What is causing the current coal tar shortage

Coal tar shampoos and ointments have long been used as treatments for psoriasis and eczema. However over the past decade coal tar products have become increasingly hard to source. The shortage has left those suffering with these conditions feeling lost and has caused many to reach out to bodies such as the Psoriasis Association and the National Eczema Society.  

The first initial shortage came after a study conducted in 1985 found that over half the people surveyed who had worked with coal tar for over 40 years developed skin cancer.   

This study saw many pharmaceutical companies stop producing coal tar products and for others to introduce new stricter measures during the production process. Since these new measures were introduced, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in 1991 that the amount used in over-the-counter products is safe and an article in the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology in 2009** stated that there was ‘no cancer danger using coal tar to treat skin’.  

In addition to these articles and studies the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which licenses medical products here, has also said there were no safety concerns around the use of coal tar in regulated medication.  

However, even after all the production changes, new studies and a better understanding of coal tar there is still a distinct shortage of manufactures making coal tar products. So why is this? Pharmaceutical companies are accrediting this continued shortage to two things, the cost of the specialist equipment and the growing shortage of the natural elements.  

Due to the API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient) involved in making coal tar products, specialist, dedicated equipment and working environments are needed in order to meet MHRA guidelines. Smaller pharmaceutical manufacturers will use the same equipment for many different lines by completing a strict and rigorous cleaning process in between products. This cannot be done with coal tar products. In addition to the cost of equipment the pharmaceutical companies can only order the API in large quantities so need to have the correct storage facilities available as Coal Tar Solution BP is highly flammable. These variables have led to a lot of smaller manufacturers choosing not to make or stock coal tar products.  

Finally the API’s needed to make coal tar products are in short supply, meaning that manufacturers are competing to gain the materials needed to create the products. All of these factors has meant that the UK is suffering from a reduced supply but coal tar based products are still available from specials manufacturers.