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CHECK THE LABEL: ​“Coal Tar Ogar!”

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“Coal Tar Ogar!”

“Dabu.” “Lok-Tar.” Zug-zug.” If any of these phrases mean anything to you (or even seem remotely familiar), then you are a true brother or sister of The Horde.

In case it wasn’t obvious from my Warcraft reference, I am a gamer. Not exactly a hardcore gamer, but a gamer nonetheless. I have been playing video games since the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when my older brother introduced me to the Nintendo Entertainment System (or in gamers’ lingo, NES). From the moment I got into Super Mario’s plumber jumpsuit or armed myself with Link’s Master Sword and Hylian Shield, I have been stepping into fantastical worlds throwing fireballs at Goombas inside green tunnels and having final showdowns with Gannon to free Princess Zelda.

In the World of Warcraft, the phrases, “Dabu,” “Lok-Tar,” and “Zug-zug” are popular lines of the orcs, who are members of The Horde. (Respectively, they roughly translate to: “I obey,” “Victory!’ and “Okay.”) Along with humans, dwarves, elves, and a handful of others, they form the many races that inhabit the planet Azeroth, a world as diverse as ours, rich with teeming forests, harsh snow-covered lands, and unforgiving tar pits and molten rocks. If not careful, venturing into some of these forbidden places brings only danger and death to your chosen hero.

Much like the deadly Lakkari Tar Pits in the darkest corners of Southern Kalimdor, there is also a dark substance that has long been believed to treat certain skin disorders. Unbeknownst to many, this black, viscous liquid brings darker and far more dangerous side effects than it lets out.

The topical mixture I am referring to is coal tar, and for more than a hundred years, it has been used to treat skin disorders, such as psoriasis and eczema. However, the application of this complex mixture of compounds has proven certain health hazards according to past research. Foremost among these is the fact that coal tar has been classified as a known carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. While some, such as the American Academy of Dermatology, claim that coal tar is cancerous only to animals because “there are no convincing data proving carcinogenicity” in humans, the fact that “over 10,000 different compounds make up coal tar but only 400 or so have been identified” (according to Vanessa Ngan of dermnetnz.org), and that coal tar “also includes a number of suspected and known carcinogens, such as benzene, toluene, naphthalene, anthracene, xylene, creosote oils and benzo[a]pyrene, which is a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH)” (according to safecosmetics.org), it would be unwise to jump into such a naïve conclusion.

To make matters worse, coal tar has been found to cause irritant contact dermatitis, folliculitis, and photosensitivity. Moreover, women who were treated with coal tar during pregnancy gave birth to infants with a lethal trisomy.

This dark substance has been linked not only to skin tumors, but also to cancer of the lung, bladder, kidney, and digestive tract. In addition, coal tar is toxic to other organs of the body. In particular, it has been found to cause neurological damage, the effects of which include emotional and sleep disturbances, and loss of coordination.

Because coal tar is widely used and present in almost everything in our daily lives—it can be found in food, textiles, cosmetics (most especially hair dyes), and personal care products—we have to be extra vigilant in avoiding it. Safecosmetics.org suggests avoiding products with coal tar and its synonyms in the label, i.e., “coal tar solution, tar, coal, carbo-cort, coal tar solution, coal tar solution USP, crude coal tar, estar, impervotar, KC 261, lavatar, picis carbonis, naphtha, high solvent naphtha, naphtha distillate, benzin B70, petroleum benzin.” And just like the orcs’ battle cry, “Lok-Tar Ogar!” (Victory or death!) in Warcraft, our stand should also be a tenacious effort to fight the inclusion of coal tar in our toxic-free lives. 







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