A review of the web advertising for Curafas products, with coal tar and amino acids.

Grade F

Curafas® sells topical treatments for the skin and scalp. The active ingredient in these products is coal tar, but they also contain amino acids, cod liver oil, mineral oil, saponins (quillia extract, used as a lathering agent), tea tree oil and vitamins. Curafas® makes the claim: “The unique inclusion of amino acids and vitamins affords the user the best approach to the treatment of traumatized skin.” This is not necessarily true. Any person with psoriasis (or “traumatized skin”) should follow the advice of his doctor.

The site does not give the cost for any of its products, instead it forces the potential buyer to call or write for information. Various other web sites sell Curafas® cream (2 oz.), lotion (8 oz.) and shampoo (8 oz.) for between $13.27 and $18.95 each (not including shipping). At my local drugstore, I found quite a few OTC products for psoriasis containing similar ingredients at lower prices.

Although the site claims, “Curafas® products generally do not cause skin irritation however those with known allergies should read the list of ingredients before use,” this does not help the consumer who is interested in avoiding possible reactions to their products, since complete listings of ingredients are not included at the site. They merely state that Curafas® is “different” because “All Curafas® products are rich in both amino acids and specific vitamins.”

FDA Consumer magazine addressed the inclusion of vitamins in topical preparations, “…Stanley R. Milstein, Ph.D., associate director for FDA’s cosmetics division, says the notion that skin can be nourished by a vitamin applied to its surface has not been proven clinically.”

The site also claims, “Amino acids are rapidly absorbed in the blood stream…” At the very least, this is a typo, and should read “absorbed by the blood stream,” but even then the quote neglects half the story. I have no doubt whatsoever that amino acids are speedily absorbed into the bloodstream through the walls of the digestive tract, but I have many doubts as to whether the same can be said about absorbtion through the skin.

Curafas® also makes a point of mentioning the fact that their products do contain preservatives, but do not warn of the potential for irritation. FDA Consumer reports, “According to a study of cosmetic reactions conducted by the North American Contact Dermatitis Group, preservatives are the second most common cause of allergic and irritant reactions to cosmetics.”

In response to a question about how Curafas® provides relief, we learn, “By providing a formula which as closely as possible approximates the natural moisturizing factor of the skin.” This is absurd. I’m sure there are many other products on the market which much more closely approximate “the natural moisturizing factor of the skin” (whatever that really means) simply by not including coal tar, which is in no way a natural skin moisturizer.

Regarding combining topical treatments, which is actually quite common with coal tar, steroids, salicylic acid and others, the Curafas® site says, in part, “It is not recommended to combine topical treatments…” They suggest washing off any other treatments, to “obtain the best possible results.” Since the practice of mixing topical treatments is widespread, one can only wonder why they would claim the opposite.

They also claim that coal tar has been used to treat psoriasis “from early times.” Coal tar is made by distilling bituminous coal, a rather recent practice, and is clearly not what most people would consider “early times.”

Care should be used if Curafas® is applied near the genital area, as products containing tea tree oil have been found to cause vaginal irritation. Also, consumers should be aware that quillia has a small potential for irritating mucous membranes.


Linda M. contributed this review on November 10, 1999.