Updated: Jul 31, 2019
Pine tar is a dark-brown sticky substance produced by the high-temperature carbonization of pine wood. The wood is rapidly decomposed by applying heat and pressure in a closed container without air, which results in the formation of charcoal and pine tar. It has been used by humans for thousands of years and has origins that date back to the Iron Ages where it was originally used by the Scandinavians in 1000 BC as a wood preservative and sealant. Because of its excellent ability to protect and preserve wood, it was used in ship rigging and decking to prevent damage during harsh and wet conditions. As the global trade industry and world exploration increased, so did the use of maritime pine tar, which was and still remains one of Sweden's most popular exports. Due to concerns over phenol and other possible carcinogenic components, modern day pine tar is manufactured with increased purity and adheres to strict regulatory and quality standards.
In addition to its commercial uses, pine tar is also well-known for its reported medicinal properties and has been used as a treatment for psoriasis and other skin conditions for more than 2000 years, as documented by Hippocrates in ancient Greece. Pine tar studies have documented that it has antipruritic, anti‐inflammatory, antibacterial, and antifungal fungal properties. These qualities make it a suitable option for caring for topical skin conditions, which include eczema, psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis and other dry, itchy, flaky or inflamed skin conditions. Pine tar is also commonly used in veterinary medicine as an antiseptic and is used in horse hoof care and topically applied to chicken peck wounds. Although the exact mechanism of pine tar is unknown, it is thought to exert its effect by reducing DNA synthesis and mitotic activity, which promotes a return to normal keratinization.
There is currently a debate between the clinical and anecdotal effectiveness of pine tar and because the studies have been limited, it is not recognized as a drug by the FDA, although it is commonly used in over-the-counter products in other countries such as Australia. Because soap's primary function is to clean, we know that it will serve its purpose as a cleansing agent and any additional qualities can be considered as an added bonus. I personally have very sensitive skin and enjoy washing with pine tar soap and I feel it provides a very mild and gentle cleanse. (Note: The FDA does not permit medicinal claims made by cosmetics. Do not advertise your pine tar soap as a drug or make medical claims, as this would require drug classification and authorization. Soap is a cosmetic unless legally qualified and approved to contain an FDA approved drug. Pine tar is not approved.)
Pine tar has been used in popular commercial cosmetic formulas such as shampoos, deodorants, lotions, and even toothpaste for over a hundred years and is a popular ingredient in handcrafted soap. It provides a softening, mild and gentle cleanse that soothes and nourishes skin with a unique and awakening earthy fragrance. It was one of my grandma's favorite ingredients and she included it in some of her most popular soaps. Her original recipe included just four simple ingredients: lye, lard, sugar, and pine tar. She used to render her own fats, but as ingredients became more readily accessible and could be ordered by visiting the town store, she started to include other ingredients like "cocoanut" and olive oil.
We have included both a lard-based and vegan version of Grandma's Pine Tar soap. Use the tools and education gained from The Ultimate Guide to Hot Process Soap to create this classic recipe. Instead of adding the pine tar to the beginning of the recipe, we warm it and add it just like any other post cook additive. By adding the pine tar after the cook, it does not require additional lye, as there is no remaining lye for it to react with after the cook. You can use anywhere from 5-25%.
We leave ours unscented and unfragranced to enjoy the genuine smoky aroma of pine tar and deep brown hue it naturally provides. You can use LTHP or HTHP. You can find pine tar on Amazon here (not an affiliate link).
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1. Topical pine tar: History, properties and use as a treatment for common skin conditions by Tanya M Barnes and Kerryn A Greive 2. Al‐Asmari A, Siddiqui Y, Mozaffarul I et al The antibacterial effect of qutran (wood tar) from olive trees on pathogenic bacteria. Int. J. Phytomed. 2014; 6: 444–8
3. Ishida H, Nukaya H, Tsuji K et al Studies on active principles of tars. X. The structures and some reaction of antifungal constituent