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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.

Here, we break down 12 of 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 multiple over-the-counter (OTC) formulas, each with varying amounts of coal tar and other ingredients.

Active ingredients

Coal tar is just one of the key active ingredients in the OTC shampoos on our list.

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.

By targeting excess dead skin cells, you may also find relief from itchiness, red plaques, and other symptoms. Additionally, getting rid of psoriasis patches on the scalp may help your prescription topical treatments work better by allowing more absorption.

Our roundup of the 12 best coal tar shampoos for psoriasis is based on the following factors:

  • 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 using the following guide:

  • $ = 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.

MG217 psoriasis shampoo contains 3% coal tar, which is much higher than most OTC products. This medicated shampoo is considered a maximum strength product that helps control scales and treats psoriasis symptoms. To help prevent dryness, this shampoo also has moisturizers.

This product is recognized by the National Psoriasis Foundation to help treat the scaling and irritation of psoriasis, but it may also be used to help reduce itching, buildup, 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. Others advise that for best results, you may want to lather the shampoo and keep it on your scalp for several minutes before rinsing it out.

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 perhaps one of the best known brands of coal tar shampoos, and is designed for treating psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis.

This shampoo contains 0.5% coal tar. Unlike other coal tar shampoos, Neutrogena’s formula is said to be safe enough for daily use. However, the added fragrance may cause irritation in sensitive skin, and the manufacturer also notes that there’s a rare, but temporary 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

Unlike Neutrogena T-Gel Original and Itchy Scalp formulas, the Extra Strength version contains 1% coal tar. According to the manufacturer, chronic symptoms may improve for a week after one use. For the best results, twice-weekly use is recommended.

While primarily designed for the treatment of psoriasis, this shampoo may also help manage symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff. The product also contains moisturizers to help prevent your hair from drying out.

Customers tend to review the Extra Strength version favorably, with many noting that the unpleasant smell is worth the results. Some even note that this product works better than prescription formulas they have tried in the past.

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 shampoo is designed for both psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis. It contains 0.5% coal tar, and has an added fragrance to help mask coal tar smell.

The manufacturer and customer reviews describe better symptoms after one use, though some users note that Medicasp may be drying to the hair. It may also 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.

Known for their eco-friendly products, this shampoo from artnaturals combines 0.5% coal tar, tea tree oil, and argan oil to help treat psoriasis and other scalp conditions that lead to dandruff.

If you’re looking for a moisturizing coal tar shampoo, this product may be a good alternative to other OTC shampoos. This formula is designed to be suitable for all hair types, but may be especially beneficial for dry scalp and hair. Many users report seeing benefits after one use, with maximum benefits seen after several months.

This shampoo is vegan, and is also free of both sulfates and parabens. It’s also 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 shampoo contains slightly more coal tar than other products of its kind at 1.8%, along with 1.5% menthol to help soothe irritation. The conditioner is a peppermint-containing cream formula that also helps treat dryness and damage. Both products may also help reduce the coal tar smell you may experience with other OTC shampoos for psoriasis.

Overall, users report favorable experiences, including soft hair. However, one user on Amazon noted the duo products didn’t alleviate itchiness as promised. The peppermint oil and menthol may also cause irritation. If you have sensitive skin, consider doing a patch test before use.

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.

Advertised as a generic alternative to Neutrogena T-Gel, this coal tar shampoo comes in a bottle four times as large as the name-brand formula.

Like Neutrogena T-Gel, True + Real contains 0.5% coal tar. You can also expect similar benefits as the name-brand, including symptom relief from dandruff, psoriasis, and seborrheic dermatitis. According to the manufacturer, users can expect quick treatment of itching and flakes when used as directed.

Overall, customers agree that this product is worth the tar smell, and many are pleased with the value for 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 MD Maximum Defense addresses both psoriasis symptoms and accompanying thinning hair. If you’re looking to treat both of these conditions, then you may find this product valuable for the price.

Key ingredients include 0.5% coal tar, biotin, and vitamin E. This shampoo is also free of sulfates, parabens, and gluten. The manufacturer says there are a total of 19 active “herbal” ingredients in the product.

Customers note that this shampoo has a pleasant smell, while others have pointed out recent changes to the formula that make it seem watered-down. Overall, this is a highly rated coal tar shampoo.

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.

Like several other products on this list, Tarsum Relief Shampoo contains 2% coal tar. What sets this product apart is that it may be used either as a leave-in treatment before rinsing out for maximum benefits or as a regular shampoo if you’re short on time.

Tarsum Relief Shampoo is designed to provide relief from itching and scaliness from psoriasis, but the product may also help with seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff. Another key ingredient is beta hydroxy acid, which may help get rid of excess dead skin cells in all three of these scalp conditions.

One downside to this product is the price for the amount of shampoo (whether it’s 4 ounces or 8 ounces). However, customers note that the price is worth the effectiveness, and say that this product worked on their scalp better 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.

As another generic alternative to Neutrogena T-Gel, this product contains 0.5% coal tar to help treat psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, and dandruff. It’s also a budget-friendly option to help treat itchy scalp related to the aforementioned scalp conditions.

Customers say that this product has a stronger smell, but many find the results worth the odor. Others note that the Major Thera-Gel Therapeutic Shampoo also helps control flakiness.

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.

While similar in price and size to the other MG217 product on this list, this particular shampoo is for the treatment of dandruff, while the other primarily treats psoriasis. With that said, the MG217 Dandruff Therapeutic Shampoo also offers 3% coal tar as a key active ingredient.

Additionally, this product may help control symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis, including itching, redness, and flakes. It also contains a conditioner to prevent dryness and promote overall scalp health. For best results, the manufacturer recommends using this shampoo at least twice a week.

MG217 products are rated highly overall on Amazon. As of yet, this particular shampoo has not yet been reviewed.

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.

Made with alcoholic extract of coal tar 5%, this 2-in-1 treatment is designed for the treatment of psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis. It may also be used in both children and adults. Regular use of this shampoo may help decrease scaliness, dandruff, and itching over time.

Due to the strength of this product, it’s a good idea to do a patch test before use. This is especially true if you have sensitive skin, or haven’t used coal tar in the past.

Customers say that, like other coal tar shampoos, Alphosyl 2 in 1 has a strong smell. Overall though, users note positive results with this product.

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 12 coal tar shampoos on this list are available over the counter. But it’s always a good idea to check with a doctor before using any of them to treat a chronic scalp condition like psoriasis.

If you’re using coal tar shampoo for the first time, you may consider starting with a lower-strength formula first to see how your scalp responds. From there, you may increase the number of uses, per the package instructions, or switch to another shampoo with a higher concentration of coal tar if you’re not seeing results.

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.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the overall results can vary among people. You may need to try out multiple coal tar shampoos until you find the right fit for you.

Always follow the directions on the product label. In general, coal tar shampoo may be used in the following steps:

  1. Thoroughly wet your hair, especially the scalp.
  2. Separate your hair into sections as you apply a small amount of coal tar shampoo to each area.
  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. Rinse out thoroughly. Repeat, if desired.
  5. Follow up with your choice of moisturizing conditioner.

Coal tar shampoo may be used up to twice a week or as directed by your doctor. Some companies claim their products are safe for daily use, but you may consider doing so only temporarily. It’s not clear whether coal tar shampoo is safe for daily, long-term 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, be sure to monitor your symptoms and call them if your scalp condition worsens. Key signs to look out for include increased redness, burning, or irritation.

Finally, know that if coal tar isn’t a good fit for you, there are other types of medicated shampoos that may help. Talk with your doctor about other options, such as shampoos with salicylic acid.

How often should you use coal tar shampoo?

This largely depends on the severity of your condition, as well as the product type. Some products are designed for use twice a week, while others may be used every day. Check all product directions carefully, and ask your doctor for advice.

Does coal tar shampoo cause any side effects?

In some cases, coal tar shampoo can aggravate an already sensitive scalp. Side effects include irritation, burning, redness, and itchiness. If you experience such effects, stop using the product and call your doctor.

Coal tar shampoo can also increase your scalp’s sensitivity to the sun, increasing your risk of burns. Be sure to wear hats when outdoors while you’re using this type of shampoo. You may also consider applying scalp sunscreen if needed.

Will coal tar shampoo bleach my hair?

Coal tar shampoo isn’t recommended for color-treated hair, as well as naturally gray or blond hair colors. This is because coal tar may discolor light-colored hair.

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?

While coal tar shampoo can help keep your scalp healthy, you’ll still need to follow up with a conditioner to keep your hair healthy, too. Ideally, you should opt for a moisturizing conditioner to counteract the drying effects of coal tar.

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

Some brands contain added fragrances to help mask the strong smell of coal tar. However, coal tar has a strong scent that may still linger despite fragrances. Moreover, sensitive skin may react negatively to perfumes added to shampoo.

You may not be able to get rid of the coal tar smell entirely, but you can help reduce it by using leave-in detangling and conditioning sprays on towel-dried hair.