pistachios too, apparently they all contain the oil fyi.
Ashlie on May 31, 2017:
I was literally just eating one, skin and all, and for some odd reason decided to google, "is mango peel edible" much to my shock I read it contacts the same chemical found in poison Ivy, I'm very allergic to poison Ivy, I threw the rest in the trash, but now Im wondering if I should go to the ER. I don't want my throat to close up.
Rachel on May 27, 2017:
I first had a reaction to mango back in November 2016. I was freaking out because I thought it was cold sores, although all the info I found online stated that cold sores were painful and what I had was definitely on the (extremely) itchy side! I had to wait to get to proper healthcare, and by that time my reaction was so severe, having not treated it with anything. I could actually see my lips protruding from my own face!!!
The doctor I ended up seeing just gave me an antiviral (that somehow seemed to work?) And swelling and scabs were finally all gone after about a month.
I went in for another check up with my PCP and I showed her pictures of my reaction and she SO CONFIDENTLY said impetigo. It somewhat matched my reaction, but I was sure to note that I had eaten a mango also around that time, and she went off saying how it is common knowledge to peel the mango and not let it touch your skin.
Fast forward to Jan 2017, I wanted to see if I was allergic to mango. Ate it. Nothing. Woohoo!!
Fast forward again, to May 23, thoroughly enjoying a delicious mango HEDGEHOG STYLE w/ Tajín YUMMM. I feel tingling in my lips, chalk it up to the spice of the Tajín. Next day at work, I'm getting little red bumps on the corner of my mouth. They are super tingly and rapidly spreading around the vermilion border. Next day, super red rash, weeping sores starting everyehere; I had to wear a mask all day at work so patients wouldn't be grossed/freaked out.
Was able to get to the doctor yesterday and they prescribed Prednisone and hydroxyzine and they have helped tremendously! Took two awful instances but I now know that mango peels don't like me and I HATE them!!!
Sean Rubino on May 14, 2017:
I had two terrible allergic reactions to urushiol before realizing what was causing it. I am extremely allergic to poison ivy and get weeping sores when ever i come in contact with it. When I started at college I began buying groceries on my own and decided to eat mangos out of the skin. My lips nose and chin broke out in the same weeping sores.
Anti-histamines seemed to keep it from getting worse.
Fallon on April 10, 2017:
Yes, I have broken out 3 times from eating mangoes on my mouth. I love mangoes; it doesn't happen every time but I'll definitely take the advice in the article to avoid another breakout. I'm experiencing a breakout now :( so I'll order some Tecnu. I'm also highly allergic to poison oak. I'm traumatized.
Bob Dunham on March 25, 2017:
Does not work if your highly allergic but Green berets and Airborne rangers drink poison ivy tea to slowly build resistance to it.
Mary Milner on June 30, 2016:
Yeah, I am 9 months pregnant. I got the bright idea to buy a mango and eat it. After I cut it up and ate it, half my face from my nose down to my neck broke out pretty bad, as well as my hand and wrist and arm from the contact. That was a week ago. I'm still suffering, and due to pregnancy steroids are not an option. Fun days.
Robert Morgan from Hutchinson Island, FL - Myrtle Beach, SC - Gilbert AZ on July 13, 2015:
Wow... I had no idea. I love Mango's and I am very allergic to poison ivy.I was recently pealing several; mango's for a chutney when I broke out with hives. Now I know why. Thanks.
Natasha (author) from Hawaii on August 22, 2014:
Oh, noooo!! I'm sorry. =(
Luvfit on August 20, 2014:
I got mango mouth :( had no idea until after the rash and it sucks!
Natasha (author) from Hawaii on June 18, 2014:
Oh my goodness, I can't imagine how awful it would be to breathe poison ivy smoke! That sounds terrible. Sorry about your mango experience. =( They're so tasty, but I have to be super careful when handling them!
brenda on June 18, 2014:
I have massively bad reactions to poison ivy. When we were kids in Oklahoma we were in the back of a pickup truck and drove through some smoke. They were burning poison ivy. I looked like revenge of the mummy for weeks. When I was 25 or so a friend offered me a mango. I peeled it and we ate it. Within a few hours I was itching and breaking out. I went to the DR and he asked me where I fell in the poison ivy at and I told him I hadn't been in the woods but the only new thing was mango. He spent time in south america with peace corp and said it was the mango and gave me steroid cream and pills. totally sucked.
Natasha (author) from Hawaii on May 06, 2014:
That's interesting and you're lucky! There is a difference in concentration, yes. There's a product called Tecnu that removes poison ivy residue when used immediately. I have such a violent reaction to poison ivy that I have to visit the doctor for steroids, but Tecnu can keep me from breaking out.
Waphldoo on May 05, 2014:
I have pretty severe reactions to poison ivy, but I have also never had even a slight reaction to mango sap, so maybe the concentration is significantly lower, or it's a slightly different form of the compound? I have picked mangoes, grown mango trees, climbed mango trees, never had a reaction. But despite protective gloves/clothing and scrubbing myself down thoroughly with soap right afterward, I got a nasty rash up my arm after I pulled up a poison ivy vine I found growing in my yard.
Natasha (author) from Hawaii on January 09, 2014:
Yahooo! I'm glad you discovered it's just the peel, not the whole fruit. I love mangos, too, but am so allergic to poison ivy.
Elijah on January 09, 2014:
THANKS SO MUCH! This helped very much, had NO idea that mango was close to poison ivy until I got a rash all over my face. I was so sad thinking I couldn't eat my favorite fruit anymore then I saw this! :)
Natasha (author) from Hawaii on September 02, 2013:
Eek! It's just the peel, though, so don't panic too badly! Most people don't eat the peel, anyway, because it really isn't that edible. As long as you didn't eat the peels, you *shouldn't* have trouble except for your lips and maybe mouth. Mangos are tasty, for sure, and the fruit's flesh does not contain urushiol.
Will Powell on September 01, 2013:
Oh my gosh!!! I am very allergic to poison ivy and I ate a mango a few days ago and I got a rash on my lips. I didn't even think they could be related so I got more mangoes because they taste soo good! I've eaten four more since the first one!!! I'm probably going to die!
Natasha (author) from Hawaii on August 01, 2013:
Isn't it shocking? I really didn't believe the person who told me the first time I heard this. I love mangos, but I treat them with excessive care to make sure I don't get a reaction! Thanks so much for stopping by and I appreciate the share.
Thelma Alberts from Germany and Philippines on August 01, 2013:
Oh my God! I did not know about this mango poison ivy connection. I sometimes have contact dermatitis and I´m always careful now. Thanks for this information Natasha. Well done. Voted up and shared;-)
Natasha (author) from Hawaii on May 20, 2013:
Oh no!!! That's terrible! I've had steroids because of an urushiol reaction before, too. If I were you, I'd get disposable gloves and wear them when peeling the mango and make sure to wash everything down really well with hot, soapy water when you're through. I'm really sorry that happened but tanks for stopping by! I hope you feel better son.
Jeni on May 20, 2013:
Thanks a bunch for the peeling tips. I found out the hard way about urushiol in mangos. Just had to go to the Dr.'s today to get steroids and cream for my lips and face. They swelled up and were covered in blisters, and it started spreading to my tongue and roof of my mouth. I have always eaten frozen with no problems but just started eating fresh last week. That's when this all started. I wish I would have known cause this rash is so painful and uncomfortable. Hopefully I can still enjoy fresh mangos cause I love them.
Natasha (author) from Hawaii on April 05, 2013:
Really? I had no idea mangos grew in your part of the world! Cool!
Vinaya Ghimire from Nepal on April 05, 2013:
I have mango trees in my farm, my family even makes money selling mango. Thanks for this informative article.
Natasha (author) from Hawaii on March 26, 2013:
Yep, it's just hanging out there, waiting!
It amazes me how so many people in mango-growing parts of the world have mango trees they can't keep up with and people elsewhere struggle to find them. But, hey, I guess folks further north do the same with apples or grapes, though my state's biggest fruit crop is peaches and everyone tries their darnedest to eat every peach in sight!
Thanks for stopping in and I'm glad you're not allergic.
Dianna Mendez on March 25, 2013:
I do love mangos and glad that my allergy to poison ivy does not affect my enjoyment. I just love that lost photo of fruit, so tempting. There are some people in this area that are allergic to mangos, and it is surprising to hear of how many! Enjoyed your post.
Natasha (author) from Hawaii on March 25, 2013:
I'd be so happy if I didn't react to poison ivy! About 9 months of the year I have to stare at the ground wherever I walk to make sure I don't accidentally brush up against some!
Claudia Mitchell on March 25, 2013:
Luckily poison ivy does not do much to me at all and since I love mango I'm glad. Will tell my brother though because he gets horrible reactions to it.
Natasha (author) from Hawaii on March 24, 2013:
Some people are not allergic so if you have no reason to believe you might be, don't stress. If you've ever broken out from either, though, be careful!
Radhika Sreekanth from Mumbai,India on March 23, 2013:
Thanks Natashalh for letting this know. Mango season has started here and everyone is on the run to pick or buy one. I would follow these instructions as to escape from poison ivy!
Natasha (author) from Hawaii on March 23, 2013:
Thank you for sharing! As common as a reaction to urushiol is, I don't know why mango's urushiol content isn't more widely warned and known!
Michelle Liew from Singapore on March 23, 2013:
This was fascinating. I wasn't aware of its connection to poison ivy until you opened my eyes to urushiol! Thanks for showing this to me! Sharing!
Natasha (author) from Hawaii on March 21, 2013:
Isn't it crazy how the rind has a poisonous oil and the fleshy fruit doesn't? I'm so glad you found out it isn't the fruit you're allergic to!
Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on March 21, 2013:
I had no idea and peeled and ate a mango. My mouth and tongue swelled up and i thought it was the mango!
Thanks for telling me! Now i will be able to eat mango again.
Natasha (author) from Hawaii on March 21, 2013:
There's not as much oil in the peel, which is probably why you've never had an issue. Be careful, though, because the reaction builds with exposure!
The Frog Prince from Arlington, TX on March 21, 2013:
I'm allergic to poison ivy but mangoes don't bother me in the least. I make a mean fruit salad too :) Nice read.
Natasha (author) from Hawaii on March 20, 2013:
You've never eaten a mango or brushed up against poison ivy? Wow! I think I'd trade mangos for having never experienced poison ivy. I actually had scars on my shins from it for a long time - I'm just lucky none of it scared on my face.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 20, 2013:
Good information, Natasha! I've never eaten a mango and never run into poison ivy....so I'll take your word for all of this. :) Hopefully I'll never find out.