Topical tar: back to the future.J Am Acad Dermatol. 2009 Aug; 61(2):294-302.JA
The use of medicinal tar for dermatologic disorders dates back to the ancient times. Although coal tar is utilized more frequently in modern dermatology, wood tars have also been widely employed. Tar is used mainly in the treatment of chronic stable plaque psoriasis, scalp psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, and seborrheic dermatitis, either alone or in combination therapy with other medications, phototherapy, or both. Many modifications have been made to tar preparations to increase their acceptability, as some dislike its odor, messy application, and staining of clothing. One should consider a tried and true treatment with tar that has led to clearing of lesions and prolonged remission times. Occupational studies have demonstrated the carcinogenicity of tar; however, epidemiologic studies do not confirm similar outcomes when used topically. This article will review the pharmacology, formulations, efficacy, and adverse effects of crude coal tar and other tars in the treatment of selected dermatologic conditions.