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Coal Tar (On the skin)

Relieves drying, itching, flaking, scaling, or irritation of the skin caused by psoriasis or seborrheic dermatitis.

What works?

Learn more about the effects of these drugs. The most reliable research is summed up for you in our featured article.

Coal tar is used to treat eczema, psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, and other skin disorders. Some of these preparations are available only with your doctor's prescription… Read more
Brand names include
Betatar Gel, Cutar Emulsion, DHS Tar, DHS Targel, Denorex, Doak Tar, Duplex T, Estar, Fototar, Ionil-T, Ionil-T Plus, Liquor Carbonis Detergens, MG 217, Medotar, Neutrogena T/Derm, Neutrogena T/Gel, Neutrogena T/Gel Extra Strength, Polytar, Psorigel, Scytera, Spectro Tar Skin Wash, Tar Distillate, Tera Gel, Therapeutic Shampoo, X-Seb T Pearl, X-Seb T Plus Conditioning Shampoo
Drug classes About this
Antipruritic, Antipsoriatic, Antiseborrheic, Keratolytic
Combinations including this drug

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

A systematic review of adverse effects associated with topical treatments for psoriasis

This review aimed to compare the rates of adverse events associated with the various, currently available topical treatments for psoriasis. Reviewing adverse events is not easy, but unfortunately this review was poorly conducted and reported and the narrative synthesis was very superficial. Given these limitations, the authors' conclusions cannot be relied upon.

Topical therapies for the treatment of plaque psoriasis: Systematic review and network meta-analyses.

The majority of people with psoriasis have localized disease, where topical therapy forms the cornerstone of treatment. We set out to summarize evidence on the relative efficacy, safety and tolerability of different topical treatments used in plaque psoriasis. We undertook a systematic review and meta-analyses of randomized trial data of U.K.-licensed topical therapies. The primary outcome was clear or nearly clear status stratified for (i) trunk and limbs; and (ii) scalp. Network meta-analyses allowed ranking of treatment efficacy. In total, 48 studies were available for trunk and limb psoriasis, and 17 for scalp psoriasis (22,028 patients in total); the majority included people with at least moderate severity psoriasis. Strategies containing potent corticosteroids (alone or in combination with a vitamin D analogue) or very potent corticosteroids dominated the treatment hierarchy at both sites (trunk and limbs, scalp); coal tar and retinoids were no better than placebo. No significant differences in achievement of clear or nearly clear status were observed between twice- and once-daily application of the same intervention or between any of the following: combined vitamin D analogue and potent corticosteroid (applied separately or in a single product), very potent corticosteroids, or potent corticosteroids (applied twice daily). Investigator and patient assessment of response differed significantly for some interventions (response rates to very potent corticosteroids: 78% and 39%, respectively). No significant differences were noted for tolerability or steroid atrophy, but data were limited. In conclusion, corticosteroids are highly effective in psoriasis when used continuously for up to 8 weeks and intermittently for up to 52 weeks. Coal tar and retinoids are of limited benefit. There is a lack of long-term efficacy and safety data available on topical interventions used for psoriasis.

Skin treatments for chronic plaque psoriasis

Chronic plaque psoriasis is the most common type of psoriasis. Although any part of the body may be affected, the most commonly affected sites are the elbows, knees, and scalp. 'Topical' treatments (i.e. treatments applied to the skin) are usually tried first. These include vitamin D products, topical corticosteroids, tar‐based preparations, dithranol, salicylic acid, and vitamin A products. As chronic plaque psoriasis is a long‐term condition, it is important to find out which treatments work best and what adverse effects they have. This review describes average benefits of different treatments, while recognising that individuals will vary in their experience of each treatment.

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Summaries for consumers

Skin treatments for chronic plaque psoriasis

Chronic plaque psoriasis is the most common type of psoriasis. Although any part of the body may be affected, the most commonly affected sites are the elbows, knees, and scalp. 'Topical' treatments (i.e. treatments applied to the skin) are usually tried first. These include vitamin D products, topical corticosteroids, tar‐based preparations, dithranol, salicylic acid, and vitamin A products. As chronic plaque psoriasis is a long‐term condition, it is important to find out which treatments work best and what adverse effects they have. This review describes average benefits of different treatments, while recognising that individuals will vary in their experience of each treatment.

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