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If you have scalp psoriasis, topical medications can help. However, you may also consider adding a shampoo to your routine to help get rid of excess dead skin cells and improve your symptoms. Coal tar shampoo is just one type of medicated shampoo that may help.
Here, we break down 12 of the best coal tar shampoos, how they work, and what you need to consider before trying them.
- Best overall: MG217 Psoriasis Medicated Conditioning Shampoo
- Best known brand: Neutrogena T-Gel Therapeutic Shampoo Original Formula
- Best for itchy scalp: Neutrogena T-Gel Therapeutic Shampoo Stubborn Itch Formula
- Best OTC extra strength formula: Neutrogena T-Gel Therapeutic Shampoo Extra Strength
- Best for dry/damaged hair: DHS Tar Shampoo
- Best for budget: Medicasp Coal Tar Gel Dandruff Shampoo
- Best sulfate-free product: ArtNaturals Scalp 18 Shampoo
- Best shampoo and conditioner duo: Pete and Pedro Control and Condition
- Best coal tar/salicylic acid combo: Salvia Cosalic Solution
- Best generic brand: True + Real Therapeutic Plus Tar Gel Dandruff Shampoo
- Best for thinning hair: Pura D’or MD Maximum Defense Anti-Hair Thinning Shampoo
- Best maximum strength formula: PsoriaTrax Anti-Dandruff Tar Shampoo
As the name implies, coal tar shampoo is a medicated product that contains coal tar as an active ingredient. It works by decreasing skin cell turnover, a key feature in psoriasis. This product also helps get rid of excess dead skin cells that are currently on your scalp.
There are multiple over-the-counter (OTC) formulas, each with varying amounts of coal tar and other ingredients.
Coal tar is primarily used in the treatment of psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, and other conditions of the scalp. It’s designed to target excess dead skin cell turnover and buildup right at the source.
By targeting excess dead skin cells, you may also find relief from itchiness, red plaques, and other symptoms. Additionally, getting rid of psoriasis patches on the scalp may help your prescription topical treatments work better by allowing more absorption.
Our roundup of the 12 best coal tar shampoos for psoriasis is based on the following factors:
- customer ratings
- user reviews
- active ingredients
- scent and added fragrances
We included products with a range of price points using the following guide:
- $ = under $10
- $$ = $10–$20
- $$$ = over $20
- MG217 psoriasis shampoo contains 3 percent coal tar, which is much higher than most OTC products.
- This medicated shampoo is considered a maximum strength product that helps control scales and treats psoriasis symptoms.
- To help prevent dryness, this shampoo also has moisturizers.
- This product is recognized by the National Psoriasis Foundation.
- Customer reviews note that the coal tar smell can linger after use, but they have found the results to be worthwhile.
Best known brand
- Neutrogena T-Gel Therapeutic Shampoo is perhaps one of the best-known brands of coal tar shampoos, and is designed for treating psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis.
- This shampoo contains 0.5 percent coal tar.
- Unlike other coal tar shampoos, Neutrogena’s formula is said to be safe enough for daily use.
- Added fragrance may cause irritation in sensitive skin.
- Overall, users agree that the scent of this shampoo is off-putting, but most seem to agree that the results are worth the smell.
Best for Itchy Scalp
- If your scalp continues to itch after trying the original T-Gel formula, you may consider switching to the Stubborn Itch version.
- This contains the same amount of coal tar as the original formula (0.5 percent).
- Unlike the original T-Gel formula, this version also contains menthol to help soothe your scalp and control extreme itch.
- Overall, users agree that this coal tar shampoo control itch, but also warn that the smell isn’t great.
- Another consideration is accessibility, as the product tends to run out of stock.
Best OTC extra strength formula
- Unlike Neutrogena T-Gel Original and Itchy Scalp formulas, the Extra Strength version contains 1 percent coal tar.
- According to the manufacturer, chronic symptoms may improve for a week after one use.
- The product also contains moisturizers to help prevent your hair from drying out.
- As with the Itchy Scalp formula, customers tend to review the Extra Strength version favorably, with many noting that the bad smell is worth the results.
Best for dry/damaged hair
- DHS Tar Shampoo is a gentler formula of coal tar shampoo that’s designed to help remove flakes while adding moisture to your hair.
- This shampoo contains 0.5 percent coal tar.
- This product is advertised as being “unscented,” which means no fragrances are added. However, some users still report smelling the coal tar.
- Overall, customers with dry, coarse, or damaged hair report soft hair and improved scalp after use.
Best for budget
- This budget-friendly shampoo is designed for both psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis.
- It contains 0.5 percent coal tar.
- This formula has an added fragrance to help mask coal tar smell.
- The manufacturer and customer reviews describe better symptoms after one use.
- Some users note that Medicasp may be drying to the hair.
Best sulfate-free product
- Known for their eco-friendly products, this shampoo from ArtNaturals combines 0.5 percent coal tar and argan oil to help treat psoriasis and other scalp conditions that lead to dandruff.
- This formula is designed to be suitable for all hair types, but may be especially beneficial for dry hair.
- This shampoo is vegan, and is also free of both sulfates and parabens.
- Many users report seeing benefits after one use, with maximum benefits seen after several months.
Best shampoo and conditioner duo
- These products are sold together, with the Pete and Pedro “Control” formula being a dandruff shampoo, while the “Condition” product helps moisturize your hair.
- The shampoo contains slightly more coal tar than other products of its kind at 1.8 percent, along with 1.5 percent menthol to help soothe irritation.
- The conditioner is a peppermint-containing cream formula that also help treat dryness and damage.
- Overall, users report favorable experiences, including soft hair. However, one user on Amazon noted the duo products didn’t alleviate itchiness as promised.
Best coal tar/salicylic acid combo
- This shampoo contains 1 percent coal tar along with 3 percent salicylic acid to help treat thick scales.
- Salvia Cosalic Solution has a thinner consistency, which can make it easier to apply to the scalp, but customers also note it’s messy to use.
- Customers also note that a small amount goes a long way in alleviating itch, with few complaints about tar smell.
Best generic brand
- Advertised as a generic alternative to Neutrogena T-Gel, this coal tar shampoo comes in a bottle four times as large as the name-brand formula.
- Like Neutrogena T-Gel, True + Real contains 0.5 percent coal tar.
- Overall, customers agree that this product is worth the tar smell, and many are pleased with the value for the price.
Best for thinning hair
- While pricier than other OTC coal tar shampoos, Pura D’or MD Maximum Defense addresses both psoriasis symptoms and accompanying thinning hair.
- Key ingredients include 0.5 percent coal tar, biotin, and vitamin E.
- Shampoo is also free of sulfates, parabens, and gluten.
- Customers note that this shampoo has a pleasant smell, while others have pointed out recent changes to the formula that make it seem watered-down.
Best maximum strength formula
- Containing 5 percent coal tar, PsoriaTrax Tar Shampoo is designed for less frequent use to control symptoms for longer between shampoo sessions.
- According to the manufacturer, this maximum strength formula is designed to sit on your scalp for up to 2 minutes at a time.
- However, there are also long-term health considerations with higher coal tar content to discuss with your doctor.
- Some customers also note that this shampoo dries out their hair.
Always follow the directions on the product label. In general, coal tar shampoo may be used in the following steps:
- Thoroughly wet your hair, especially the scalp.
- Separate your hair into sections as you apply a small amount of coal tar shampoo to each area.
- Gently massage the product until you’ve covered the entire scalp and roots of your hair. Let the product sit for up to 5 minutes, or as directed.
- Rinse out thoroughly. Repeat, if desired.
- Follow up with your choice of moisturizing conditioner.
Coal tar shampoo may be used up to twice a week or as directed by your doctor. Some products claim they’re safe for daily use, but you may consider doing so only temporarily. It’s not clear whether coal tar shampoo is safe for daily, long-term use.
Talk with your doctor before trying any new product for your scalp. This includes OTC coal tar shampoos. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that coal tar shampoo should be used as a complement to other psoriasis treatments your dermatologist recommends.
If your doctor gives you the go-ahead to try any of the above 12 coal tar shampoos, be sure to monitor your symptoms and call them if your scalp condition worsens. Key signs to look out for include increased redness, burning, or irritation.
Finally, know that if coal tar isn’t a good fit for you, there are other types of medicated shampoos that may help. Talk with your doctor about other options, such as shampoos with salicylic acid.
How often should you use coal tar shampoo?
This largely depends on the severity of your condition, as well as the product type. Some products are designed for use twice per week, while others may be used every day. Check all product directions carefully, and ask your doctor for advice.
Does coal tar shampoo cause any side effects?
In some cases, coal tar shampoo can aggravate an already sensitive scalp. Side effects include irritation, burning, redness, and itchiness. If you experience such effects, stop using the product and call your doctor.
Coal tar shampoo can also increase your scalp’s sensitivity to the sun, increasing your risk of burns. Be sure to wear hats when outdoors while you’re using this type of shampoo. You may also consider applying scalp sunscreen if needed.
Will coal tar shampoo bleach my hair?
Coal tar shampoo isn’t recommended for color-treated hair, as well as naturally gray or blonde hair colors. This is because coal tar may discolor light-colored hair.
Can using coal tar shampoo lead to hair loss?
It’s not clear whether long-term, daily use of coal tar shampoo leads to hair loss. However, hair loss itself may be seen in scalp psoriasis due to dry hair and from scratching your scalp.
What type of conditioner should I use?
While coal tar shampoo can help keep your scalp healthy, you’ll still need to follow up with a conditioner to keep your hair healthy, too. Ideally, you should opt for a moisturizing conditioner to counteract the drying effects of coal tar.
How do you get rid of the coal tar shampoo smell?
Some brands contain added fragrances to help mask the strong smell of coal tar. However, coal tar has a strong scent that may still linger despite fragrances. Moreover, sensitive skin may react negatively to perfumes added to shampoo.
You may not be able to get rid of the coal tar smell entirely, but you can help reduce it by using leave-in detangling and conditioning sprays on towel-dried hair.