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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.

We break down the best coal tar shampoos, how they work, and what you need to consider before trying them.

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 many OTC formulas with varying amounts of coal tar and other ingredients.

Active ingredients

Coal tar is one of the key active ingredients in the OTC shampoos.

While topical formulas may generally have a range of between 1% and 15% coal tar, most of the OTC shampoos in this roundup contain 2% or less. A few products offer more for maximum strength. Such levels are considered safe for most people.

Coal tar has been safely used in the long-term treatment of psoriasis for more than a century. But it isn’t the only active ingredient you may find in OTC coal tar shampoos for psoriasis. You may see other ingredients, such as salicylic acid, which help break up scales and may increase the absorption of other medicated 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.

Relief from red plaques, itchiness, and other symptoms can be found by targeting excess dead skin cells. If you get rid of the Psoriasis patches on the scalp, your prescription treatments will work better.

The factors that make up our list of the best coal tar shampoos for stomatoes are:

  • Customer ratings: We included products that were as close to a 5-star rating as possible.
  • User reviews: We looked for the pros and cons of each product as reported by real-life users.
  • Active ingredients: Aside from coal tar, we also included a few products with other psoriasis-benefiting ingredients, such as salicylic acid.
  • Scent and added fragrances: You’ll find a combination of products with added fragrances, as well as those with natural scents, based on your preferences.
  • Moisturizers: A few of the products in our roundup include additional moisturizing ingredients specifically designed for dry hair.
  • Affordability: You’ll also find products at a range of prices to fit your budget.

Pricing guide

We included products with a range of prices.

  • $ = under $10
  • $$ = $10–$20
  • $$$ = over $20

Best overall

MG217 Psoriasis Medicated Conditioning Shampoo

  • Price: $
  • Key ingredients: 3% coal tar
  • Free of: N/A
  • Pros: It has a higher coal tar strength compared with other OTC shampoos.
  • Cons: It contains parabens, sulfates, and fragrances.

Coal tar is higher in most OTC products. The maximum strength product that helps control scales and treat speach symptoms is called a medicated wash. This is a cleanser that has moisturizers to help prevent dry skin.

The National Psoriasis Foundation recognizes this product as a way to treat the scaling and irritation of sPsoriasis, but it may also be used to reduce itching, build up, and inflammation associated with seborrheic dermatitis.

Customer reviews note that the coal tar smell can linger after use, but they have found the results to be worthwhile. If you want to get the best results, you should lather the hair product and keep it on your head for a while.

Best known brand

Neutrogena T-Gel Therapeutic Shampoo Original Formula

  • Price: $$$
  • Key ingredients: coal tar 0.5%, 2% Neutar solubilized coal tar extract
  • Free of: N/A
  • Pros: It helps control itchiness and buildup after first use.
  • Cons: In rare cases, the shampoo may discolor gray, white, or color-treated hair.

Neutrogena T-Gel Therapeutic Shampoo is a brand of coal tar shampoos that is designed for treating seborrheic dermatitis and other skin conditions.

“This is a hair product that contains coal tar. Neutrogena’s formula is said to be safe enough for daily use. The manufacturer notes that the added fragrance may cause irritation in sensitive skin and that there is a risk of hair discoloration.”

Overall, users agree that the scent of this shampoo is off-putting, but most seem to agree that the results are worth the smell. A few users also reported skin irritation, so you may consider doing a patch test on another area of your skin before applying the shampoo to your full scalp.

Best OTC extra-strength formula

Neutrogena T-Gel Therapeutic Shampoo Extra Strength

  • Price: $
  • Key ingredients: 1% coal tar, 4% Neutar
  • Free of: aluminum
  • Pros: Extra strength formula is still gentle on the scalp and contains added moisturizers.
  • Cons: It has an unpleasant smell

The Extra Strength version contains 1% coal tar. The manufacturer says that chronic symptoms may improve after a week. Twice-weekly use is recommended for the best results.

This is a sulfate-free product that may help manage symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff. The product has a moisturizers to help keep your hair from drying out.

“The Extra Strength version is reviewed favorably by customers, who like the smell and think it’s worth the effort. Some people say that this product works better than prescription formulas have done before.”

Best for budget

Medicasp Coal Tar Gel Dandruff Shampoo

  • Price: $
  • Key ingredients: 0.5% coal tar
  • Free of: N/A
  • Pros: Tar smell doesn’t linger like other coal tar shampoos.
  • Cons: It may be drying to the hair.

This budget-friendly cleanser is designed for both seborrheic and pheochran diseases. It has a added scent to help mask the coal tar smell.

Some users of Medicasp note that it may be drying to the hair, but the manufacturer and customer reviews say otherwise. It may take a few weeks to see the full benefits of this product.

Best sulfate-free product

ArtNaturals Scalp 18 Shampoo

  • Price: $$
  • Key ingredients: 0.5% coal tar, tea tree oil
  • Free of: sulfates, parabens, and animal products
  • Pros: It’s great for dandruff.
  • Cons: Some users report dry ends after prolonged use, and some mention strong smell.

The artnaturals combines coal tar, tea tree oil, and argan oil to help treat scurvy and other conditions that lead to dandruff.

This product is a good alternative to other OTC shampoos if you are looking for a moisturizing coal tar shampoo. This formula is designed to be suitable for all hair types, but may be especially beneficial for dry hair. Many users report seeing benefits after a single use.

This is a vegan and sulfate and Paraben free product. It is listed as a climate-pledge-friendly product.

Best shampoo and conditioner duo

Pete & Pedro Control and Condition

  • Price: $$$
  • Key ingredients: 1.8% coal tar, 1.5% menthol
  • Free of: parabens
  • Pros: As a duo product, this set helps take the guesswork out of finding the right conditioner to complement your coal tar shampoo.
  • Cons: Some of the ingredients may be irritating for sensitive skin.

These products are sold together, with the Pete & Pedro Control formula being a dandruff shampoo, while the Condition product helps moisturize your hair.

The coal tar and menthol in the shampoo help soothe irritation. The conditioner is a cream formula that helps treat damage and dry skin. The products may help reduce the smell of coal tar.

“Users report favorable experiences, including soft hair. One user on Amazon said the duo products didn’t alleviate itch as promised. The oil of the peppermint may cause irritation. If you have sensitive skin, you should do a patch test.”

Best generic brand

True + Real Therapeutic Plus Tar Gel Dandruff Shampoo

  • Price: $
  • Key ingredients: 0.5% coal tar
  • Free of: N/A
  • Pros: It’s more affordable than Neutrogena T-Gel Original Formula and has the same active ingredients.
  • Cons: It may also leave an unpleasant smell.

The coal tar shampoo is four times larger than the name-brand formula, which is advertised as a generic alternative.

True + Real has the same amount of coal tar as Neutrogena T-Gel. Symptom relief from seborrheic dermatitis, and other skin conditions can be found in the name-brand. The manufacturer says that users can expect quick treatment of itching and flakes.

Customers agree that this product is worth the tar smell, and many are happy with the price.

Best for thinning hair

Pura D’or MD Maximum Defense Anti-Hair Thinning Shampoo

  • Price: $$$
  • Key ingredients: 0.5% coal tar, vitamin E, biotin
  • Free of: gluten, sulfates, and parabens
  • Pros: It may help treat thinning hair.
  • Cons: It’s more expensive than other coal tar shampoos on the market.

“While pricier than other OTC coal tar shampoos, Pura D’or Maximum Defense addresses both Psoriasis symptoms and hair loss. If you are looking to treat both of these conditions, then this product may be worth the price.”

This is a free of sulfates, parabens, and gluten. There are 19 active ingredients in the product.

Customers say that this is a pleasant smelling product, while others say that the formula is watered down. This is a highly rated coal tar cleanser.

Best for dry/damaged hair

Tarsum Relief Shampoo

  • Price: $$
  • Key ingredients: 2% coal tar, beta hydroxy acid
  • Free of: N/A
  • Pros: It can be used either as a leave-in treatment or shampoo.
  • Cons: It may be pricier for the amount of product offered.

Tarsum Relief Shampoo has 2% coal tar. This product is different because it can be used as a leave-in treatment or as a regular hair product if you are short on time.

Tarsum Relief is designed to help with itching and scaliness from seborrheic dermatitis and is also good for other conditions. Excess dead skin cells can be removed with the help of a key ingredient, called beta hydroxy acid.

The price for the amount of hair product is a downside. Customers say that the price is worth the effectiveness, and that the product worked better on their hair than prescription formulas.

Best for itchy scalp

Major Thera-Gel Therapeutic Shampoo

  • Price: $
  • Key ingredients: 0.5% coal tar
  • Free of: N/A
  • Pros: It’s a budget-friendly option for itchy scalp.
  • Cons: It has a strong smell.

This product is a generic alternative to Neutrogena T-Gel and contains coal tar to help treat seborrheic dermatitis and other skin conditions. It is a budget-friendly option to treat itchy scalp.

“Many customers find the results worth the smell, despite the product’s stronger smell. Major Thera-Gel Therapeutic Shampoo helps control flakiness, according to others.”

Best for dandruff

MG217 Dandruff Therapeutic Shampoo

  • Price: $
  • Key ingredients: 3% coal tar
  • Free of: N/A
  • Pros: It treats dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis symptoms.
  • Cons: There’s a lack of customer reviews.

The MG217 product is similar in price and size to the one on this list, but the one for the treatment of dandruff is more expensive. Coal tar is a key active ingredient in the Dandruff Therapeutic Shampoo.

This product may help control the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis. It has a conditioner to help promote overall health. The manufacturer recommends using this at least twice a week.

The products are rated highly on Amazon. This particular hair product has not been reviewed yet.

Best maximum strength coal tar shampoo

Alphosyl 2-in-1 Shampoo

  • Price: $$$
  • Key ingredients: 5% coal tar
  • Free of: N/A
  • Pros: It’s designed for both children and adults.
  • Cons: It’s pricier than other options on this list.

The treatment is made with alcoholic extract of coal tar and is designed for the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis. It may be used in both children and adults. Over time, regular use of this shampoo may help decrease the symptoms of scuttling, Dandruff, and itching.

“It is a good idea to do a patch test before using this product. If you have sensitive skin, or haven’t used coal tar in the past, this is true.”

Alphosyl 2 in 1 has a strong smell, like other coal tar shampoos, according to customers. Users say that this product has positive results.

Name Price Best Key ingredients Free of
MG217 Psoriasis Medicated Conditioning Shampoo $ overall 3% coal tar N/A
Neutrogena T-Gel Therapeutic Shampoo Original Formula $$$ well-known brand 0.5% coal tar, 2% Neutar solubilized coal tar extract N/A
Neutrogena T-Gel Therapeutic Shampoo Extra Strength $ OTC extra-strength formula 1% coal tar, 4% Neutar aluminum
Medicasp Coal Tar Gel Dandruff Shampoo $ budget-friendly option 0.5% coal tar N/A
ArtNaturals Scalp 18 Shampoo $$ sulfate-free option 0.5% coal tar sulfates, parabens, and animal products
Pete & Pedro Control and Condition $$$ shampoo and conditioner duo 1.8% coal tar, 1.5% menthol parabens
True + Real Therapeutic Plus Tar Gel Dandruff Shampoo $ generic brand 0.5% coal tar N/A
Pura D’or MD Maximum Defense Anti-Hair Thinning Shampoo $$$ for thinning hair 0.5% coal tar, vitamin E, biotin gluten, sulfates, and parabens
Tarsum Relief Shampoo $$ for dry/damaged hair 2% coal tar, beta hydroxy acid N/A
Major Thera-Gel Therapeutic Shampoo $ for itchy scalp 0.5% coal tar N/A
MG217 Dandruff Therapeutic Shampoo $ for dandruff 3% coal tar N/A
Alphosyl 2-in-1 Shampoo $$$ maximum strength coal tar shampoo 5% coal tar N/A

The coal tar shampoos are available over the counter. It is always a good idea to check with a doctor before using any of them to treat a chronic condition.

“If you are using coal tar shampoo for the first time, you may want to start with a lower strength formula to see how it works. If you don’t see results, you can increase the number of uses or switch to another hair product with a higher concentration of coal tar.”

When shopping for coal tar shampoos, you may come across other types of tar-derived products. These shampoos can contain active ingredients from wood, such as pine or juniper tar.

Research suggests that pine tar may aid in the treatment of scalp conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema. But read product labels carefully if you want a coal-tar-only product.

The results can vary among people. You may need to try out more than one coal tar shampoos.

Follow the directions on the label. Coal tar shampoo can be used in the following steps.

  1. It is advisable to wet your hair.
  2. You apply a small amount of coal tar shampoo to each area of your hair.
  3. 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.
  4. Remove thoroughly. If you want, repeat.
  5. You can follow up with your choice of conditioner.

Coal tar is used up to twice a week by your doctor. Some companies claim their products are safe for daily use, but you may consider doing so only temporarily. Coal tar is not known if it is safe for daily 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, you should call your doctor if you start to experience any of the symptoms of your hair fall. Increased redness, burning, or irritation are some of the key signs to look out for.

“If coal tar isn’t a good fit for you, there are other types of medicated shampoos that may help. Talk to your doctor about other options.”

How often should you use coal tar shampoo?

This is dependent on the severity of your condition and the product type. Some products are designed for use twice a week, while others are used every day. Ask your doctor for advice on all product directions.

Does coal tar shampoo cause any side effects?

Coal tar shampoo can cause a sensitive hair to grow back. There are side effects that include irritation, burning, redness, and itchiness. If you experience such effects, stop using the product and call your doctor.

Coal tar shampoo can increase your risk of burns. You should wear hats when using this type of hair product. If you need to apply sunscreen, you may also consider applying it to the hair.

Will coal tar shampoo bleach my hair?

Coal tar is not recommended for hair that is color-treated or has naturally gray or blond hair. Light-colored hair may be affected by coal tar.

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?

Coal tar shampoo can help keep your hair healthy, but you need a conditioner to keep your hair healthy as well. The drying effects of coal tar can be counteracted by a conditioner.

How do you get rid of the coal tar shampoo smell?

Some brands have added fragrances to help mask the smell of coal tar. Coal tar has a strong scent that may linger even after a while. The perfumes added to the shampoo may cause a reaction from sensitive skin.

You can help reduce the smell by using leave-in detangling and conditioning sprays on towel-dried hair.