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Coal tar

Coal tar
Clinical data
Trade names Balnetar, Cutar, others
AHFS/Drugs.com Multum Consumer Information
  • US: C (Risk not ruled out)
ATC code D05AA (WHO)
CAS Number 8007-45-2

Coal tar is a dark very thick liquid with a number of medical and industrial uses. As a medication it is used to treat psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff). For psoriasis it may be used together with ultraviolet light therapy. It is used by application to the affected area. Industrial uses include preservation of railway ties and improving the surface of roads.

Side effects include skin irritation, sun sensitivity, allergic reactions, and skin discoloration. It is unclear if use during pregnancy is safe for the baby and use during breastfeeding is not typically recommended. Coal tar is one of the by-products when coal is made into coke and coal gas. It is a complex mixture of phenols, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and heterocyclic compounds.

Coal tar was discovered around 1665 and used for medical purposes as early as the 1800s. It is on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines, the most effective and safe medicines needed in a health system. Coal tar is available as a generic medication and over the counter. In the United Kingdom 125 ml of 5% shampoo costs the NHS about 1.89 pounds. In the United States a month of treatment costs less than 25 USD. Coal-tar was one of the key starting materials for the early pharmaceutical industry.


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