Dad’s Smelly Shampoo

You know how smells can take you back in time? Visual and audio clues are one thing, but smells can take you right back in an unexpected kinda way. I’m sure it’s something that goes back to the womb (or earlier?)

The first time I opened the bottle of newish shampoo, recently, I thought of my dad forty years ago. Yes, I use shampoo, despite my male-pattern baldness. “That’s the same smell of the shampoo dad used to use”, I thought to myself.

As a child, I remember dad used a particular type of shampoo with a distinctive smell. Nothing “floral”, it was the smell of tar. Yes, tar, the stuff you find on the road, though there are probably a few “sweeteners” in the mixture. It’s not just bitumen. I’m sure I thought it was odd back then, but now “tar shampoo” makes far more sense.

That’s because, throughout my life, I’ve lived with a skin condition called psoriasis. Not consistently, just from time to time. First, as a teenager, and then more recently over the last couple of years. It’s pretty gross, resulting in really bad dandruff, and sometimes bleeding (if you pick it, which I sometimes do). On my legs, my back, and now on my scalp.

Psoriasis is a long-lasting, noncontagious autoimmune disease characterized by raised areas of abnormal skin. These areas are red, or purple on some people with darker skin, dry, itchy, and scaly. Psoriasis varies in severity from small, localized patches to complete body coverage. Psoriasis is generally thought to be a genetic disease that is triggered by environmental factors

I’ve followed all of the online advice – “Dr Google” – about topical treatments as well as longer term solutions. I’ve tried every hippie treatment possible, always avoiding the “tar based” treatments, because I thought the blah-blah-blah treatments would be better.

Tar based treatments for psoriasis
Tar based treatments for psoriasis

But then recently, as nothing seemed to be working, I decided to give “tar-based” treatments a go. And you know what? They appear to be working.

Coal tar comes from coal. It’s often used to make coal-tar pitch, which is used as a base for coatings and paint and in roofing and paving. But it can also be used to treat certain inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis, and dandruff. When you have psoriasis, your skin cells turn over rapidly, which causes red, itchy, scaly patches. Coal tar helps slow these cells’ rapid growth to restore your skin’s smooth appearance. It can also help relieve the inflammation and itching that occurs with psoriasis.

Coal tar can work well to treat psoriasis, especially if it’s used in combination with other treatments. Some people see their psoriasis go away completely. Others go into remission, which means they go for a while without a flare-up of their psoriasis.

No single coal tar product is best for psoriasis. You can’t just assume that the higher its tar concentration, the better it is. In fact, studies have found that lotions containing just 1 percent of coal tar were more effective than those that contained 5 percent coal tar. It’s a good idea to ask your dermatologist to recommend a product.

Clearly dad must have had psoriasis too. Who knew that forty years later, “dad’s smelly shampoo” would make sense?

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