My Chemical Romance: Wright’s Coal Tar Soap

Worried about toxins in your toiletries? In a panic about parabens or SLS? Hysterical about the carcinogenic potential of those antiseptic heroes lurking behind the more expensive stuff in your bathroom cabinet? Then maybe it’s time to take a step back and champion some of the hard-working chemically infused, conventional cosmetics that have been part of our beauty regimes for decades. Leanne Cloudsdale introduces Wright’s Coal Tar Soap, the first in a series of over-the-counter skincare trojans whose ingredients list would make Gwyneth Paltrow blush.


I never quite perfected the art of roller-skating backwards, but still spent endless summers trying. My kid sister was fearless on hers, but I was always tense and nervous, overly concerned with the consequences of falling. As dusk fell, mum would start hollering our names from the end of the drive, summoning us indoors for bath time. A no-nonsense Scot, she never allowed us any of the frivolous girly treats our friends took for granted. Instead we were forced to share the bath, and take it in turns to be scrubbed down with Wright’s Coal Tar Soap. Formulated by English chemist and drug don William Valentine Wright in 1866, this antiseptic bar claimed to cure scabies, ringworm, head lice, psoriasis and acne. Created using a by-product of the coal distillation process called Liquor Carbonis Detergens, the formula was popularised by grotty Victorians who marvelled at its ability to shift all manner of greasy stains after a hard day’s toil. With a robust, medicinal smell that continues to polarise opinion, fans have a tendency to profess an almost evangelical, lifelong loyalty to this humble day-glow orange, seemingly immortal cleanser, which these days doesn’t contain any coal derivatives at all (the EU reserves those bad boys for prescription items only). We used to marvel and groan at how it seemed to last forevergrumble about how it made us smell like a freshly prepared operating theatre and alert her to the radioactive slime trails it left all over the bathroom. But she ignored our complaints, and in a way, I’m glad she did. Nowadays I love the stuff, but then I guess we all turn into our mothers some day.

Wright’s Coal Tar Soap is available… pretty much everywhere