The Facts About Coal Tar: What’s It Used In And Is It Safe?

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Coal Tar Cream
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Coal Tar is a byproduct created by burning coal, made up of hundreds of compounds, and is a known carcinogen. It is used in used in food, textiles, cosmetics and personal care products. Unsurprisingly, when I first began my research into this substance I was pretty confused to be honest, it seemed so unlikely that we would really be slathering it onto our skin. I stumbled upon Wikipedia’s description:

Coal tar is a brown or black liquid of extremely high viscosity. Coal tar is among the by-products when coal is carbonized to make coke or gasified to make coal gas. Coal tars are complex and variable mixtures of phenols, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and heterocyclic compounds.

So it was obvious this wasn’t the stuff that is put into skincare products – but were the two connected? After scrolling down a little, it became apparent that they were.

Also known as liquor carbonis detergens (LCD), and liquor picis carbonis [a] (LPC) BP it can be used in medicated shampoo, soap and ointment, as a treatment for dandruff and psoriasis, as well as being used to kill and repel head lice.

When used in the extemporaneous preparation of topical medications, it is supplied in the form of coal tar topical solution USP, which consists of a 20% w/v solution of coal tar in alcohol, with an additional 5% w/v of polysorbate 80 USP; this must then be diluted in an ointment base such as petrolatum.

So coal tar, the black sticky stuff used to seal roofs and roads could also be used topically when diluted? My interest was piqued and I needed to find out more so that I could share the full story with you. Here is a summary of what I found.

Coal Tar
Coal Tar

What Exactly Is Coal Tar?

The following was found on Safe,

Coal Tar is considered a known carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Coal tar is a complex chemical mixture that also includes a number of suspected and known carcinogens, such as benzene, toluene, naphthalene, anthracene, xylene, creosote oils and benzo[a]pyrene, which is a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH). PAHs are a large class of chemical that are reasonably anticipated to cause cancer.

Why Is Coal Tar Used Topically?

Coal tar is known as a keratoplastic drug, and is sometimes suggested to treat the skin when suffering from itching, scaling, and flaking. It is considered a suitable medication to treat conditions including psoriasis or seborrheic dermatitis.

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