- Is Lip Balm Addiction a Real Thing? We Asked Dermatologists
- A lot of people think they’re addicted to their lip balm — but they’re wrong
- Can You Really Have a Lip Balm Addiction?
- The More Lip Balm You Apply, the More You Need It
- The Top 3 Reasons Your Lips Are Irritated
- An Easy Way to Stop Lip Irritation
- Is Lip Balm Addictive?
Is Lip Balm Addiction a Real Thing? We Asked Dermatologists
Raise your hand if you kinda-maybe think you have an addiction to lip balm. Well, you’re not alone. If you apply ChapStick multiple times a day, or freak out whenever you don’t have your favorite Burt’s Bees tube in your purse or on your person, you might have thought at some point, Is this healthy for me?
Lip balm addiction has taken the Internet by storm, and countless forums are dedicated to the topic. There’s even an entire community called Lip Balm Anonymous. The debate has gotten so heated, in fact, that Blistex weighed in to assure consumers that you most certainly do not have an addiction to your lip products.
We asked experts what they really think about whether we can be (or are) addicted to lip balm, and discovered ingredients that you might want to avoid—as well as dermatologist-approved products we’re adding to our shopping carts.
RELATED: The 8 Best Lip Balms We’ve Ever Tried
Tell me the truth, am I addicted to my lip balm?
In short, no. Lip balm addiction is not a real thing, but there are some lip balm habits that might not great for your pout, experts say.
One is chronically applying heavy, occlusive ointments over your lips, which can interfere with skin’s ability to adjust to the environment to maintain a healthy hydration level, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Another concern? Your saliva contains enzymes that make it effective for digesting food when you eat. But if you’re someone who licks their lips a lot, you’re applying those same digestive enzymes to your skin, which can make lips dry and chapped, says Rachel Nazarian, MD, a New York-based dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology (FAAD). People will then apply Chapstick or other topical balms to remedy this, but the real issue is their lip-licking habit, she points out.
Washing your face with hot water could also leave your lips dehydrated. The reason: Hot water removes natural oils from skin more aggressively than cool or lukewarm water. “The lips have less oil glands than other areas of the body, so washing your skin with hot water will dry this area out quickly,” Dr. Nazarian explains.
Also important: New York City-based dermatologist Debra Jaliman, MD, says you should make sure to drink plenty of water thoughtout the day, since dehydration can lead to chapped lips.
RELATED: The Best Lip Balm Is Actually a Nipple Cream—Seriously
Lip balm ingredients to avoid
Lip balms that only contain ingredients that draw out moisture (called humectants) but don’t contain nourishing ingredients that prevent evaporation of moisture can add more fuel to the fire, says Dr. Nazarian. This makes you more dependent on lip balm to replace hydration.
Be sure to read the ingredient list on your lip balm before making a purchase. If you have sensitive skin, our experts recommend staying away from products that contain alcohol or fragrance, since they can irritate skin.
Also on the skip list? Menthol, cinnamic aldehyde, and peppermint. “They’re much more likely to irritate sensitive skin and should be avoided,” says Dr. Nazarian. Camphor and phenol can also dry lips out, Dr. Jaliman says.
RELATED: The Best Lip Balms With SPF
Image zoom amazon.com ulta.com
How to choose lip balm wisely
If your current lip balm isn’t irritating your skin, you shouldn’t feel like you have to toss it. But if you find that yout lips never seem to stay hydrated, you might want to look for a balm that contains nourishing ingredients like lanolin or simple beeswax without perfumes or dyes, says Dr. Nazarian. “These ingredients are effective at preventing the evaporation of moisture from your lips,” she explains, adding that she’s also a fan of classic Vaseline.
At night, Dr. Nazarian recommends coating lips with Aquaphor Lip Repair ($4; amazon.com) and plugging in a humidifier to increase moisture in the air and prevent chapped lips while you snooze. Other balms she loves: Jack Black Intense Therapy Lip Balm ($8; amazon.com), a conditioning treatment packed with vitamin E, green tea, SPF, and natural emollients; and Kiehls Lip Balm #1 ($10; sephora.com), a top-rated balm boasting squalane, aloe vera, and vitamin E to soften, soothe, and protect against skin-damaging free radicals.
Wheatgerm oil, almond oil, jojoba oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, aloe vera, and shea butter are all ingredients that Dr. Jaliman loves. One of her favorite treatments is Dr. Hauschka Lip Balm ($17; amazon.com) because it contains nourishing oils (like calendula oil) and cocoa butter to revive a cracked pout. “It also has calming and anti-inflammatory properties which can help soothe very dry, chapped lips,” she says.
When in doubt, bland, hydrating lip balms are your best bet, Dr. Zeichner tells us. “Use them only when you need, not just by force of habit,” he advises. His picks? Neutrogena Hydroboost Lip Treatment ($6; amazon.com) and Clarins Hydra-Essentiel Moisture Replenishing Lip Balm ($24; ulta.com), which has cocoa extract to help soften and hydrate rough cells on the surface of skin.
The bottom line? No, you’re not addicted to your lip balm, but you might be overusing it due to compulsive lip-licking. Hey, it happens. If you can’t whittle down your balm usage, invest in one of our dermatologist-approved, good-for-your-lips options instead.
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A lot of people think they’re addicted to their lip balm — but they’re wrong
The INSIDER Summary:
• A lot of people think they can get “addicted” to lip balm.
• A dermatologist says that’s impossible.
• But you actually might be allergic to the balm.
The Internet is littered with dramatic tales of lip balm addiction — dispatches from people who get trapped in an endless cycle of applying balm to chapped lips, only to need more and more and more to keep their skin quenched. Blogs and articles offer tips on how to break lip balm addictions, while self-diagnosed addicts turn to online forums to ask for help weaning themselves off of their lip moisturizer of choice. There’s even a website called Lip Balm Anonymous.
It all sounds a little too crazy to be true, right? That’s because lip balm addiction is a complete myth, according to New York City–based dermatologist Melanie Grossman, MD.
If your lip balm keeps making your lips more chapped, you could be allergic.
Contact dermatitis — the scientific name for what happens when something touches your skin and causes a rash — is extremely common, and it’s often caused by ingredients in cosmetics like preservatives and fragrances. Even 100% natural products that seem safe can trigger these reactions.
“It’s not that your lips need more and more. You might have a sensitivity to the ingredients in the product, which is making your lips feel more irritated,” Grossman said. “So that it might be just that you need to change the product.”
But if changing to a new brand doesn’t help, Grossman said, make an appointment with a dermatologist. A pro can help you figure out whether the lip balm is causing the problem, or whether it’s something else.
Whatever you do, don’t believe the “addiction” scare stories you see online.
Watch Grossman break down the myth here.
Winter. A time of doom, gloom and crud weather, when the skies are dark and the wind whips your face at a terrific rate. Shielding your skin with a layer of coconut oil or duck fat might provide temporary relief, but the issue surrounding excessive lip-balm application is causing a minor furore among people who claim it’s addictive. Once you start using lip balm, much like smack or Tekken, it becomes very hard to stop.
The global market for lip products is vast, projected to be over £1bn this year. Marie Claire US conducted a survey in which almost half their readers cited lip balm as a beauty essential in the office; most of their readers picked it as their No 2 desert island item after sun cream. During a sketch in the Oscars ceremony in which host Ellen DeGeneres attempted to solicit money to tip a pizza-delivery man, Oscar-winning actor Lupita Nyong’o handed her a tube of Clarins HydraQuench lip balm in lieu of payment, a move which created the hashtag #Lupitaslipbalm and prompted sales to rocket.
Lip balms work by sealing in moisture, thus preventing evaporation into the cold air. In theory, they should act like a moisturiser. But in theory, according to Dr Joshua Zeichner, a New York-based dermatologist who spoke to Refinery 29, “lips are able to repair themselves and maintain hydration” and our continued use of them might be doing more harm than good. So why do we keep using them?
Mass application suggests they contain addictive properties, but the truth is they aren’t actually addictive. The main issue lies within the ingredients, a mixture of exfoliants (which remove dead skin) and emolients, which soften the skin, from salicylic acid to camphor, phenol, and menthol which can soothe lips but also, says Dr Zeichner, irritate them.
While lip balm isn’t addictive in the actual, traditional sense because it doesn’t contain ingredients which generally cause physiological dependency – a spokesperson from mental health charity Mind said it’s not something they’ve come across – compulsive application is “a thing” and tantamount to an OCD. As Joel Rose, director of OCD Action, explains “the minute you define it it becomes a thing, the compulsion becomes real”. And if you like to apply lip balm 70 times a day, then you may be displaying compulsive tendencies.
The very nature of a compulsive disorder means that it can be anything. But while addiction is about getting stimulation, compulsion is more about soothing. The beauty in underlining the more colourful forms of OCD is that you legitimise them, allow issues to be issues ergo be taken seriously. Whats more, says Rose, “there are an infinite number of compulsions. Some people need to turn off the light switch 10 times before they go to bed, others nine times and others 14”. The multiple application of lip balm falls under the compulsive category, but like nail-biting it’s more of a habit “or habit disorder – wherein you are compelled to do something, for reasons you don’t know or understand. But if this behaviour is having an impact on your life then it should be taken seriously – you can and should seek help”.
One place is Lip Balm Anonymous, a self-help site run by “Kevin C” a former Chapstick “addict” has been floating around the internet fairly inactively since the mid nineties, acting as a forum for people to share their stories in a bid to ease the stigma surrounding their anxiety. You may laugh, but as one anonymous member explains: “I’ve been fired from my job at the call center. Every time I pick up the phone, I smear Chapstick on my face and the telephone. Struggling with this problem for all of my life has led me to accept that a day without could kill me. After trying to go cold turkey last week, I found myself running to a store at 2am, unable to bear it any longer.” Another user, Debbie, explains how she’s been using lip balm for 40 years and at last posting, had 20 tubes on her person. Kevin C’s answer? A 12-step-recovery plan.
Of course this doesn’t suggest lip balm is necessarily dangerous. Chapped lips, and skin complaints are very real. Lip eczema, for example, is a serious and painful issue which can be helped by applying shea butter, petroleum (Vaseline, essentially) and Corticosteroids. Lip Balm Anonymous, meanwhile, suggest EOS balm, which uses natural non-drying ingredients.
While no one was available to comment from Lip Balm Anonymous, in defence to queries surrounding its addictiveness, the site hosts the following disclaimer: “We use the substance habitually, often not realising we were actually applying it, since it was such a daily routine. Anyone who has tried to quit can readily attest that when you stop using, your lips become negatively affected for several days or weeks.” Further proof can be found on Facebook which over the years has played host to numerous “crackstick” groups.
Rose surmises that while we should be careful with classifying it as an addiction because “there is a danger in playing fast and loose with language” and comparing it to something more serious devalues the latter’s currency, equally we should be aware of the difference between nothing and a compulsion. “Someone who applies a lot of lip balm might be considered quirky but for some people, compulsion can be very damaging on their lives.”
Are you one of those people who applies it multiple times a day? Yes. Do your lips still feel chapped? Yes. And yet do you continue to apply it despite evidence suggesting it’s not helping? Yes. Then you might have a problem.
Can You Really Have a Lip Balm Addiction?
There’s no denying, though, that people feel they can’t do without the stuff, and here’s why: Because your lips have no oil glands, they tend to dry out very easily. As a result, people slather on balm to relieve the dryness, which “makes them feel immediately better,” Romanowski says. But the balm can actually slow down your lips’ production of fresh new skin cells. “So when the lip balm wears off, as it inevitably does, your lips will feel more dry.”
What’s more, some common ingredients found in lip balms (like menthol and salicylic acid) may irritate your lips, leading you to re-apply in an attempt to soothe the irritation. Repeated often enough, this dryness-balm-more dryness cycle becomes a habit, which some describe as a psychological “addiction.” Romanowski notes, “It’s similar to someone biting their nails.”
But the conspiracy theories still linger. In fact, the rumors that lip balm manufacturers put certain ingredients in their wares in a sinister attempt to get people hooked are so pervasive that Carmex and ChapStick even address the issues on their official Web sites. Romanowski says there’s no truth to this, either. There are no physically addictive substances in balms. So if you think you’re addicted to lip balm, you’ve just got a bad habit.
If you want to wean yourself off lip balm, try these other tips from the American Academy of Dermatology to keep chapped, dry lips at bay this winter:
- Use a humidifier to keep the air moist in your home.
- Avoid licking your lips.
- On cold, blustery winter days, cover your mouth with a scarf or face mask.
And if you’re not willing to part with your trusty ChapStick, don’t worry, says Romanowski: “Having a ‘lip balm addiction’ may be annoying, but it isn’t harmful.”
Do you have a health head-scratcher? Submit it here, and we may answer your question in a future column!
Winter is here, which likely means chapped lips are also on the way. So it makes sense to stash a lip balm in every bag or pocket you have and constantly reapply, right? Wrong! The truth is that slathering on lip balm like it’s your job can actually make chapped lips worse.
Most conventional lip balms contain ingredients like menthol and camphor that may feel cooling on contact or have an uplifting burst of scent, but in reality, these formulations can be drying and irritating once the instant gratification wears off.
In addition, traditional lip balms often contain occlusive ingredients (those that form an artificial barrier on skin) such as beeswax, plant wax and petrolatum, which we’re told, lock in moisture and lock out irritants. But repeatedly slathering on products with occlusive ingredients can trick skin into believing it is well hydrated so it stops producing its own moisture factors. This means your lips end up being extra-dehydrated when the product wears off, inducing you to apply more salve, which only causes more dryness, creating a vicious cycle of lip balm dependency.
The best way to truly soothe and smooth dry, uncomfortable chapped lips is to stimulate the skin’s own natural moisture factors and strengthen its protective moisture barrier. This allows the skin to hold in hydration and shut out irritants. When skin works optimally on its own, rather than artificially through products, it can make profound and lasting changes.
Truth Treatments Omega 6 Healing Cream contains potently effective doses of healing cholesterol. It acts like a “hydrating sponge,” attracting and locking moisture into skin. Additionally, cholesterol supports the protective moisture barrier and enhances the skin’s own natural moisture factors. Cholesterol also activates the skin’s built-in Natural Moisture Factor or NMF (water-trapping sugars and amino acids). Omega 6 Healing Cream also contains extraordinarily effective concentrations of our moisturizing, stable, fat-soluble form of ester Vitamin C. It encourages healthy cell growth, boosts collagen and elastin production and safeguards skin against environmental damage. Best of all you can use my Omega 6 healing Cream as an around healing balm for shaving cuts, minor burns and abrasion. The cholesterol, Vitamin C and Omega fatty acids improve the production new cells and fibers that are associated with the healing process. And because the same cells and fibers that are associated with healing prevent the formation of wrinkle if you use your Truth Omega 6 Healing Cream daily your skin will look better too!
Are you addicted to your lip balm?
Some of us feel like lip balm is a habit we can’t quit. We put it on every few minutes or at the slightest feeling of lip discomfort. If we leave for the day and realize we don’t have it with us, we make an emergency drugstore stop to pick some up.
Sometimes we apply chapstick without even knowing we’re doing it. We find ourselves putting it on our lips and think, “Did I just get this out?”
What’s going on here? Is lip balm addictive or is something else happening to your skin?
Rest assured, you are not technically addicted to lip balm. But there’s a reason you continually reapply your chapstick – it’s not all in your head.
If you find yourself applying lip balm as a habit or becoming frantic when you can’t find it, there’s another culprit. Here’s what’s happening with your lips and how it fix it.
The More Lip Balm You Apply, the More You Need It
Lips love the feel of lip balm. It’s immediately moisturizing, soothes the skin, and just feels good on our lips. Why? Lip balms contain a heavy ointment which provides relief and seals in the moisture.
The chapped feeling comes when we lose moisture through the lips. So we immediately put that heavy ointment on to relieve it, making our lips feel so much better.
But here’s where the problem comes in: ingredients.
Lip balms often contain a preservative, flavor, or fragrance that irritates the lips. The more you apply the irritant, the more chapped your lips feel. Botanically, the barrier formed by the ointment stops the water loss causing the discomfort. But with continual application, you’re applying the preservative, fragrance, or flavor that’s causing the problem. So when you apply more lip balm to get immediate relief, you’re also exacerbating the problem.
This starts the lip balm “addiction” cycle. The chapsticks that contain these ingredients sooth the lips temporarily but cause irritation in the long term.
The Top 3 Reasons Your Lips Are Irritated
Chapstick isn’t the only reason your lips are irritated. There’s a culprit we don’t often suspect in causing our lip sensitivity: toothpaste.
We see a lot of patients with toothpaste irritation from the whiteners and strong flavors in most products. Often cinnamon can be a big driver of lip irritation — both in toothpaste and other flavored items like gum and lozenges.
Like spicy foods? Your lips don’t. Jalapeños and peppers trigger lip irritations too.
See, the reason we compulsively use lip balm is more about irritation than addition. Your lip skin is irritated because of the ingredients in your lip balm, toothpaste, gum, and/or food choice. Naturally, if you want the irritation to subside, you need to avoid the products that trigger it.
An Easy Way to Stop Lip Irritation
What are you supposed to do — never use chapstick, brush your teeth, chew gum, or eat the spicy foods again? Of course not.
In fact, with most lip irritations, one simple fix makes all the difference.
Change your toothpaste.
Try a mild toothpaste — the cheaper, bottom-shelf, boring kind. Choose something like plain Crest that doesn’t have teeth whiteners or strong flavors. It takes time for the irritation to go away. But in a few weeks, you’ll likely notice a big difference in the comfort of your lips.
Don’t believe me? Most patients don’t.
Just try it. When people actually make the change, they’re surprised by the difference. Those cracked lips and rashes in the corners of their mouth clear up within a few weeks.
Some patients still don’t believe the toothpaste made a difference, so they go back to using their old tube. Guess what? The dry lips return.
For Caucasian patients, irritation often looks like chapped, cracking, red lips. For darker-skinned patients, irritation makes the lips a darker shade. Both can be frustrating for patients, so if you’re experiencing cracked, chapped, dark, and irritated lips, first change your toothpaste.
If that doesn’t resolve the problem, think about what else could be causing the irritation. What ingredients are in your chapstick? What foods have you been eating? Is gum causing the problem?
No amount of lip balm is going to fix an irritation if you keep applying the product that’s causing it. If you’re tired of relentlessly applying your lip balm, you can fix it. Just find the source of the irritant and make the appropriate changes. If you think your lips feel great after a fresh application of lip balm, imagine how good they’ll feel without any irritation at all.
Dr. R. Todd Plott is a board-certified dermatologist in Coppell, Keller, and Saginaw, TX. His specialization and professional interests include treating patients suffering with acne, identifying and solving complex skin conditions such as psoriasis, rosacea, atopic dermatitis, and identifying and treating all types of skin cancers. In his spare time, Dr. Plott enjoys cycling, traveling with his wife, and spending time with his children and new grandson.
Learn more about Dr. Plott.
Book an appointment with a provider nearby.
Is Lip Balm Addictive?
“My lowest point was having to stop at Walgreen’s because I was on my way to a wedding and discovered I did not have any in my purse. We had to make a quick detour to buy some. I bought 10 of them, and had to carry them in my purse all day On my own, I decided “Enough is enough!” I went cold turkey and stopped using the lip balm completely.”
Yes, you read that correctly. This quote is one of many testimonies from Lip Balm Anonymous, an online forum for self labelled ‘lip balm addicts’, who seriously believe that they are detrimentally addicted to their lip moisturizer. This might sound far-fetched, but people all over the internet, and even several of my friends, report feeling a constant and uncontrollable urge to use these products. For some up to 300 times a day, using multiple tubes in a week.
As one might expect, there is a load of controversy here. Like claims that Chapstick is designing products to keep keep people hooked. Last year a woman actually tried to sue EOS (“Evolution of Smooth” lip balm), the cosmetic company behind the colourful egg shaped lip balms, claiming their product caused her lips to become so dry they required medical attention. But you can breathe a sigh of relief through your carefully moisturized lips. Dermatologists unaffiliated with the billion-dollar lip balm industry have a clear consensus: you cannot be physically addicted to your lip balm.
There are no potentially addictive ingredients in cosmetics – as nicotine is in cigarettes. And there is no evidence (not even anecdotes from self proclaimed addicts) that these products create any kind of physical addiction. Some dermatologists point out that overuse of moisturizing products can lead to somewhat of a dependency on them. Others say that select people may be irritated by common ingredients like menthol, peppermint oil, and beeswax exacerbating the perceived need to use lip balm. However, unless you have an allergy to one of the ingredients, moderate but regular use of balm will not make your lips drier nor get you hooked on a destructive path to addiction.
And yet it’s useless to deny that even something as innocent as moisturizing can have very real and troubling consequences for people claiming to be addicted. Thus lip balm use, like shopping, pornography, or the internet, can be considered a behavioural addiction. Far less problematic than traditional substance abuse, behavioural addictions are habits, activities, and rituals THAT provide pleasure but can quickly become obsessive. Basically, compulsive lip balm use is just a bad habit, which for most, can be broken rather easily.
Perhaps you can blame this obsession on societal beauty standards, but it might be better to blame dry Canadian winters. Exposure to cold temperatures and dry weather conditions are the most common (and normal) way that skin loses its moisture. Lips are particularly vulnerable, being four times thinner and lacking protective sweat and oil glands like the rest of our skin. Your best bet is to protect your lips in moderation with a flavourless product – licking off your cherry flavoured lip-gloss is a great way to use the digestive enzymes in your saliva to dry out those precious lips.
You’re best off protecting your lips with a plain flavourless product, as this will reduce the likelihood of you actually liking the taste and licking your lips to dry them out.
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Lip balm may feel soothing on chapped lips, but it can also turn into a bad habit that’s hard to break.
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Could you be addicted? Not in the physiologic sense, says dermatologist Melissa Piliang, MD. But, like anything else, lip balm can become a psychological crutch.
“It can definitely be habit-forming,” she says. “Applying lip balm soothes the lips and feels good, and it is often comforting. That can lead to an unconscious habit that helps with stress or anxiety, kind of like twirling the hair or biting the nails.”
Ironically, some kinds of lip balm can make your dry lips even drier. It’s a good idea to check the ingredients in your favorite brand, and watch how often you use it.
Signs of dependence
Dr. Piliang offers several common-sense questions to ask yourself to help judge whether you might have a psychological dependence on lip balm.
- Do you apply it very frequently?
- Do you have to carry it with you at all times?
- Do you have it stashed all over? (Your purse? Your car? Your bedroom? Your bathroom?)
- Do you spend a lot of money on it?
- Have your friends or family commented on your frequent use or spending on it?
- Do you go out of your way or make yourself late to get more?
- Do you have trouble concentrating or enjoying life because you can’t take your mind off the need to apply it?
Tips to buying good lip balm
Here are some tips:
- Avoid ingredients like phenol, menthol and salicylic acid. Dr. Piliang has heard people say that applying lip balm causes the body to stop generating natural moisture around the lips. That is just a myth, she says. But it is true that some lip balms — typically those containing ingredients like phenol, menthol and salicylic acid — make the lips drier. “You have to apply more, and it becomes a vicious cycle,” Dr. Piliang says. “Sometimes these cause a tingling feeling when you apply them. They either cause irritation or remove outer layers of the skin. They’re an exfoliant. Then you have less protection, and you’re more susceptible to environmental factors, so you have to apply more product. Avoid lip balms that contain those ingredients.”
- Limit your use of lip balms containing scents or added flavoring. “The chemicals in scents and added flavorings can irritate your skin or cause allergies,” Dr. Piliang says. “They dry out the skin and then it can feel more chapped.”
- Look for simple, petroleum-based jelly products. “These keep the lips moist and prevent future chapping, instead of causing it,” she says.
- Find lip balm that is at least SPF 30. Dr. Piliang suggests you use lip gloss or lipstick that’s at least SPF30 — and use sunscreen on your lips when you’re at the pool or beach. She says a myth she’s heard about skin cancer is that the shine in a lip gloss allows the sun’s rays to penetrate more — and increases the skin cancer risk. “We do see skin cancer on the lips,” she says. “But nothing in lip balms causes cancer.”