Coal tar is a liquid byproduct of distilled coal. The black liquid is well known for its ability to help remove toxins from the body, and it also contains antiseptic qualities. Coal tar soap is used as a cleansing antiseptic for a variety of skin disorders. In fact, it is a commonly prescribed treatment that is used in dermatology.
Soap made with coal tar thoroughly cleanses the skin, drawing out toxins. It has been used to effectively treat skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, acne, seborrhea dermatitis, scabies, and ringworm. The tar helps relieve the inflammation and itchiness associated with severe dry skin, slows down rapid skin cell growth, and restores the skin’s natural appearance.
In shampoo form, coal tar also helps to alleviate symptoms of flaky skin from conditions like dandruff and dry scalp. It exhibits anti-parasitic properties as well, and is beneficial for treating problems with head lice. In addition to coal tar soap and shampoo, ointments, gels, and creams are also available. These are available by prescription or over-the-counter.
Since the quality of coal tar products varies between brands, it is important for consumers to find a good over-the-counter product. For instance, many products claim to be made from genuine coal tar but are instead imitations. True coal tar products will contain PAH, or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. In some areas, a prescription may be required before obtaining these products, due to health concerns associated with the use of coal tar.
Some studies have shown that certain chemicals found in coal tar soap and related products may cause cancer. Only high concentrations of coal tar are linked to this research, however. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is no scientific evidence that support carcinogenic properties within coal tar products in lower concentrations—from 0.05% to 5%. In fact, these products are deemed safe and effective for treating multiple skin conditions when used properly and in low doses.
There are side effects from using coal tar products, however. This is especially true for individuals with overly sensitive skin. Coal tar can irritate and redden the skin in some people, especially when used in higher concentrations. In addition, the soap can make the skin more sensitive to the sun.
Although coal tar soap washes off easily and usually doesn’t leave any residue behind, the tar can still remain active within the skin for at least 24 hours, which may increase the risk of sunburn. Nonetheless, the benefits of using coal products seem to outweigh the possible side effects. Many people swear by their healing properties, choosing to continue their use in spite of any risks.