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Can I become addicted to lip balm?

Lip balm is made to soothe chapped lips, but could you become addicted? Jonathan Knowles/Getty Images

Imagine this scenario: You're driving down the highway, and your lips are hit with a harsh, dry sensation, as though they're terribly chapped. Unable to find a lip balm in your bag or glove compartment, you pull over at the first gas station to buy one. Or maybe you're hurriedly walking down the street, late to work or class, but have to make a pit stop at the pharmacy because you have nothing to moisten your lips, which are uncomfortably dry.

Constant use of lip-moistening products is a very real part of many people's lives. There is debate, even among dermatologists, as to whether lip-balm addiction is a valid medical condition [source: Associated Press].

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Support groups -- like online communities -- are out there if you think you have a lip-product problem. Lip balm manufacturers also face criticism for marketing their products to children by incorporating tasty, fruity flavors.

Of course -- just as with many other substances that are considered addictive -- you can use lip balm and not have a problem at all. A number of factors can cause chapped lips, including cold, sunny or windy weather. Personal habits, like breathing through your mouth or licking your lips too much, can also cause chapped lips.

Sometimes situations that cause chapped lips can't be avoided -- it's not as though you're going to stay inside all day just because the weather could dry out your lips. When you do need a lip balm to treat chapped lips, some products are safer than others. Read on to learn about what ingredients to avoid when choosing a lip balm.

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Chances are, if you use lip balm enough to be concerned that you're addicted to it, others have noticed your habit and perhaps commented that it can cause cancer. However, typical lip balms don't contain substances that are addictive in and of themselves and they're not chock-full of carcinogens.

Rumors that lip balms contain dangerous cancer-causing agents or acids are no truer than the cover story of that tabloid you thumbed through in the checkout line yesterday. In fact, the worst side effect to overuse of lip balm is an increase in lip chapping. Some ingredients in lip balm can lead to a tendency to use the product more frequently by prolonging the chapped effects. Avoid products with phenol, menthol or salicylic acid. Balms with these ingredients may cause a pleasant tingling feeling, but that sensation is actually protective layers of dead skin on your lips peeling off. Removing these layers of skin leaves your lips more susceptible to the environmental factors that cause chapping [source: Associated Press].

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Also avoid lip balms with an added scent or flavor, which may irritate the lips. Go for something natural instead of that tempting chocolate- or strawberry-flavored product.

Your best bet is a lip product that contains petroleum. Petroleum keeps moisture in the lips, so it will help prevent future chapping instead of perpetuating it.

Because some ingredients in lip balm can increase chapping and cause you to continue using these products, you may wonder whether this qualifies as an addiction. Read on to learn about the debate over whether lip balm addiction is psychological or physical.

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Although there's no evidence of chemicals in lip balm that cause a physical addiction, the fact that you apply it nonstop or carry it on your person at all times might make you wonder if you're psychologically dependent on it. The truth is, this may in fact qualify as a psychological addiction [source: Feldmeier].

Using lip balm shouldn't interfere with your daily life. If you have to go out of your way to find a tube of the stuff or have difficulty enjoying things or concentrating because you can't take your mind off of soothing your lips, you may have a psychological addiction.

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If you think you use lip balm too frequently, there are things you can do to kick the habit. Applying lip balm can make your lips feel good at the moment, especially if they're dry or chapped. The action of applying lip balm can also feel comforting. Using it can become an almost unconscious habit, like twirling your hair or biting your fingernails.

When you feel the urge to apply, trying replacing lip balm with something else, such as a drink of water.

Rest assured, overuse of lip balm at worst dries out your lips and empties out your pocketbook -- it doesn't increase your risk of cancer. With conscious effort and a few handy-dandy distraction tricks, you can break the balm-applying habit. For more information on preventing, recognizing and conquering lip balm dependency, visit the links on the following page.

Originally Published: Aug 20, 2009

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Sources

  • Associated Press. "Bingeing on Balm, or Hip Lip Service?" St. Petersburg Times. 1/22/06. (Accessed 8/15/09) http://www.sptimes.com/2006/01/22/Floridian/Bingeing_on_balm__or_.shtml
  • Feldmeier, Julie. "Get Over Your Lip Balm Addiction." 12/14/08. (Accessed 8/15/09) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/11/AR2008121103195.html
  • Fox News. "Lip Balm Addiction: Real or Imagined?" 11/4/08. (Accessed 8/15/09) http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,446626,00.html
  • Gibson, Lawrence E. "Chapped Lips: What's the Best Remedy?" MayoClinic.com. 10/4/08. (Accessed 8/15/09) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/chapped-lips/AN01440
  • Mappas, Laura. "Lip Glosses Increase Risk of Cancer." Ninemsn. 5/19/08. (Accessed 8/15/09). http://health.ninemsn.com.au/pamper/beauty/694693/lip-glosses-increase-risk-of-cancer
  • Veena, Thomas. "Lip Balm Junkie." The Tech. 4/5/99. (Accessed 8/15/09)http://tech.mit.edu/V119/N10/col10veena.10c.html

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