An Evidence-based Review of the Efficacy of Coal Tar Preparations in the Treatment of Psoriasis and Atopic Dermatitis
October 2010 | Volume 9 | Issue 10 | Original Article | 1258 | Copyright © October 2010
Jordan B. Slutsky MD, Richard A. F. Clark MD, Alexander A. Remedios MD, Peter A. Klein MD
Background: There is a long history of using topical coal tar for the treatment of psoriasis and atopic dermatitis (AD).
Objective: To review the literature on coal tar and its derivatives, without the use of ultraviolet light, for the treatment of psoriasis
Methods: MEDLINE/PubMed and Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews literature searches were performed to identify randomized
controlled trials and clinical trials of topical coal tar for the treatment of psoriasis or AD. Studies were graded according to
a modified version of Sackett’s criteria for clinical evidence and evaluated to determine if they support or do not support the use of
coal tar therapy.
Results: Twenty-five studies meeting the authors’ search criteria were identified, only two of which were placebo-controlled. The
majority (21, or 84%) supported the use of coal tar products in the treatment of psoriasis or AD, while four (16%) did not support the
use of coal tar products.
Conclusion: Most studies support the use of coal tar products, although their level of evidence is not strong. Topical coal tar was
found to be efficacious in the treatment of psoriasis in two placebo-controlled trials. Coal tar products appear to be therapeutic in
psoriasis and AD, are well tolerated with few side effects, and are cost-effective. Staining and odor are deterrents to coal tar therapy.
Large, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies with precise point estimates of treatment effect are needed to establish
the efficacy of coal tar preparations.