How Do I Choose the Best Coal Tar Shampoo?

Angela Colley

The best coal tar shampoo will alleviate dandruff or other skin conditions without causing further damage to the scalp. When choosing a coal tar shampoo, look for a brand with a high concentration of coal tar as the main ingredient. Select a shampoo with a consistency and smell that you prefer. If you have a sensitive scalp look for a hypoallergenic or sensitive formula.

Coal tar shampoo.
Coal tar shampoo.

Coal tar shampoo is a medicated shampoo that works to heal dandruff and other conditions such as psoriasis and seborrhea dermatitis. These skin conditions often cause itching and uncomfortable feelings along the scalp, and the shampoo helps to alleviate the itching and discomfort while it heals skin conditions.

Dandruff may be treated with coal tar shampoo.
Dandruff may be treated with coal tar shampoo.

The main active ingredient of these shampoos is coal tar, which comes from a class of drugs called keratoplastics. The coal tar causes the scalp to shed dead skin cells from the outermost layer and slows the growth of new skin cells. As a result, the shampoo lessens the effects of skin conditions on the scalp.

Coal tar shampoo helps relieve scalp symptoms caused by psoriasis.
Coal tar shampoo helps relieve scalp symptoms caused by psoriasis.

Other ingredients are water, lathering agents, and soothing ingredients such as aloe. Lathering agents make applying the shampoo easier, helping the product to foam and disperse throughout the hair. The soothing ingredients help alleviate some of the pain and itching associated with scalp problems.

Many manufactures sell coal tar shampoo without a prescription. Depending on the brand, the shampoo has a thin to creamy texture and a distinctive smell. The smell may irritate some consumers, but a few formulas have fragrances that reduce the odor of the coal tar.

The usage of coal tar shampoo depends on the brand. For example, the instructions may call for weekly or biweekly use. The instructions often state that the user should allow the coal tar shampoo to rest on the skin for several minutes for the best results. This gives the ingredients time to work into the outer layer of the scalp and remove dead skin cells.

An active ingredient in the shampoo might irritate the skin, especially if the consumer has a damaged scalp. Some consumers report a burning irritation, the formation of bumps along the hairline, and itching. Consumers with sensitive skin should purchase formulas designed for a sensitive scalp. These hypoallergenic formulas do not contain perfumes or dyes, which helps reduce the chance of irritation.

Lathering agents helps the shampoo distribute thoroughly through the hair.
Lathering agents helps the shampoo distribute thoroughly through the hair.

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Discussion Comments


This may seem strange to some people because most people use coal tar shampoo to relieve scalp conditions and people mostly care about effectiveness. But when I buy coal tar shampoo, what I care about the most is the scent. Coal tar doesn't have a very pleasant scent, so I look for a shampoo that doesn't smell too bad. I realize that some brands may try to mask the smell of coal tar with synthetic perfumes. I certainly don't want a shampoo loaded with chemicals. But there are shampoos with natural scents and ingredients that help mask the scent of coal tar a little bit.

The only way to know if a shampoo's scent is tolerable is to smell it. Reading customer reviews before buying a shampoo is a good idea too.


@donasmrs-- Coal tar in shampoos usually vary between 2% and 5%. I'm not sure if one of these are better, but a higher percentage of coal tar may mean that the shampoo is more effective. Sometimes, it's just a personal preference though.

My coal tar shampoo has 3% coal tar and it works just fine. So I don't intend on getting a shampoo with more coal tar. I suggest picking a shampoo with a moderate amount of coal tar like 3% and trying that first. If you find it too strong or too weak, you can get a shampoo with a different concentration of coal tar next time.


What should be the concentration of coal tar in coal tar shampoo? I'm shopping for one and I've noticed that the percentage of coal tar in shampoos can vary quite a lot. What is a good percentage? I want something that's effective for scalp problems but doesn't cause side effects.

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