Lip balm may feel soothing on chapped lips, but it can also turn into a bad habit that’s hard to break.
Could you be addicted? Not in the physiologic sense, says dermatologist Melissa Piliang, MD. But, like anything else, lip balm can become a psychological crutch.
“It can definitely be habit-forming,” she says. “Applying lip balm soothes the lips and feels good, and it is often comforting. That can lead to an unconscious habit that helps with stress or anxiety, kind of like twirling the hair or biting the nails.”
Ironically, some kinds of lip balm can make your dry lips even drier. It’s a good idea to check the ingredients in your favorite brand, and watch how often you use it.
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Signs of dependence
Dr. Piliang offers several common-sense questions to ask yourself to help judge whether you might have a psychological dependence on lip balm.
- Do you apply it very frequently?
- Do you have to carry it with you at all times?
- Do you have it stashed all over? (Your purse? Your car? Your bedroom? Your bathroom?)
- Do you spend a lot of money on it?
- Have your friends or family commented on your frequent use or spending on it?
- Do you go out of your way or make yourself late to get more?
- Do you have trouble concentrating or enjoying life because you can’t take your mind off the need to apply it?
Lip balm buying advice
Here are some tips to buying a good lip balm:
- Avoid ingredients like phenol, menthol and salicylic acid. Dr. Piliang has heard people say that applying lip balm causes the body to stop generating natural moisture around the lips. That is just a myth, she says. But it is true that some lip balms — typically those containing ingredients like phenol, menthol and salicylic acid — make the lips drier.
- “You have to apply more, and it becomes a vicious cycle,” Dr. Piliang says. “Sometimes these cause a tingling feeling when you apply them. They either cause irritation or remove outer layers of the skin. They’re an exfoliant. Then you have less protection, and you’re more susceptible to environmental factors, so you have to apply more product. Avoid lip balms that contain those ingredients.”
- Limit your use of lip balms containing scents or added flavoring. “The chemicals in scents and added flavorings can irritate your skin or cause allergies,” Dr. Piliang says. “They dry out the skin and then it can feel more chapped.”
- Look for simple, petroleum-based jelly products. “These keep the lips moist and prevent future chapping, instead of causing it,” she says.
- Find lip balm that is at least SPF 30. Dr. Piliang suggests you use lip gloss or lipstick that’s at least SPF30 — and use sunscreen on your lips when you’re at the pool or beach. She says a myth she’s heard about skin cancer is that the shine in a lip gloss allows the sun’s rays to penetrate more — and increases the skin cancer risk. “We do see skin cancer on the lips,” she says. “But nothing in lip balms causes cancer.”