Coal tar is a known carcinogen derived from burning coal. It is a complex mixture of hundreds of compounds, many of which are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
It is used in food, textiles, cosmetics and personal care products and sealcoat products for pavements and roads.
It is considered a known carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Experimental studies have found that application of and exposure to coal tar produce skin tumors and neurological damage.
What to look for on the label: Coal tar solution, tar, coal, carbo-cort, coal tar solution, coal tar solution USP, crude coal tar, estar, impervotar, KC 261, lavatar, picis carbonis, naphtha, high solvent naphtha, naphtha distillate, benzin B70, petroleum benzin
Several coal tar dyes are prohibited on Health Canada’s Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist and Canada’s Cosmetic Regulations prohibit all but seven of these colours in eye makeup and other products used in the area of the eye. However, dozens of coal tar-derived colours are still widely used in other cosmetics. P-phenylenediamine is permitted only in hair dyes and must be accompanied by a warning that the product “contains ingredients that may cause skin irritation on certain individuals” and if used near the eyes “may cause blindness.”