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What are the Benefits of Coal Tar Soap?

Anna T.
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Coal tar soap tends to be very useful for the treatment of scalp problems such as dandruff and psoriasis as well as eczema and acne. Another benefit of coal tar is that it is relatively inexpensive and widely available for use. Additionally, it does not normally take many applications before improvements in symptoms are noticeable. Even though there are many benefits related to the use of coal tar, there could be some drawbacks. Coal tar is potentially carcinogenic, meaning it could cause cancer. There are also some people who are sensitive to coal tar and may not be able to use it for treating their symptoms.

People most commonly use coal tar soap to treat dandruff and psoriasis, which are two problems that often cause an itchy, flaking scalp. This soap is frequently added to many different types of dandruff or other medicated shampoos to combat these conditions. Most people notice improvements in their scalp problems after using shampoo containing coal tar on their scalps after one week. The use of coal tar doesn't necessarily cure scalp conditions even though it improves them. People often begin seeing scalp flakes again within a few months or sooner, which means they might have to continue using coal tar shampoo.

It is also not uncommon for people to treat their acne and eczema problems with this soap. Coal tar has an effect on the DNA of the cells in the skin, which could affect acne and eczema symptoms. When coal tar soap is used to treat these conditions, it is typically recommended to use the soap only as needed. When acne or eczema symptoms begin to subside, the soap should not be used again until symptoms recur. In some cases, the soap makes acne and eczema worse instead of better, and these people should discontinue use of the soap immediately if they do not notice an improvement in their symptoms.

In order for coal tar to be considered a carcinogen, there has to be roughly 5 percent of coal tar in any coal tar product. Most over-the-counter products containing coal tar do not contain this much, but caution should still be exercised when using it. Additionally, there are some people who are sensitive to coal tar and find that they cannot use it at all to treat any skin or scalp condition. There are several alternatives to coal tar soap that people with a sensitivity to it can look for, including pyrithione zinc and selenium sulfide, both of which are chemicals commonly used to treat the same conditions that coal tar is known for treating.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Anna T.
By Anna T.
Anna Thurman is a skilled writer who lends her talents to The Health Board. Her ability to research and present information in an engaging and accessible manner allows her to create content that resonates with readers across a wide range of subjects.
Discussion Comments
By anon1006017 — On Jan 12, 2022

I have studied this a bit as having fairly bad psoriasis,. I came across this in an article that the author of this article may find interesting.

In 2010, a study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology seemed to put the debate to rest. The study didn’t observe an increased risk of cancer with the use of coal tar soap. It also noted that coal tar soap could be considered a safe treatment for psoriasis and eczema.

By AnswerMan — On Feb 23, 2014

I had a bad psoriasis flare up a few years ago and none of the medicated creams I had at home did anything to make it better. I went to a local drugstore and the pharmacist recommended coal tar soap. He said I should see a significant improvement within a few days if I used it diligently. Three days later, the itchiness and redness were mostly gone. I still had patches of psoriasis between my knuckles, but the regular medicated cremes helped with that.

The only major issue I had with coal tar soap was the odor. It is clearly derived from coal, so it had a strong sulfur smell. I wouldn't call it unbearable, but other people in the house noticed it right away. I would suggest finding a small plastic storage box to keep the unused soap's fragrance contained. You don't want the entire house to smell like coal tar.

Anna T.
Anna T.
Anna Thurman is a skilled writer who lends her talents to The Health Board. Her ability to research and present information in an engaging and accessible manner allows her to create content that resonates with readers across a wide range of subjects.
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