Can Tar Soap Heal Psoriasis?
“Tar can help slow the rapid growth of skin cells and restore the skin’s appearance. In addition, it can help reduce the inflammation, itching and scaling of psoriasis.”
Both pine tar soap and coal tar soap have been traditionally used to cleanse and soothe skin.
Here, we explore whether tar soap is an effective treatment for your psoriasis plaques and other skin irritations.
We’ll also recommend highly rated tar soaps, and show you how to make your own!
What is Tar Soap?
Pine tar is a thick and gooey pitch that has a smoky, pungent, woodsy, and leathery smell. It is often locally available online and at farm supply stores as a treatment for horses’ hooves.
Types of Tar Soap
Tar soap is often recommended to relieve psoriasis symptoms, like itching, inflammation, and scaling. The two types of tar soap used to treat psoriasis are pine tar soap and coal tar soap.
Pine Tar Soap
Pine tar soap is made from pine tree resins and has a strong pine scent.
It’s still used by many people to treat psoriasis, but doctors who support tar soap as a treatment may be more likely to recommend coal tar soap.
Coal Tar Soap
Coal tar is a distillation byproduct of coal processing. It’s made of thousands of compounds that may vary depending on preparation.
Creosote, a by-product of burning certain materials, is known to be a carcinogen. Creosote is contained in coal tar and can sometimes be found in pine tar depending on how it is made.
Some soap makers say that as long as they use “creosote free” pine tar, there is no risk and their soaps are safe for sale.
Others believe the amount of creosote in veterinary grade pine tar is so minimal that the risk is negligible, that creosote is found in many things we are commonly exposed to, and that the creosote in pine tar is less than what would come from cooking over a fire or barbecue.
Tar Soap History
Coal tar has been used to treat skin conditions since ancient times, and it’s been a trusted remedy for psoriasis plaques for over 100 years.
In the past, over-the-counter (OTC) coal tar soap contained coal tar byproducts, like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
Today’s coal tar soap is generally manufactured with high quality ingredients.
It can be hard to find at the drugstore; your best bet for a high quality coal tar soap is online.
You can buy pine tar soap that contains pine tar and pine tar oils without a prescription.
In fact, some brands for sale today have been in production since the 1800s and use the same formula.
Is Tar Soap Effective?
The goal of psoriasis treatment is to slow the growth of skin cells to reduce inflammation and plaque formation, and remove scales.
Coal tar soap might be helpful in reducing scaling, itching, and inflammation. It has few side effects, although exactly how it works isn’t clear.
According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, tar helps slow skin cell growth and improves skin’s appearance.
Coal tar treatments may be combined with other therapies, like topical corticosteroids or ultraviolet B light.
The Goeckerman regimen is a therapy that combines coal tar and ultraviolet light. It’s considered to be effective for relieving moderate to severe psoriasis symptoms.
But the treatment isn’t right for everyone. Goeckerman requires daily sessions for up to four weeks and can be messy.
An evidence-based review published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology found that:
Most studies support the use of coal tar preparations to treat psoriasis and atopic dermatitis.
Make Your Own Pine Tar Soap
Pine Tar Soap Recipe
- Lard – 13.5 ounces (28%)
- Olive oil – 13.5 ounces (28%)
- Palm kernel oil – 8.2 ounces – (17%)
- Sunflower oil – 5.8 ounces – (12%)
- Pine tar – 7.2 ounces – (15%)
- Lye – 5.9 ounces
- Water – 15.8 ounces – (note the extra water used to help slow down trace)
- Essential oil blend of lavender, tea tree, eucalyptus, and Siberian fir – 2 ounces
- 1 tbsp. sugar added to the water for the lye solution (before you add the lye!)
Making pine tar soap is straightforward like most batches of cold process soap. It will come to trace very quickly, however, so you need to make a couple of adjustments to your standard procedures.
- Mix at low temperatures. You can try your batch with lye at room temperature and the oils at about 85 degrees.
- Use a lot of water in your recipe. A 2:1 ratio of water to lye is recommended but for this recipe, your water may calculate at about 2.7 times the amount of lye.
- Adjust your recipe to be slower to trace. Include slow-to-trace oils like lard and olive and remove quick-to-trace oils like castor and palm.
- Be careful with fragrance or essential oils that may speed up trace. Lavender tends to slow down trace.
- Don’t use an immersion blender – whisk it to mix it.
- While you measure out oils, put the can of pine tar in a large bowl of very hot water. This will help make the pine tar a bit more pourable when it comes time to add it to the soap pot.
Melt the Hard Oils, Add the Liquid Oils
- While the pine tar is warming up in hot water, measure and begin melting hard oils.
- Once the hard oils have been melted, take the pot off of the heat.
- Add the liquid oils.
- Now you add the pine tar. It’s sticky, so you can measure it right from the can into the soap pot. Note that this only works if you can put a hot soap pot on top of your scale. If you can’t, measure the pine tar into a separate disposable container.
- Put your soap pot on the scale and carefully measure out the correct amount of pine tar in the heated oils.
- Stir the oils and pine tar very well.
Adding Essential Oils
his recipe will come to trace quickly so it is recommended to add the essential oils to the oils before adding the lye.
Normally, you would do this at trace to lessen the essential oils’ exposure to the lye. However, since the temperatures are low and the mix will thicken quickly, add the essential oils first.
The pine tar has a smoky, pungent scent, so you may wish to compliment it with 2.1 ounces of essential oils, such as the following:
- .7 ounce lavender essential oil (33%)
- .5 ounce eucalyptus essential oil (24%)
- .5 ounce Siberian fir essential oils (24%)
- .4 ounce tea tree essential oil (19%)
Add Lye and Whisk to Stir
- After mixing the essential oils well into the oils and pine tar, slowly add the lye solution to the pot. Do not use a stick blender; whisk the mixture together.
- After a few stirs with the whisk, the soap mixture will start to turn more opaque and a lighter color. This is your soap beginning to saponify.
- Keep stirring slowly but firmly for several minutes. The soap will thicken up like thick chocolate pudding or cake batter. Identifying a moment of trace is difficult here. What you want to achieve is absolutely complete and thorough mixing.
- If in doubt, keep stirring some more. Be sure to scrape the sides, too. Do not let it get too thick to pour.
Pour the Pine Tar Soap into the Mold
- Pour the soap mixture into the soap mold. Use a rubber spatula to get it all out of the pot.
- Be sure to slam the mold firmly on the counter to release any air pockets or bubbles.
- Optionally, you may smooth the top of the soap flat with your spatula or use your spatula to make some waves and swirls in the top of the soap. It gives the final bars a nice handmade look.
Finish and Unmold
After 24-36 hours, you can unmold, cut, and use your soap.
Normally, a soap with this much water would take several days to be ready to cut but this batch is firm enough to cut the next day.
Even so, most people recommend letting it cure several additional weeks to get it a bit harder.
Tar Soap Safety Concerns
Both pine tar and coal tar soap are generally well-tolerated, but coal tar may cause unpleasant side effects:
- skin irritation or redness
- sensitivity to sunlight
In addition to some brands being messy, coal tar soap has a strong odor, and may stain light-colored hair, clothes, and bedding.
When studies suggested occupational exposure to coal tar may cause cancer, it raised concerns that topical use might be carcinogenic, but In 2010, a study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology seemed to put the debate to rest:
The study didn’t observe an increased risk of cancer with the use of coal tar soap. It also noted that coal tar soap could be considered a safe treatment for psoriasis and eczema.
Other Psoriasis Treatments
In addition to tar soap, other OTC treatments are available. Most OTC psoriasis treatments are used to moisturize and soothe skin, remove scales, and relieve itching. These include:
- aloe vera
- jojoba oil
- zinc pyrithione
- oilated oatmeal
- Epsom salts or Dead Sea salts
- anti-itch products such as calamine, hydrocortisone, camphor, and menthol
Occlusion, the process of covering an applied topical medication with plastic wrap, cellophane, or other covering, is sometimes used to increase a product’s effectiveness.
Recommended Psoriasis Cream
I’m a huge fan of Thena Natural Wellness Healing Cream. My Dad found a lot of relief (and he believes – faster healing) by using this cream on his shingles rash, so I recommend trying this on psoriasis.
The reviews of this product from psoriasis sufferers are so encouraging, too.
Purified Water, Organic Aloe Vera, High Oleic Safflower Oil, Herbal Extracts of Olive Leaf, Calendula, Comfrey, Chamomile, Organic Shea Butter, Avocado Oil, Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Cetearyl Alcohol, Vegetable Glycerin, Cetyl Alcohol (natural plant derived), Organic Coconut Oil, Amaranth Oil, Jojoba Oil, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Honey, MSM, Potassium Sorbate, Lavender Oil, Hexylene Glycol, Bergamot Oil, Vitamin E Mixed Tocopherols, Vitamin A Palmitate, Peppermint Oil, Frankincense Oil, Helichrysum Oil, Chamomile Oil, Vitamin C Ascorbyl Palmitate, Rosemary Extract, Sandalwood Oil, Titanium Dioxide (natural mineral sunblocker), Argan Oil
When to See Your Doctor
Talk to your doctor before using tar soap to treat psoriasis. They can give you tips on how much soap to use and how often.
If you experience the symptoms of an allergic reaction while using tar soap, seek medical help immediately. Those symptoms may include:
- difficulty breathing
- chest tightness
If the treated area becomes red, itchy, or irritated, or your symptoms worsen or don’t improve, call your doctor as soon as possible.
- Menter, A., et al. “Guidelines of Care for the Management of Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis.”American Academy of Dermatology Association, 60th ed., version 4, Apr. 2009, www.aad.org/practicecenter/quality/clinical-guidelines/psoriasis/topical-therapy/recommendations-for-coal-tar.
- “Coal Tar (Topical Route).” PubMed Health, 1 May 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0045996/.
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