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Lip Balm Anonymous Presents the Industry of Addiction

Carma Lab's Carmex

This stuff is probably the strongest lip balm around... with a rush that rivals crack cocaine when you first apply it. There is probably more brand-loyalty with Carmex than with any other brand of lip balm. Singer Toni Braxton has said to use use lots of Carmex (People Weekly, May 9, 1994, page 68), saying "One of the first boys I kissed had chapped lips, and I vowed I would never have them." What is Carmex and where does it come from?

Carmex cap scan While the other lip balm companies are truly large ventures, Carma Labs is still family owned. They are led by Alfred Woelbing, who still comes to work at the ripe old age of 95. Woelbing founded Carma Labs in the 1930's and produced the first pot of Carmex in 1937. He claims it was just a way to stop cold sores, and that the product's fame spread through word of mouth. The company takes pride in their lack of advertising. Lack of national advertising never hurt drug dealers either!

Carma sent several newspaper articles, including a May 18, 1993 article from the San Francisco Examiner entitled "Pssst; Wanna Get Lip Balmed?". Examiner columnist Stephanie Salter tells all about lip balm addiction, but couches the situation in humorous or drug-language, often referring to Carmex as "junkies". For example, she talks about Carmex users scrambling for pots under bar stools (like alcoholics) and users sharing their stash with each other (like marijuana).

Carma Labs does admit to putting salicylic acid into their lip balm, and they acknowledge the rumor that they put ground fiber glass into the lip balm. But, they do not deny this rumor! Frankly, Carma Labs sounds like a mob crime family to me!

When confronted with claims of addiction, Carma's Paul Woelbing was quoted by the Boston Herald as saying "We're in full compliance with the Food and Drug Administration." So are cigarette manufacturers, and nobody questions that cigarettes are addictive!

For more information on the addictive qualities of Carmex, check out the alt.folklore.urban Carmex Addiction page, detailed on the LBA Is Lip Balm Addictive? page.

Report from LBAer Michael

Just for the record, I went on a tour of the Carmex plant, led by the grandson Woelbing, and it's a nice, clean place. There's a small group of employees who work very hard, they conserve materials (the pots are shipped out filled with balm in the same cases that the empty pots arrive at the plant), and generally seem like really nice people. They don't allow any cameras in the plant (something about corporate spies, apparently a real problem they've had, not just paranoia on their part). I did get a picture of myself next to the sign out in front of the building. They used to do regular tours years ago but stopped that also. It was something my wife set up for the two of us for my birthday; it may sound queer but it was actually pretty neat.

The alum and salicylic acid are included because Carmex was originally created to use on cold sores, TO DRY THEM UP. So of course there are these drying agents in the balm. Should regular sufferers of chapped lips be spreading on a drying agent to heal their lips? Maybe not.

Pssst; Wanna Get Lip Balmed?

Stephanie Salter

Tuesday, May 18, 1993. Page A15.

The tiny, milky-white glass pot slipped from my hand and hit the tile floor of the bar. Then the little pot began to roll under the bar stools as I gave chase.

In one unbroken motion, a young Richard Gere look-alike swept down, retrieved the little pot and handed it back to me.

"I thought I recognized the sound of a Carmex jar hitting the floor," he said.

I believe it is the comedian Paula Poundstone who has a routine about Carmex addicts. She jokes that there is a secret wing at the Betty Ford Clinic for such people, and that they roam the halls begging for "just one little dip" of their finger into a pot.

Carmex is a cold sore and chapped-lip salve that was invented in 1936 and made mostly of menthol, camphor, alum and wax. As Carmex junkies know, this yellow moosh is not just another lip balm.

Carmex packs a kind of rush for the kisser. Once you've felt this rush, it's impossible not to want it again. And again. And again.

Then there are the little pots.

Although Carmex has been available since 1987 in small plastic tubes, the true junkie consumes it only in its original and pure state, from milky-white glass mini-jars.

An inch deep and the diameter of a half-dollar, a Carmex pot is not convenient, modern or unobtrusive. In the back pocket of a pair of jeans, it makes you look deformed.

So what? By the time you develop into a full-blown Carmex junkie - after the first swipe is offered by "a friend" - it wouldn't matter if the container were the size of a baby goat. You would carry it everywhere. And stash one in your car and an extra in your desk and another on your nightstand.

The little pot is part of what the grandson of Carmex's creator calls, "the whole gestalt of Carmex." Take the jar away and Carmex loses some of its mystery.

"The jars are kind of our trademark," said Paul Woelbing by phone from Carma Lab, Inc., in Franklin, Wis. "You know, I can recognize the sound of one of those caps coming off even in a big lecture hall."

Can't we all? The easiest way to discover a Carmex addict is to produce a little pot and unscrew the yellow-and-black lid. An addict will pounce, index finger or pinkie extended, and moan, "Ooooh. Can I have some?"

Paul Woelbing (pronounced WELL-bing) knows all about Carmex junkies. Every day, mail arrives at the lab from people wanting to know if there is an addictive ingredient in the stuff.

"One common suspicion is that we put a really terrible acid in it that roughs up your lips and makes you need more Carmex," he said. "But the acid we use is salicylic acid, which is aspirin. Another rumor is that we grind up fiber glass and put that in."

At 36, Paul Woelbing is the treasurer of Carma Lab, Inc. Paul's father is vice president. Paul's 92-year-old granddad - yes, the inventor of Carmex, Alfred Woelbing! - is still the president, working 50-60 hours a week.

A practical man, Alfred Woelbing created Carmex in 1936 because he had cold sores. He called the lab, "Carma," because he liked the sound of the word, and he put "ex" on the end because "ex" was a very popular suffix back in the 1930s.

Never in Carmex's 56-year history have the Woelbings advertised or marketed their product - unless you count "the $10 a year we spend for my dad's vanity (license) plate," said Paul.

"I guess you might say we do business in a unique way," said Alfred Woelbing, who joined his grandson on the phone. "Maybe our way of doing business is old- fashioned, but it's successful."

Indeed, last May, Adweek praised Carma Lab as one of five, single-product, U.S. companies that has continually bucked the downward trend of the recession.

"Barely a week goes by that some large company doesn't want to buy out Carma Lab," said Alfred Woelbing. "But our company is not for sale."

"We treat our business as an organism, and try to let it grow as one," said Paul Woelbing. "Expansion? What for? As long as we're making a comfortable living and everybody is happy, what more do you really need?"

Well, since you asked, Paul, how about a bigger container of Carmex? A hard-core addict can make short work of even the largest size now available, the half- ounce, $1.89-size.

"We sell an eight-ounce jar directly from here if people order it," said Paul Woelbing. "It costs $9.50."

Do you hear that, junkies? Eight ounces of Carmex for under 10 bucks. And Carma Lab's address is right on your little lid, in gnat-size type. At that price, think of how generous you can be to people who've never felt the thrill.

Yes, over here, sonny. I've got something that will make those chapped lips feel allll better. And the first hit is free.

Last updated on November 7, 1997
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