View All Articles

Can You Be Addicted to Lip Balm?

October 27, 2015

Have you ever been out to dinner with friends or in a meeting with colleagues and watched as someone constantly reached into his or her pocket or purse to repeatedly apply lip balm?

No one likes dry lips, and as it starts to get cold, lip balm is as much of a must-have for many people as a fall jacket or scarf. But applying lip balm can become obsessive for some people, as several experts say you can become addicted to it even when you don’t need it.

However, I’d hesitate to use that strong of a word. When you look at the science and medical research, there’s no such thing as a true lip balm addiction. In the medical community, we define addiction using three criteria: are you dependent on the substance, is there a chemical change in your brain and do you have withdrawal when you stop using it?

Using that barometer, it is difficult to have a chemical addiction to lip balm. However, it is possible to have a psychological addiction to these products. I’ve seen this firsthand. I recently asked several of my colleagues in the operating room if it was possible to be addicted to lip balm and I was overwhelming surprised by how many people started showing me their stash of lip balms. Many of them — both men and women — have more than one and store them in different places throughout the office and at home. The minute their lips start to feel dry, they apply lip balm. But this creates a vicious cycle: you may feel good from that cooling effect after applying lip balm, but then you get irritation and begin to constantly put balm on your lips to compensate for that irritation. That’s how many people become psychologically addicted to these products.

But obsessively applying lip balm isn’t really necessary. Our body has the ability to bring moisture to our face, skin and lips on its own, but in some cases it can get to the point that we’ve added so much of these products that our body can’t re-moisturize our lips in the way it should. The skin is like lasagna; it has many different layers. That top layer, which is responsible for maintaining moisture, is where you add lip balm. However, when you’re putting this on, you’re adding a layer of wax and chemical on that area that may hinder the skin’s natural rejuvenation. Many of the chemicals in these products, like menthol and camphor, also create a chemical reaction or dermatitis that leads to dry, chapped lips.

If you want to keep your lips moisturized as it gets colder, there are other ways to do it. Putting a scarf around your face, staying hydrated, eating the right foods and making sure that your skin is in good health are all effective ways to maintain moisture. If you do have to apply anything on your lips, skip the lip balm and use something that’s all natural like coconut oil, vaseline or aquaphor. It will ultimately be better for your skin.