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You are here:  Home » News & Research » Hair Loss News Center » TGel Shampoo linked to Cancer?
Coal tar shampoo's found to cause cancer in high doses
Coal tar may sound like some backwoods remedy your grandparents used, but the stuff is an active ingredient in a variety of popular dandruff shampoos. Dermatologists say it works to control those pesky flakes and relieve the itch. The only catch is that, well, in high doses coal tar causes cancer...The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) acknowledges that coal tar is carcinogenic but says that the over-the-counter coal-tar shampoos are safe for both adults and children. Shampoo makers agree. But in California, where both hair and novel legal actions grow long and wild, the leader of a nonprofit environmental and public health group and the state attorney general's office are suing more than 20 manufacturers of coal-tar shampoos and ointments to require them to place warning labels on their products -- and ultimately to sell them by prescription only.

Well-known companies named in the suit include Neutrogena, American Home Products and Walgreens.

"The companies' refusal to label these products is irresponsible and illegal," said Perry Gottesfeld, who filed the lawsuit.

Proposition 65, a voter-initiated measure adopted in 1986, allows California to set stricter safety standards for certain consumer products than the FDA does. Prop 65 requires any item sold in California that contains a known carcinogen to have a warning label, regardless of whether it's been blessed by the FDA.

Coal tar is a black, viscid liquid distilled from coal and used to make a variety of products, from dyes to pavements. The substance has long been associated with lung cancer among roofers and asphalt workers, as well as skin and scrotum cancer among distillation workers, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Science.

Yet no study has convincingly shown that coal-tar shampoos, which usually contain less than 1 percent coal tar, cause skin cancer, according to the FDA. In formulating the shampoo, many of the tar's carcinogenic chemicals are removed, and the residue quickly rinses away from the scalp.

According to Prop 65, products that carry "no significant risk level" do not need warnings, according to Sue Fiering, a deputy attorney general involved in the lawsuit. Prop 65 defines risk as causing more than one case of cancer per 100,000 people exposed.
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