How to Get Tar Off Skin: A Complete Guide

Tar can cause serious damage to your skin. If you have some on you, rinse it with cool water, and then use household oils, ice, or petroleum jelly to remove it.
Written by Patrick Price
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
If you have tar on your skin, calmly and carefully remove it using cold water, ice, and household products (such as Neosporin). Depending on the extent and severity of the tar exposure, you may need to seek medical attention in order to get it off. 
Tar plays a critical role in a lot of our infrastructure and buildings. While this notoriously sticky substance has many useful applications, if you get any on your skin there could be some nasty consequences—including serious burns and permanent skin damage. 
There are a few handy tricks that you can try in order to get tar off your skin. You’ll need to neutralize the burning using cool (but not cold) water, peel off the tar with the help of ice and/or a few household products, and then thoroughly clean the affected area of skin. 
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How to remove tar from your skin

Tar is everywhere: on our roofs, in our roads, and even along some beaches! Unfortunately, it’s all too common for someone unsuspectingly to come into contact with tar and get it stuck on their skin—which can cause severe skin damage
Usually, when people end up with serious injuries due to tar exposure, it’s because they panic and try to wash the tar off right away with soap and warm water—which is exactly what you should not do. 
It may seem counterintuitive, but the key to safely getting tar off of your skin is to remain calm and take your time—which isn’t always easy, given that tar can cause some pretty painful burns.  
If you want to prevent permanent skin damage, you’ll need to maintain a level head through the pain. Take a deep breath, and follow the methods listed below to safely and quickly get the tar off of your skin

Soak the affected area in soapy water

Tar is incredibly thick and sticky—but only when it's hot. If the tar that you came into contact with was viscous enough to become stuck to your skin, then there’s a strong possibility that it was extremely hot. 
The first thing you’ll need to do is to cool down the tar and minimize the burn damage that it’s causing. However, it’s important that you don’t cool it down too much too quickly, as that can cause it to harden in your skin’s pores—which could leave it stuck there permanently. 
Run your hand under a constant stream of cool (but not ice-cold) water until the burning sensation subsides. Once you’ve stopped the tar from further burning your skin, you can set about cleaning it off. 

Use ice cubes

One popular method of getting tar off of skin is to cool the tar down further using an ice cube. This method can be effective, but you need to be careful when trying it. 
Rub an ice cube on the tar in a circular motion. The colder the tar gets, the less viscous and sticky it will become. When you see the tar begin to develop cracks, you’ll know it’s ready to be removed. 
Since you cooled the tar down gradually (first with tepid water and then with an ice cube), it should have solidified so that peeling it off will pull any bits stuck in your skin’s cracks and pores as well. That being said, you’ll need to be very careful and meticulous as you peel the tar off—you don’t want to leave any pieces behind or tear off any skin in the process! 

Use household oils

Another approach is to apply household oils or oil-based products to it. Tar itself is oil-based. You may recall the “like-dissolves-like” rule from high school chemistry—which states that the best (and sometimes only) way to break down oils is with other oils. 
Apply a generous portion of your chosen oil to the tar and allow it to sit for 20-30 minutes. The oil will gradually break down the tar. After that, you should be able to gently peel it off. Then, clean the area with soap, water, and a washcloth. 
There are quite a few household oils that will work for this purpose. Here are just a few that you could use:
  • Sunflower oil
  • Mayonnaise
  • Butter
  • Cooking oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Baby oil
  • Canola oil
  • Olive oil
  • Oil-based lotion
It’s important that you steer clear of any acid-based or toxic products or solvents, such as paint thinner, acetone, gasoline, nail polish remover, alcohol, etcetera. These can be absorbed through your skin and cause serious health hazards. 

Use petroleum jelly

If you have any petroleum jelly products around the house (such as Neosporin), you can also use that to remove tar from your skin. Just rub the jelly on the tar, wait five minutes, and then wipe it off with a clean cloth—it should slide off quite easily! 

Exfoliate tar stains

Even after you have removed the majority of the tar, you’ll still be left with a stained area on your skin since the surface epithelial cells will already have absorbed some of the tar. 
To clear that away, you need to exfoliate the top level of your skin using a scrub brush, pumice stone, or exfoliating cream
If you don’t have any of the standard exfoliating tools handy, there are a few household products you can use instead. Here are a few common products that you can use for DIY skin care and exfoliation: 
  • Baking soda
  • Sugar mixed with olive oil
  • Salt and almond oil 

When to seek medical attention for tar removal

The methods listed above should be enough to resolve most instances of tar-to-skin issues. However, depending on the amount of tar present, how long it has been on your skin, how hot it was to begin with, and how sensitive your skin is, the usual methods might not be enough. 
If the usual strategies aren’t working to clear up the tarred area, you may need to seek medical attention
It’s never a bad idea to seek medical help for tar exposure—it’s better to be overly cautious than end up with severe burns, after all. If you're at all unsure about your ability to safely remove the tar from your skin, it’s best to see a doctor as soon as possible
Additionally, you should also seek medical attention for tar removal if your run into any of the following problems while trying to get it off:
  • The tar continues to burn your skin after running it under cool water
  • You’re unable to clean off the residual stains from the tar
  • If you notice an open injury or wound underneath when you remove the tar
  • You have persistent pain even after removing the tar 
  • Even after using the advised methods, removing the tar is too painful or begins tearing your skin

How to find home insurance without a hassle

There are many reasons you might come into contact with tar. You could have stepped in some while crossing a freshly paved street or gotten a dab of roofing tar on your hand while working on some home renovations. 
You might even have stumbled across some beach tar while out with the family for a fun day in the sun. 
However it got on you, just remember to stay calm, don’t try to use hot water or a paper towel to remove it, and follow the instructions listed above on how to clean tar off of your skin. If everything goes smoothly, you should be tar-free in less than an hour.  
While you’re waiting for the tar to cool (and for the oil you used to break the tar down), you can take advantage of the extra downtime to save yourself some money! 
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