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Lip Balm Anonymous Presents:

Is Lip Balm Addictive?

1. To devote or surrender (oneself) to something habitually or obsessively.
2. To cause (a person) to become physiologically dependent on a drug.
Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, 1981.

Lip Balm Anonymous is often asked if lip balm is really addictive. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't! The LBA Web site contains numerous testimonies from people around the world who consider themselves or others addicted. But do we meet a true definition of addiction? What do the experts say? By the definition, we are addicted. We use (or used) the substance habitually, often not realizing 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. The physiological dependency is there! We are not saying that everyone who uses lip balm will get addicted, but just like alcohol or cigarettes, some people seem to be more susceptible to becoming dependent. We'd like to see data on a genetic link for predisposition towards the phenomena known as "lip licking", the habit most doctors say causes dependency on lip balm. LBA has not been able to find any such data in the literature. But who knows what we would find in the secret files at Blistex or Carma Labs? But, don't take our word on it. Here's what others have to say.


An extensive article on lip balms appeared in the November 13, 1997 issue of Newsday. Titled "Paying for Lip Service," the article discusses several points in the quest for defining the addictive qualities of lip balm.

The author asked several experts:

Which helps explain why you can diligently apply "medicated" lip balm several times a day and still suffer from chapped lips. The tingling sensation you get from those products usually comes from menthol, camphor or phenol. "All those things are drying and irritating," says Paula Begoun, a well-known critic of the cosmetics industry whose new book, "The Beauty Bible" (Beginning Press, $16.95), is due out this month. She says she suspects that these ingredients are routinely used "to make the consumer think something is happening. If you want a cooling sensation, drink some cold water."

Known as counter-irritants, camphor and menthol dry out the lips, a necessary step for healing cold sores, but too extreme for ordinary dryness. Phenol's main purpose is to kill bacteria and help prevent infections and should be used only in severe cases, not on a daily basis. Users, meanwhile, often find the pleasant tingling habit-forming. "You get so accustomed to that cooling, soothing sensation, that it's like, `Yeah, I need that in my life all the time,' " says Gordon Espinet, a makeup artist for Toronto-based M.A.C. cosmetics and a dry-lip sufferer. Subjected to this constant irritation, it's not surprising that your lips don't get any better.

"Read what that product says it does and use it for that reason," says Espinet, who recommends M.A.C.'s medicated Lip Treatment for cold sores and severely chapped lips and a Vitamin E lipstick for milder cases of dryness. "When it says to heal lips, don't get into the habit of using it when lips are at their best."

The article also says that many dermatologists maintain that the lips natural exfoliate every 28 days or so. This backs up the belief that lip balm just isn't necessary. Even the products designed to "heal" also have a usage loop which keeps you hooked.
Alpha hydroxy acids, which were previously regarded as too harsh for the lips, have now been formulated to exfoliate this delicate membrane. Lip Revitalizer from Blistex ($1.89 at drugstores), introduced in October, contains two alpha hydroxy acids (lactic and glycolic acids) in a creamy base that you squeeze through a slanted applicator directly onto your lips. "The whole idea is that it gets rid of flakiness on the lips and very fine lines," says Dr. Charles Zugerman, an associate professor of clinical dermatology at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago and a consultant to Blistex. He recommends the product for both healing chapped lips and for ongoing lip maintenance. Be warned that Lip Revitalizer does have an enticing minty flavor that may cause you to lick your lips more, which only aggravates dryness (emphasis added by LBA).

Street Cents Online

Street Cents Online says this about addiction:
Lip balms dry out quickly, so most balms need frequent re-application - about every 30 minutes. A few brands claim they are waterproof and need less frequent application. Dermatologists say balms work, but are particularly recommended for people who habitually lick or chew their lips. (You've probably noticed some people who are "Chap Stick addicts". Doctors say they are your "liplickers")

The People's Pharmacy

The People's Pharmacy: Lip Balm acknowledges the problem, but their solution is severely lacking!
Q: Is it possible to become addicted to lip balm? It seems that I am using it more and more often and recently found myself waking up at night and putting it on. When I try to cut back I end up licking my lips, which only makes things worse. How can I wean myself from this stuff?

A: Lip-licking is the problem. Try to resist the urge, because wetting the lips makes them dry out faster. Vaseline or Aquaphor are especially greasy, and using one on your lips may help you kick your habit.

` Addiction

Carmex CapThe alt.folklore.urban Carmex Addiction page provides a wealth of information (there's also another similar Urban Legends page available). Author Ray "not afraid of chemicals" Depew, quotes heavily from a Boston Herald article and, despite a number of testimonials in that story, comes to the conclusion that Carmex is not addictive. He also quotes heavily from the San Francisco Examiner article which we have available on the LBA Carmex page. He thinks that article is some sort of joke!

Most importantly, the Carmex Addiction page lists the ingredients in Carmex, and their proposed uses. Yet, after discussing these various chemicals, the author comes to the conclusion that Carmex is about as addictive as nasal spray. All we can say in retort is this: we'll believe it when we see Nasal Spray Anonymous!

The Hub's Urban Legends

AOL users can check out The Hub's Urban Legends area (keyword: urban legends) for a most favorable report from August 29, 1997. Investigative Reporter Legs Urbano's report seems to find that lip balms, or at least Carmex, are indeed addictive. Here's the text of his report for those without AOL connections.

What lurks behind the luscious lips of that demure, sensual, sweet, sexy smile? A junkie! Balm. Wax. Petroleum jelly. The products of a lip junkie. Could it be that these products cause the very symptoms they were supposed to help? Faithful Legendizers told me so and as I looked around The Hub, I saw surreptitious fingers dipping into tiny tubs of lip goo. I began to suspect I was surrounded by addicts...

I cautiously approached Natasha Myst, Flip Trane, and Irene LaPiscatelli, all classic users. Their purses are full of medicated and non-medicated lip products which they apply frequently, if not maniacally. Tubs, tubes, tins, and sticks were strewn across their hard drives, spilling onto their desks. I casually asked them a few questions about their "harmless habit..."

LegsUrbano: When did you start using, Flip?
Flip Trane: I was young. I remember buying some and the woman behind the counter asked me if I was a little young to be using the stuff. I didn't care.

Legs: Natasha, when did you get hooked?
Natasha Myst: I've blocked it out.

Legs: Honestly, Irene, how often do you apply?
Irene LaPiscatelli: 20 to 30 times a day.
Natasha: Yeah, I can't resist an open tube of lip stuff, no matter what it is.

The edge in her voice shocked me, and sensing the urgency of their need, I got worried. So I put them to the one true test. Cold turkey. I challenged them all to one balm-free day. More on that later...

Can lip balm really be addictive? The founder of Lip Balm Anonymous thinks so. Kevin C. started this page a couple of years ago after a friend of his pointed out that he used Chapstick after every meal. Obviously a cry for help.

Is this a dangerous addiction? "It is if you're driving a car and fumbling around for that little tub, you could crash," said Kevin, barely choking back the tears. Lip Balm Anonymous wants to help these junkies, junkies like my poor co-workers.

Which is the worst offender of all the balms and waxes? Carmex has the worst reputations. Carmex is a little company that doesn't advertise, and puts out a product that is supposed to be used to combat cold sores. They seem to be the focal point of this rumor, mostly because their product contains salicylic acid, an acknowledged exfoliant. (That means it removes your skin...)

What does Carmex do when they are called balm pushers? Paul Woelbing, the Controller of the Carmex empire, and the grandson of it's inventor, told me he answers this question over and over again. He said, "I've been here six years and I've personally written approximately 150 letters to people reassuring them that our product is not addictive."

In his standard response to such questions, Paul writes, "As Carmex was originally developed as a remedy for cold sores, salicylic acid was included specifically for these properties. For those people who use Carmex as a lip balm but find that they have drying problems, we recommend that they find another product such as Vaseline or unmedicated Chapstick." He also aknowledges that it is an urban legend, comparing it to the story of the Chihuahua that was really a rat. For a copy of that letter, click here.

How did the rumor about Carmex get started? Paul thought it was due to a misprint of the original ingredient list which put the word salicylic on one line, and acid on the next. People thought the wax contained LSD!

Would a dermatologist prescribe salicylic acid for chapped lips? "I wouldn't," said Dr. Sadick, who is the personal dermatologist for Hub Music's very own Treblchick. "It is a peeling agent, so it would help cold sores, but someone with chapped lips wants a lubricant, not an exfoliant." Treblchick is somewhat of a lip balm activist, and gave me an earful on the subject...

She said, "I think Carmex is evil. It pulls people into its lair. Now, I use Poppy Lip Shine, which is made for luscious lips. Apart from the fact that it's evil, Carmex has this waxy texture that is bad for making out with boys." If I were an addict, that would be reason enough to quit!

Is Carmex safe? Their product is approved by the FDA, but then again so are cigarettes and caffeine.

The day of reckoning for my addicted co-workers did they do?

I strolled into the office and Natasha Myst had already applied. It was only 9:30 in the morning, her lips were glistening, and her eyes were guilty orbits. I just shook my head and went down to see Flip Trane.

She howled, "Do you know how many times I've had to lick my lips already?"

By the afternoon, Irene was pointing at her lips and almost crying. "Legs, how am I going to make it through the day?" Using the Tough Love philosophy, I told her that was not my problem.

Irene and Flip had made it through the night, completing their end of the deal. I asked them how 24 hours without lip products had been. Irene merely looked at me and said, "Never again." Flip drooled a little as she pulled out her Chapstick and said, "I'm just glad it's over."

As I watched Natasha slather her lips with the stuff, and listened to Flip and Irene bemoaning the state of their lips, I became convinced that the addiction is real. I mean, I don't use the stuff at all and my lips don't feel like they're going to fall off. And my lips are luscious, full, and soft. Naturally.

So to all you lip balm junkies, get off the stuff. Before it's too late.
LegsUrbano signing off...

Go Ask Alice!

Go Ask Alice! is an interactive question and answer line from the Healthwise office, Health Education division of Columbia University Health Services. They responded to the question of lip balm addiction by denying there could be physically addictive ingredients in lip balms. But they also advocated trying to quit "cold turkey" to see if you can survive without. The flaw in their argument is that if someone does find they can't live without it, then balms do indeed have addictive qualities. Seems like Alice needs to do her homework!

Chicago Tribune

On June 28, 1996, Dr. Allan Bruckheim answered the following question:
Q: My son is forever putting lip balm on his lips. He claims that they feel too dry and they become chapped and cracked when he doesn't use it. But it is a never-ending process with him, with another application put on every few minutes.

Is it possible that there is something in that stuff that is addictive? Or is he becoming so used to the balm that it isn't working any more?

A: I can assure you that there are no addicting substances in lip balm, and it isn't that your son has used it so much that it no longer works. The lip balm is probably just as effective now as it ever was, but chances are that the soothing effect on the lips has become so pleasant that your son keeps applying more.

The balm simply acts to keep moisture in the tissues of the lip and to protect them from the drying effect of constant licking. Saliva contains enzymes that may irritate the delicate skin on the lip and cause a sensation that stimulates a person to applying yet another coat.

Lip balm is most effective when applied to lips before they are exposed to the elements that tend to dry out the tissues.

Have no fear--there is no consequence to applying lip balm more frequently except the cost of renewing the supply as it rapidly dwindles.

photo of Pochahontas lip balm

Vancouver Sun

On November 25, 1995, the Vancouver Sun ran a story about the increasing trend for parents to give their children lip balm as presents. They even went to the "expert opinion" of Langley dermatologist Dr. Roberta Ongley who did not see anything wrong with children using lip balm. She even "thinks it will increase compliance", meaning she thinks kids are more likely to use Pocahontas lip balm than regular Chap Stick.


The October 1996 issue featured an article titled "13 Beauty Lies--and 8 Truths to Live By." Among the "lies" was "you can become addicted to lip balm." Their Dr. Pugliese said that dependence is strictly psychological, saying "your lips will not build up a tolerance." Sure, tell that to balm addicts who've actually quit using! We don't need to use anymore now that we've stopped using!

Of course, this sort of advice is to be expected from a magazine which derives its revenue from companies advertising products like... lip balm! Yet another example of the Industry of Addiction buying their way to respectability! Despicable.

With friends like these, who needs enemies!

Doctors Ongley and Bruckheim sure sound like authority figures. They realize that people habitually use yet they laugh it off like some sort of minor problem--"there is no consequence to applying lip balm more frequently except the cost of renewing the supply as it rapidly dwindles". Would the good doctor say the same thing if we substituted heroin for lip balm in that sentence?

Doctor R. claims balm is addictive!

I am semi-embarrassed to admit that I, too, have been addicted to lip balm for probably all of my adult life. I am a physician in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics and am totally stuck on the stuff. As I leave the house in the morning I always check that I have my pager, my stethoscope, and my lip balm. I've been known to turn around half way to work to go get it. Lately, however, I've become more adept at keeping them in multiple places so there is always a tube handy. I carry one in my white coat and the hospital and one in my white coat at the office, one in my briefcase and one in my pocket. I have three or four at home. I buy them at least two at a time. If I'm not wearing any pockets I have even placed one in my bra so that I am never without one. I use it at least ten to fifteen times a day, more if I'm on call.
I can't even say how I got started. I started out with plain Chap Stick. When I started working in hospitals in medical school and dressing "like a doctor" I tried actual lipstick every day but found I couldn't refresh it often enough and it felt too dry. Ever since then I have used Cover Girl In Condition Lip Blush to add a hint of color to my lips in addition to the moisture. But the moisture is what I have to have. I become totally miserable and can't concentrate if I try to go without it. I quit smoking several years ago, and no, this doesn't come anywhere near the misery of that, but its still unpleasant enough that I doubt I'll ever actually quit the stuff.
Okay, so now the doctor talk for a second. There's absolutely nothing medically dangerous about lip balm addiction unless your fumbling for the one you dropped on the floor of the car while changing lanes. So, while it would be nice not to feel so dependent on the stuff, if you really want to get rid of a habit, quit smoking. Or drinking. Or the white stuff. The waxy stuff never killed anyone. And if you don't have any of those other habits to kick, congratulations. You may now moan about lip balm. And don't get me wrong, I think this is a great page and I think it's cool that you are recognizing a problem that a large portion of our population deals with. So if you were stranded on a desert island and could take only one thing with answer would be a lifetime supply of lip balm.
I have no trouble admitting that lip balm is habit-forming, and can even say that it is truly addicting and stay within the definition of the word (we refer to a substance as addicting if it creates a physiologic need which was not present before administration of the substance). I cannot speak for the entire medical community but I can say that throughout medical school and residency I have not heard the topic addressed. I conducted a search of the medical literature from the 1960's through last month and the only references I found to lip balm were a few case studies of patients who were allergic to particular ingredients. I am not at all surprised that I did not find any research. Medical research is driven by funding and funds are generated either by the presence of an illness/disease/condition which leads to office visits, hospitalizations, deaths (i.e. that cost money to employers or insurance companies) or by pharmaceutical companies looking to prove their product. So you could say, "Hey, I spend $82.68 per year on Chapstick alone...over ten years that's $826.80 and over a lifetime we're talking thousands of dollars!" There still will be no funding because you, the consumer is footing the bill and your insurance company is not. Now, maybe we'll get lucky and a pharmaceutical company will get whiff of your website and decide to develop a CURE for "rebound cheilalgia" (pain in the lip which occurs after the balm wears off) in which case there would be money in it....but don't hold your breath.

The Final Word from LBA

There definitely appears to be a connection between lip licking and lip balm usage. Until we have serious research into the causes of lip licking, we may forever be in the dark about the true causes of lip balm addiction...
Last updated on February 3, 1999
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