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Coal Tar Shampoo

Mohommed Essop-Adam
Reviewed by Mohommed Essop-AdamReviewed on 30.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

Coal tar or coal tar extract is a medication effective in treating itching, flaking, or skin scaling due to conditions such as dandruff (Seborrheic dermatitis) and psoriasis.

Coal tar works by initiating the shedding of dead cells from the top layers of your skin and slowing the production of skin cells, reducing the symptoms of scaling, dryness of your skin and itching. Alphosyl ‘2 in 1’ shampoo contains an alcoholic coal tar extract at 5% and is a regular over the counter medication available here in the UK.

Doctor’s advice

Who is it for?

Alphosyl shampoo can be used for various conditions affecting the scalp, including:

Alphosyl shampoo is strictly for external use only.

  • Before application, ensure your hair is wet thoroughly.
  • Apply enough shampoo for a lather to form, which covers your scalp and the nearby skin. Massage your scalp with the shampoo for 1-3 minutes, then rinse your hair.
  • Repeat the process by applying your shampoo, massaging for 1-3 minutes, and then rinsing your hair.
  • The total contact time for Alphosyl shampoo between the two washes should be around 3-5 minutes.

Apply once or twice a week for four weeks. After four weeks of use, if you find no benefit, speak to your pharmacist or doctor.

How does it work?

Seborrheic Dermatitis: Coal tar has antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce the overgrowth of yeast on the scalp and alleviate inflammation and itching associated with seborrheic dermatitis.

Psoriasis: Coal tar shampoo works by slowing down the excessive growth of skin cells, which is a characteristic of psoriasis. It helps to normalize cell turnover, reduce scaling, and relieve itching.

Contact Dermatitis: Coal tar shampoo can be used in contact dermatitis to reduce inflammation and itching caused by an allergic reaction. It may also help remove irritants from the scalp and soothe the skin.

Eczema: Coal tar shampoo can provide relief for some people with eczema by reducing itching, inflammation, and scaling. It helps to moisturize the scalp and soothe the irritated skin.

Cradle Cap: Coal tar shampoo can be effective in treating cradle cap by softening and loosening the scales on the scalp. It helps to gently exfoliate the skin and reduce inflammation.

Ringworm on the scalp: Coal tar shampoo may not primarily treat ringworm on the scalp, as it is caused by a fungal infection. However, some coal tar shampoos like Alphysol may have mild antifungal properties that can help in combination with other antifungal treatments recommended by your healthcare professional like selenium shampoo.

Should anybody not take it

Do not apply Alphosyl shampoo if you have previously had an allergic reaction to coal tar or any other ingredients present. Coal tar shampoos should not be used to treat any open, infected, or damaged skin. You must not use it if you have sore or acute pustular psoriasis (red skin covered in pus-filled blisters).

Whilst coal tar preparations have been used for several years in children, clinical data on the safety of children is limited. It should only be used under the recommendation of their pharmacist or doctor in children under 12. Alphosyl ‘2 in 1’ shampoo should only be used under the recommendation of a pharmacist or doctor in children under the age of 12.

Are there any side effects?

Side effects of using Alphosyl shampoo are rare, but they can happen. Stop treatment immediately and seek urgent medical advice if you notice any signs of an allergic reaction. A small number of patients may experience rare side effects. If you see any of the following symptoms, speak to your doctor or pharmacist: hair colour changes, hair loss or thinning, abnormal hair texture, eye or skin irritation, sensitivity to light (photosensitivity), skin pain, rash or swelling.

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Mohommed Essop-Adam
Reviewed by Mohommed Essop-Adam
Reviewed on 30.10.2023
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