Coal Tar Preparations

Coal tar preparations offer therapeutic benefits for skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema, thanks to their anti-inflammatory, antipruritic, and keratolytic properties, making them a valued component of dermatological treatments.

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Coal tar preparations have a long-standing history in dermatology, offering relief for various skin conditions, most notably psoriasis, seborrhea dermatitis, and eczema.

Derived from coal processing, these preparations are valued for their anti-inflammatory, antipruritic (anti-itch), and keratolytic (peeling) properties, making them a versatile option in the treatment of skin disorders.

The Historical Significance of Coal Tar

Coal tar’s use in medical treatment dates back to the 19th century, where it was discovered to alleviate skin irritations and inflammations.

Despite the evolution of modern dermatological treatments, coal tar preparations remain a recommended option due to their effectiveness and safety profile.

How Coal Tar Works

The exact mechanism by which coal tar treats skin conditions is not fully understood, but it is believed to slow down the rapid growth of skin cells associated with psoriasis and other disorders.

Additionally, its anti-inflammatory and antipruritic actions help soothe irritation and reduce itching, providing significant relief to affected individuals.

Forms and Applications

Coal tar is available in various formulations, including creams, ointments, shampoos, and bath solutions, catering to different treatment needs.

The concentration of coal tar in these preparations can vary, generally ranging from 0.5% to 5% for over-the-counter products, with higher concentrations available by prescription.

Selection of the appropriate form and concentration depends on the condition’s severity, location, and individual patient response.

Considerations and Precautions

While coal tar is generally safe for most individuals, it can cause side effects in some, including skin irritation, redness, and photosensitivity.

Patients are advised to use sunscreen and wear protective clothing when exposed to sunlight, as coal tar can make the skin more sensitive to UV rays. It’s also important to note that coal tar’s distinctive odor and staining properties might be undesirable for some users.

The Role of Coal Tar in Contemporary Dermatology

Despite the availability of newer treatments, coal tar preparations maintain their place in dermatological care due to their efficacy, especially in managing plaque psoriasis and scalp conditions.

They are often used in combination with other treatments, such as topical steroids or phototherapy, to enhance therapeutic outcomes.


Coal tar preparations embody a blend of historical significance and contemporary relevance in dermatology, offering a natural, effective treatment option for chronic skin conditions.

By understanding their benefits, applications, and precautions, patients and healthcare providers can better navigate the complexities of skin care, leveraging coal tar’s unique properties to achieve improved skin health.

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