British Society of Cutaneous Allergy (BCSA)

Coal Tar

What are the aims of this patient information leaflet?

This leaflet has been written to help you understand more about your contact allergy. It tells you what a contact allergy is, what causes this allergy and what you can do about it.

What is contact allergy?

Dermatitis, also known as eczema, describes a type of inflammation of the skin. Contact dermatitis or contact eczema is a term used when this inflammation is caused by direct or indirect skin contact with something in your environment. Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when your immune system causes allergy to a very specific chemical or substance that has been in contact with the skin.

What causes your specific allergy?

Your patch tests indicate that you have a contact allergy to coal tar.

What is coal tar?

Coal tar is a by-product from the distillation of coal. It can be used in products to treat psoriasis or seborrheic dermatitis but can sometimes cause allergy.

What are some products that contain coal tar?

  • Coal tar shampoos, eg Polytar®, T Gel®, Capasal®
  • Coal tar soap, eg Wrights® traditional coal tar soap
  • Coal tar scalp ointments, eg Ung cocois co (Cocois®, Sebco®)
  • Coal tar bath preparations, eg Psoriderm®
  • Topical coal tar lotions/ creams, eg Psoriderm®, Dermalex®, Exorex lotion®

Remember, always check the label, these lists can never be complete and ingredients change.

How can I manage my allergy?

This means that you should avoid putting products containing coal tar onto your skin in the future.

Self-care (what can I do?)

Always check the ingredient listing on the product, package or package insert as these lists can never be complete and ingredients change. This is particularly important for any products purchased outside the EU where some allergens may not be banned.