Is 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. 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).

The Early Show Says Lip Balm Is Addictive

Dr. Holly Phillips appeared on CBS’ The Early Show and agrees that lip balm is addictive. The doctor believes there is both a psychological as well as physical component, especially with medicated lip balms. Flavored lip balms also encourage lip licking, an effect the doctor calls “a vicious cycle.”


The Industry Responds

It’s no surprise that the major balm manufacturers are running from the notion of addiction. They try to hide behind doctors and other “experts” who claim that there are no addictive properties in their products.

Internet Resources

The LBA Conclusion

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…