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Lip balm addiction: What it is and what you can do about it

Founder of Blush Med Skincare in Bethesda, Maryland where we focus on providing monthly skin treatments while utilizing healthy and non toxic skin care products. I love cooking desserts, music, and singing (though I can't carry much of...

Lip care tips from a recovering lip balm addict

As the founder of Blush Med Skincare, near Washington DC, we have seen our fair share of wintery weather leading to a variety of skin irritations and dry patches. In the winter months, the air is crisp, dry and cool. This is the time of year for hot chocolates, warm scarves and lip balm addictions. The world of lip balms is not only confusing at times but can also backfire with drier lips rather than leaving you with a smooth pout.

Lip balm addiction usually starts with dry lips, then lip balm application, followed by drier lips, more lip balm application and then repeat.

Break the lip balm addiction this winter and free yourself of dry chapped lips. A little background on lip balm is important to give you the essentials for a smooth pout this season.

As with everything in skin care, ingredients are key. Read your labels, just like you would when buying certain food items. This is, after all, going on your lips. Menthol, camphor and phenol can be credited with giving our lips that cooling sensation, but with continued use, they can actually cause dryness and redness. This causes us to use more lip balm (with menthol, camphor and phenol) leading to even dryer lips, which starts the lip balm dependence cycle. Another key ingredient to avoid is alcohol, because this can be very drying to the lips.

Many people feel that they are “addicted” to their lip balm, but is this phenomenon possible? Addiction can be physical or psychological. A physical addiction means there is a chemical you become addicted to, like nicotine in cigarettes. A psychological addiction is more like a habit; though you have the urge to repeat the action, your body isn't craving any specific ingredients. There are no specific ingredients or chemicals that make lip balm physically addictive.

However, they do seem to have a psychological component of addiction, meaning lip balm application can be habit forming. This psychological component revolves around doing a repetitive motion without realizing you’re doing it. For instance, when you bite your nails or play with your hair, these can be behaviors that you are doing again and again, usually because they bring a form of comfort. The same psychological addiction applies to lip balm use for certain individuals.

However, applying lip balm too much or too often can lead to physical dependence. Lip balm, when applied in high amounts, can backfire and have the opposite of our intended effect. It can dry out our lips and interfere with their natural healing process. This dryness, in turn, makes us want to use more lip balm to help heal our dry lips — causing the bad cycle to repeat.

Don’t give up on lip balm just yet. When formulated with healthy and essential ingredients, they can actually do a lot of good — not only for your lips but even for windburns! For instance, balms that have natural oils, such as almond or coconut, can work to condition and smooth skin. Lip balms can heal dry skin or windburn because it holds natural oils, butters and waxes, which protect and restore the skin's moisture balance. If you ever hit the ski slopes and feel a windburn coming on, just take out your lip balm — made with natural oils — and rub it gently on your face to protect it from the wind.

Arleen K. Lamb, MD

Founder of Blush Med Skincare

Bethesda, MD

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