Could You Be Addicted to Lip Balm?

Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on August 20, 2020

Do you use lip balm so often that you think you might be addicted to it? Cross that worry off your list. Lip balm has no ingredients that can cause dependency. And ingredients in these products can’t short-circuit your skin’s ability to make natural moisture.

Yet dermatologists still get questions about lip balm addiction and lips that stay dry despite regular balm use. Here’s why.

Using Lip Balm Can Become a Habit

Some people like the way lip balm feels. You might use it a lot because you enjoy the feeling of smooth, moist lips or the tingling some ingredients, such as menthol, can cause.

Habits like this can also be a way to distract yourself from stress. Often, people do them without really being aware of it.

You can get what’s called “behavioral addiction” to fun activities like gambling or shopping. These addictions don’t involve substances like alcohol that can actually make your body dependent on them.

Instead, the pleasure you get shrinks a little each time you shop, gamble, or whatever. So you do it more and more. Eventually, it becomes hard to stop.

But if your lip balm use doesn’t disrupt your life, relationships, or work, it’s not really a behavioral addiction. It’s just a habit. It's usually only a problem if:

  • It’s part of a cycle that leaves you with dry, chapped lips
  • You’re allergic to a certain ingredient

The Lip-Drying Cycle

Some people lick their lips after they apply lip balm. You may enjoy that feeling or the flavor of your favorite lip product. But when you lick your lips, you wet them with saliva. When it evaporates, so does moisture from the delicate skin of your lips.

This dries your skin. When your lips feel dry, you may reach for lip balm more often. This can leave you with dry, chapped lips despite your regular use of balm.

Some ingredients in lip balm can themselves dry or slightly irritate the skin of your lips. This can also push you into a pattern of more and more use. If your lips are dry or chapped despite regular use of balm, avoid products with:

  • Camphor
  • Eucalyptus
  • Flavoring, particularly cinnamon, citrus, mint, and peppermint
  • Fragrance
  • Lanolin
  • Menthol
  • Octinoxate or oxybenzone
  • Phenol
  • Propyl gallate
  • Salicylic acid

Lip Balm Ingredients Can Cause Allergic Reactions

You may be allergic to one or more ingredients in your lip balm. You’re more likely to react to something if you have sensitive skin. Ingredients that add flavor are the most common cause of allergic reactions to lip balm.

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Allergic reactions on your lips don’t usually cause redness or swelling. Instead, your lips get very chapped. You may not realize an allergy is the cause of your problem.

The more you use the ingredient you’re allergic to, the worse your allergic reaction can get. Again, this cycle may lead you to apply your lip balm over and over to try to keep your lips moist.

Tips for Better Lip Balm Use

Here are some things to try if your lip balm leaves you with dry, chapped lips.

Toss balms with flavoring or fragrance. These ingredients can irritate your lips.

Help dry, chapped lips heal with the right ingredients. Use products with one or more of these ingredients, which are less likely to cause irritation:

Use plain petroleum jelly if you lick your lips a lot. It acts as a barrier that cuts down on moisture evaporation. It may help you break the wetting-drying cycle that can dry and chap your lips.

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Wear lip balm with SPF. The sun can dry your lips. Before you go outside, apply a lip balm with an SPF of 30 or higher. Look for products with titanium oxide or zinc oxide. These sunscreen ingredients are less likely to irritate your skin than those with chemicals like octinoxate and oxybenzone.

Drink water often. This helps keep your lips hydrated.

Use a humidifier in your bedroom. The extra moisture can help prevent dry lips.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Rajani Katta, MD, dermatologist, Houston Methodist Hospital; clinical professor of dermatology, McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston.

Cleveland Clinic: “7 Signs Your Lip Balm Use Is Just a Bad Habit.”

Journal of the Neurological Sciences: “Neurobiology of cue-reactivity, craving, and inhibitory control in non-substance addictive behaviors.”

American Academy of Dermatology: “7 Dermatologists’ Tips for Healing Dry, Chapped Lips.”

Progress in Brain Research: “Behavioral addictions in addiction medicine: from mechanisms to practical considerations.”

McGill University: Office for Science and Society: “Is Lip Balm Addictive?”

Piedmont Healthcare: “The Difference Between Physical and Chemical Sunscreen.”

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