Lip Balm Addiction: Reality or Urban Myth?

By Paul Gaita 02/12/19

A group of experts gave their take on whether or not you can actually be addicted to lip balm.

woman applying lip balm

As recently noted, the belief that one can become dependent on lip care products like lip balm has become a topic of intense online discussion.

Everyone from dermatologists to lip care product manufacturers have been forced to weigh in on the possibility.  

And while both parties dismiss the possibility of a real "addiction" to lip balm, they also note that frequent use of such products can have both physical and psychological side effects that users should be aware of the next time they feel the need to keep their lips moisturized.

Blistex, which manufactures an array of personal care products, including dozens of lip balms, outlined the argument against dependency on lip care products in a post on the Frequently Asked Questions page of its website.

The post quoted Dr. Charles Zugerman, associate professor of clinical dermatology at Northwestern University Medical School, who stated that individuals do not become physically "addicted" to the products or their ingredients.

Anyone who stops using lip balm or related products can stop using them and experience none of the symptoms associated with withdrawal from addictive substances or conditions.

However, Zugerman did note that individuals who frequently apply lip balm may become accustomed to the "moist, comfortable" feeling associated with its use, and may experience discomfort when their lips dry out due to environmental exposure.

That notion is corroborated by Joshua Zeichner, MD, who directs cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, who told Real Simple  that applying ointments that form a barrier on the skin can "create an artificial barrier to lock in moisture, but when overused, can cause lips to become lazy, because the skin doesn't have to work to maintain its own hydration level."

Additionally, some lip balms have ingredients that can potentially irritate your lips. These include camphor, menthol or salicylic acid. According to Zeichner, these ingredients can inflame lips and cause them to lose hydration. "This, in turn, causes your lips to need more moisture, so you keep applying the product, and it turns into a vicious cycle," he explained. 

A third concern comes from licking your lips. Dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, MD, told that saliva contains enzymes that help to digest food, and when you lick your lips, the enzymes can dry out your lips and make them feel chapped, which again, requires more lip balm. In this case, as Nazarian noted, the core issue is licking your lips, but the impact on your lip moisture may cause increased lip balm use.

There are a handful of solutions to the issue of dryness: Zeichner suggested to Real Simple that using a product with lanolin will create a barrier on the skin but still allow for lips to naturally hydrate themselves.

Dermatologist Debra Jaliman also told that drinking plenty of water during the day will help to keep lips hydrated, but the best approach, according to Zeichner, is to simply use lip balm "when you need it, rather than compulsively throughout the day. Constant reapplication can cause more harm than good."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.