13 Things To Know About Using Coal Tar

Coal tar is a byproduct of coal processing that has been used for more than a century to treat skin problems. Today, it is considered an effective, safe, and inexpensive topical treatment for plaque psoriasis.

What you should know about coal tar for psoriasis

Coal tar is commonly used to treat psoriasis. Tar can help slow the rapid growth of skin cells and restore the skin's smooth appearance. In addition, it can help reduce the inflammation, itching, and scaling of psoriasis. Tar products can vary dramatically from brand to brand.

Here are 13 things you should know about coal tar and its impact on psoriasis.

1. Coal tar has been around for over 100 years!

For more than 100 years, doctors have recommended Coal tar for the treatment of plaque psoriasis.1

Typically sold as an over-the-counter, topical medication, coal tar reduces drying, itching, flaking, scaling, and irritation caused by psoriasis.2

2. There are many different coal tar products

Coal tar is available in many formulations, including liquid, soap, a cleansing bar, solution, emulsion, shampoo, lotion, cream, foam, gel, ointment, and solution products.2

You may have seen coal tar products under the following brand names:2 Betatar Gel, Cutar Emulsion, Denorex, DHS Tar, Doak Tar, Duplex T, Fototar, Ionil-T Plus, Medotar, MG 217, Neutrogena T/Derm, Neutrogena T/Gel.

3. Treatments are available without a prescription

While most coal tar products are available over-the-counter, some formulations require a prescription,1,2 so be sure to ask your doctor about which coal tar product is best for you.

4. Different products require different application

Soap, a cleansing bar, and solution formulations may be applied directly to wet or dry skin, or added to lukewarm bathwater. Shampoo products can be applied to wet hair like normal shampoo, but should then be rinsed, re-applied, and rinsed again.

For cream, lotion, foam, and ointment formulations, apply enough medication to cover the affected area, then gently rub in. For more information about dosing and usage for Coal Tar, talk to your doctor, and visit this website.

5. Coal tar may stain your skin and clothes

When using coal tar, you may notice staining to the skin, but this discoloration should quickly wear off when you stop using the medication. However, coal tar may permanently stain your clothing, so avoid any contact between the medication and your clothes.

When applied to the scalp, coal tar may temporarily discolor blond, bleached, or tinted hair.2

6. It actually smells like tar

Per the name, coal tar smells like tar. While this smell is completely normal, some patients dislike coal tar products due to the odor.

7. It might sting a little

A common side effect of coal tar is mild stinging on the area where the medication is applied. Mild stinging is more common with gel and solution forms, but you should talk to your doctor about any long-term discomfort when using coal tar products.

8. Stay out of the sun!

Coal tar may make your skin more sensitive to light, known as photosensitivity. Patients using coal tar should wear sunscreen and avoid direct sunlight for 72 hours after applying this medication.

Unless directed by their doctor, patients using coal tar should also avoid sunlamps or UV light.2

9. Coal tar has a few side effects

Rare side effects of coal tar include new skin irritation and skin rash.1,2 When using coal tar, seek medical attention or immediately tell your doctor if have symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Reactions include itching, hives, swelling in the hands or face, swelling or tingling in the mouth or throat, chest tightness, and/or trouble breathing.2

10. You should talk to your doctor before using coal tar

Before using coal tar, talk to your doctor about your current plaque psoriasis treatment regime, especially if you are using light therapy.

Coal tar should only be applied after a doctor has examined your skin, and should not be applied to areas that are infected, blistered, raw, or oozing.2

11. Coal tar is not safe for your eyes!

Keep this medication away from your eyes. If you accidentally get any coal tar product in your eyes, immediately flush your eyes with water, and seek medical attention.2

12. Coal tar use by pregnant women

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor before using coal tar.

While some studies indicate that coal tar is safe for children and for short periods of time during pregnancy and breastfeeding,1 this medication should be used with caution for pregnant/breastfeeding women and children.1,2

13. Can coal tar be used for other skin conditions?

In addition to treating plaque psoriasis, coal tar is also used to treat eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, and other skin disorders.2

Talk to your dermatologist for treatment options

How well coal-tar products work varies. You cannot always tell which product will work best by looking at how much coal tar the product contains. In one study, patients using a lotion containing 1% coal tar had better results than the patients using a product that contained 5% coal tar extract.

Other studies have found similar results. For this reason, it’s best to ask your dermatologist for a product recommendation.

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