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Coal tar is applied to the skin to reduce the itching of atopic dermatitis. It is not as strong as a corticosteroid and can be used as a "bridge therapy" from a stronger medicine when symptoms have improved. Coal tar may also be used for treatment of thick skin (lichenified) if other treatment is not effective.

Coal tar is available as a gel, cream, or ointment or as a solution for the bath. Examples of coal tar preparations include 5% coal tar in a hydro-alcoholic gel (such as Estar) or 5% liquor carbonis detergens in a cream base.

Coal tar preparations are generally thought to be safe. Use coal tar carefully near the eyes or in skin folds. Do not use a tar preparation if your skin rash is very inflamed.

  • Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)
  • Topical Corticosteroids for Atopic Dermatitis

By: Healthwise Staff Last Revised: April 17, 2012
Medical Review: Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Amy McMichael, MD - Dermatology

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