Uses and Benefits of Coal Tar Shampoo

When it comes to hair, we all want to make it look clean and stylized enough to make an impact. Bad hair days criminally undermine our guise, making haircare a critical part of self-care. Moreover, the treatment is not limited to the quality and thickness of our mane. It extends to the skin underneath as well. Dandruff and itchy skin diseases like psoriasis or seborrheic dermatitis are commonplace and treatable with the proper medication. Coal tar shampoo is your over-the-counter safe and affordable solution to hair treatment. It belongs to a class of drugs called keratoplasty.

How to Use Coal Tar Shampoo?

Coal tar shampoo is safe and advisable as long you follow the correct dosage. It is best to stick to the guidelines on the label. You should also consult a general physician or a specialist regarding the same as coal tar shampoo is known to cause side effects.

Precautions to take before application of coal tar shampoo:

  • Avoid using shampoo on a blistered or oozing area of your skin. The same goes for infections, as it may lead to further complications.
  • After treating your hair with coal tar medication, keep the scalp protected from direct sunlight or a sunlamp for at least 72 hours. Reports indicate reactions arising from exposure to ultraviolet light.
  • If the shampoo comes in contact with your eyes, ears, nose, groin, or rectum, wash them thoroughly with water immediately as it may trigger irritation. It is best to avoid exposure altogether.
  • Avoid smoking, and open flames as some variants contain flammable components like alcohol

You will find coal tar shampoo sold in different forms in the market, and depending on your preference, you can pick one. They all have the same effects and benefits, with subtle changes in the method of application. Here is what you need to know for each variant –

Using coal tar shampoo in an ointment form:

You can apply the ointment on dry hair and skin. Cover the affected area on your scalp with the shampoo and rub it gently to spread evenly.

Using coal tar shampoo in a gel form:

  1. On dry hair and scalp, rub the gel gently on the affected area.
  2. Leave the gel undisturbed for about five minutes
  3. Wipe the excess gel away using a clean paper towel

Using coal tar shampoo in its shampoo form:

  1. Similar to other shampoos, you need to moisten your scalp and hair in lukewarm water
  2. Take the shampoo in your palm and rub it into the scalp
  3. Repeat the process until you create enough lather
  4. Once you are satisfied with the application, leave the shampoo at rest for at least five minutes
  5. Rinse your hair and scalp thoroughly in running water

You will also find coal tar shampoo in foam, lotion, or liquid form.

Before resorting to using coal tar shampoo, it is best to consult your physician on the best approach. Some work better on dry hair, while others may require a lukewarm water bath and wet skin. An expert can guide you as to what suits you best.

Why Choose Coal Tar Shampoo?

Coal tar shampoo is a standard medical treatment for psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, and other skin diseases for decades. It is known to help with the hardening and thickening of the scalp skin to decelerate the growth of skin cells. It improves the composure of your hair and scalp while also reducing itching due to dead skin. Your hair will not feel dry, and the scalp will be able to shed the dead skin cells.

You can approach your physician or any pharmacist to learn more about coal tar treatment. Several brands have come up with their own coal tar shampoo product, including TeraGel, Neutrogena T/Gel Original. PC-Tar, Polytar shampoo, Doak Tar, and DHS Tar.

Who Can Use Coal Tar Shampoo?

Coal tar shampoo is safe and effective for anyone above two years of age. For infants under the age of two, the efficacy is undetermined. The core constituents include coal tar paired with salicylic acid.

The standard procedure follows the application to wet or dry hair, followed by lathering and then rinsing. However, the dosage may differ, and it is best to consult a physician to know the best application frequency for yourself.

The strength of the coal tar shampoo depends on the amount of medicine you take. Generally, your dosage depends on the following factors:

  • Number of doses each day
  • The time gap between each dose
  • The duration for leaving the medicine on your scalp and hair
  • Skin and medical conditions (such as allergies, drug interactions, pediatrics, etc.)

Here are some of the standard doses for each variant of coal tar medication for adults –

  • Ointment dosage form: Apply to the skin’s affected area two or three times a day
  • Gel dosage form: Apply to the affected area of the skin one or two times a day
  • Shampoo dosage form: Use once a day to once a week after consulting a physician
  • Lotion dosage form: Use a bath, hand or foot soak, or apply directly to the affected portion of the skin

It is best to consult a doctor before applying coal tar shampoo to kids and teens under 18. Also, the effectiveness of the treatment is undetermined for senior people. Due to the absence of substantial evidence on efficacy, avoid its application as side effects may prevail.

If drug interaction concerns you, it is best to consult a healthcare professional for changes in the prescribed dosage and any necessary precautions. Avoid intermixing particular medications at all costs as it may lead to an adverse reaction. Similarly, specific food items, tobacco, and alcohol can have the same effect, and it is best to refrain from them until you see a doctor.

Our critical takeaways about coal tar shampoo are:

  • Traditional treatment for itchy skin conditions and dandruff
  • Be careful during application as it triggers a burning sensation in your eyes, nose, ears, etc.
  • Avoid exposure to direct sunlight up to 72 hours following treatment
  • Depending on the brand and form of coal tar medication, apply it in the proper procedure
  • Keep the shampoo away from children and pets as it causes poisoning if swallowed
  • Consult a doctor regarding the appropriate dosage and resolve concerns about drug interactions and allergies
  • Store and dispose of the shampoo carefully


What are the common side effects of using coal tar shampoo?

It is best to inform your doctor about any allergies, as the compound may contain inactive ingredients that can trigger reactions. Pharmacists can tell you about the chemical composition before your purchase.

  • Scalp irritation
  • Skin peeling
  • Staining of skin or hair (especially for people with gray, bleached, or blonde hair)
  • Hair follicle problems for long-term use (tar acne)
  • Allergic reactions (uncommon) including rashes, dizziness, heavy breathing, swelling, etc.

Is it safe to use coal tar shampoo during pregnancy or while breastfeeding?

You can use coal tar shampoo during pregnancy under the supervision of a doctor and if it is necessary. While nothing fatal can occur, it is best to exercise caution.

Regarding breastfeeding, there are no conclusive studies on whether coal tar shampoo is safe or efficient and if the medication passes into the breast milk. Consult your physician before making any decisions.

What should I do if I miss a dose from my prescribed schedule?

If you have missed your scheduled dose, it is safe to apply the shampoo as soon as possible. However, if you are close to your next one, skip the missed dose and fall back into the prescribed dosage.

What is the proper method to store coal tar shampoo?

You can store coal tar shampoo at room temperature in a tight container. Refer to the label for any brand-based specifications and consult your pharmacist regarding the same. Keep the medication away from pets and children.

Discarding expired coal tar shampoo requires close attention. You should avoid flushing it down the toilet or pour it into a drain. Refer to the label for instructions, and also talk to your pharmacist.

What should I do about the smell of coal tar shampoo?

If you find the smell of coal tar shampoo undesirable, it is safe to apply regular shampoo and conditioner following the treatment. It also adds luster to your hair and makes it smell good.


Coal tar shampoo may require caution and proper procedure for practical application, but it is a stepping stone for better hair care. The key is to avoid using too little or too much by sticking to the prescribed dosage. Increased amounts also strengthen the medication, which may render the treatment counter-productive. Also, avoid using the product for a prolonged period.

Generally, twice a week is what the doctor ordered, but it differs with brands and your particular medical condition. Remember that accelerated usage will not heal your skin condition faster. Instead, it will slow the process down and cause side effects.

Hence, coal tar shampoo might be the solution you need to treat your skin conditions as long as you exercise caution and consult your doctor and pharmacist for the entire picture.


I am Jessica Coles, a hairstyling and trends expert who also holds a master's degree in cosmetology. I am one of the leading hair care experts who has been offering support round the clock.

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