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Does Coal Tar Help Psoriasis?

Posted on April 06, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D.
Article written by
Megan Cawley

If you have psoriasis, you understand the care that goes into selecting the right products for your skin. Coal tar is an ingredient found in shampoos, soaps, and other products that can improve symptoms like itchiness, dryness, and flaking.

This article will explore how coal tar can help alleviate psoriasis symptoms. We will consider the different forms coal tar comes in, as well as how it may be used. As always, talk with your dermatologist before trying any new products for your psoriasis.

What Is Coal Tar?

Coal tar, as the name suggests, comes from coal. It is a byproduct of the production of coal gas and coke, a solid fuel made up of mostly carbon. Coal tar has been used in products for its medicinal benefits for many years.

MyPsoriasisTeam Members on Coal Tar

Many MyPsoriasisTeam members have shared their experiences using coal tar. Some find coal tar to be an effective treatment option for their symptoms. One member raved about coal tar treatments for their daughter, writing, “I remembered that we actually did have great success with coal tar. It was the ONLY medication-type solution that worked, and we tried everything!” This member found coal tar ointment “stinky” but ultimately worth it: “If she used it every day, it completely controlled her psoriasis. However, it was tough to use it on her scalp.”

Several members complained about how coal tar smells and stains. Other members suggested using coal tar creams or ointments instead of soaps, rather than forgoing the treatment entirely.

Others found that coal tar didn’t help them manage their psoriasis. One MyPsoriasisTeam member wrote that coal tar “helped with some itching, but did not make the scales or rawness clear up.”

Coal tar may work wonderfully for some people and prove ineffective for others. If you think you may benefit from coal tar treatments, talk with your dermatologist about the best options for you — and if you experience any side effects while using it. Coal tar may not always be easy to use, but it can be an effective part of a comprehensive treatment plan for your psoriasis.

How Can Coal Tar Help With Psoriasis?

Coal tar appears to act as a keratolytic agent. It suppresses excess skin cell growth and smoothes the skin. It can also help alleviate various symptoms of psoriasis, including the itchiness, scaling, and inflammation seen in plaque psoriasis and scalp psoriasis. It can be used both on the body and the scalp.

Types of Coal Tar Products for Psoriasis

Coal tar is one of two over-the-counter (OTC) treatments the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved to treat psoriasis. It is often used in shampoo for psoriasis, but it can also be found in bar soaps and topical treatments. Your dermatologist can recommend products that may help you.

Many coal tar soaps, shampoos, and topical treatments are available at pharmacies or online retailers. Some products may have the National Psoriasis Foundation Seal of Recognition on them. You may also be able to use a flexible spending account, if you have one, to purchase certain OTC coal tar products.

Coal Tar Soap

Coal tar soap can treat itching and plaque psoriasis, including plaques on difficult-to-treat areas like the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. However, not all MyPsoriasisTeam members have been satisfied with coal tar soap. One member warned that, while it did work, it also had “a very strong odor.” Another member found that their visible psoriasis lesions improved, but itching did not: “I got coal tar bar soap, and my skin looks great, but I’m so itchy.”

Coal tar soap may not be ideal for daily use, but it can be used in rotation with other soaps.

Coal Tar Shampoo

Coal tar shampoos should be applied to the scalp and massaged in for best results. The shampoo should be left on the scalp for several minutes to allow the product to work. Depending on the severity of your condition, your doctor might also advise that you wrap the treated area and leave it for a while before rinsing to increase the product’s effectiveness. You can use regular shampoo after coal tar shampoo to keep your hair feeling and smelling how you want.

Coal Tar Topicals

Topical coal tar applications come in many different formulations, from ointments and lotions to gels, liquids, and foams. Some of these options are available OTC, while others require a prescription from a dermatologist.

What To Keep in Mind When Using Coal Tar for Psoriasis

Keep in mind that tar products can cause skin irritation, discoloration, and dryness, as well as increased sensitivity to sunlight. Because of this, their use should be carefully monitored. The National Psoriasis Foundation advises patch testing a tar product on a small area of skin before using it on the rest of your body, as well as watching for skin irritation or other adverse effects. If your skin responds well, use the product as directed — just make sure to wash it off thoroughly and use sufficient sun protection.

Some warnings caution that coal tar may cause cancer, but these warnings apply to highly concentrated industrial uses, such as paving. The FDA states that OTC products with concentrations of coal tar between 0.5 percent and 5 percent are safe and effective for psoriasis.

Find Your Team

If you find yourself struggling with your psoriasis, you’re not alone. MyPsoriasisTeam is here to provide you with the resources, support, and news you need to help you along your journey with psoriasis. On MyPsoriasisTeam, you can ask questions, offer support and advice, and connect with others who understand life with psoriasis.

Have you tried coal tar products for psoriasis? Share your story and tips in the comments below or by posting on MyPsoriasisTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D. is a dermatologist at the Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Megan Cawley is a writer at MyHealthTeam. She has written previously on health news and topics, including new preventative treatment programs. Learn more about her here.

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