Coal Tar

Used to treat:

  • Atopic dermatitis

  • Hand dermatitis

  • Seborrheic dermatitis (coal tar shampoos)

Coal tar has a soothing effect on inflamed skin and has been used for many years to treat the types of eczema listed above. Today, coal tar comes in numerous preparations, and some of these are available over-the-counter. Best results are typically seen when use is supervised by a dermatologist. While effective and free of serious side effects, patients often prefer other treatment options because coal tar has an unpleasant odor and stains just about everything it touches.

What it does:

  • Helps control itching, flaking, and redness

  • Helps prevent the rapid growth of skin cells that causes seborrheic dermatitis

While coal tar shampoos can effectively reduce the rapid growth and shedding of skin cells caused by seborrheic dermatitis, these shampoos tend to discolor blond, gray, and bleached hair.

How to use: Coal tar preparations come in many forms, including lotion, shampoo, and a preparation that can be added to the bath. All forms should be used as directed by a dermatologist.

Coal tar shampoos can effectively treat seborrheic dermatitis. After evaluating a patientís scalp, a dermatologist can explain how often a coal tar shampoo should be used. Rotating various shampoos formulated to treat seborrheic dermatitis may prove most effective for Caucasians. These patients often obtain best results by selecting 3 or 4 medicated dandruff shampoos and using a different shampoo every day. For African Americans, shampooing once a week with a medicated dandruff shampoo and applying topical medication every day tends to control the condition.


All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology

Coal tar has been used for many years to treat atopic dermatitis.





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Page last updated 4/3/07

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