Can you really be addicted to lip balm?

Image: iStock.

When it comes to lip balm, use can be a vicious circle. When you feel your lips getting dry, you lather on the balm, enjoy the silky soft feel, then 30 minutes later they’re crying out for more. So you apply. And apply, and apply and apply. Sound familiar?

While no-one likes that dry, chapped feeling, there’s a fine line between taking care of your skin and overdoing it. So can that ritualistic application verge on the territory of addiction?

While there’s even an online community and Reddit thread dedicated to “lip balm addiction”, experts regard it as more of a compulsion and it can be a very real obsessive compulsive disorder.

“The minute you define it, it becomes a ‘thing’, the compulsion becomes real,” OCD Action director Joel Rose told The Guardian.

So why do some people feel the need to apply up to 70 times a day?

First, let’s get back to basics. According to dermatologist and education manager at Dermalogica Emma Hobson, lip balms are designed to work like moisturisers.

“Because the lips don’t contain oil glands which is why lips are prone to drying out especially in cold conditions, a lip balm works by adding moisture, hydration and a surface ‘coating’ to protect the lips from moisture evaporation,” she says.

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And ironically, it’s true that some lip balms can actually be drying.

“Avoid lip balms that contain drying ingredients such as menthol or phenol, or possibly unbalanced amount of humectants, whereby the lip balms don’t contain sufficient proportions of moisture for the humectant to hold onto – instead they grab the extra moisture from the lips themselves,” she explains.


If this is a concern, she also recommends keeping clear of lip balms with artificial colours or fragrance as these can irritate the lips, causing the lips to become dry. (Post continues after video.)

While overuse of lip balm can cause problems, Hobson says the potential cause of the compulsion – and the greater concern – is actually another common action we do without thinking; licking our lips.

“When moisture sits on the surface of our lips, it will slowly evaporate, and the process of evaporation also causes dehydration especially when the climate is very cold and dry. This leads to the skin on the lips and around the mouth to become dry, chapped and peel which encourages people to need to constantly reapply lip balm,” she says.

“If you suffer from the problem of excessive lip licking you’re constantly removing the product off the lips, the lips then feel suddenly dry and so you reach for the product that makes them temporally feels soft and moisturised, you apply more product, lick it off again and the cycle continues!”

The vicious cycle of lip balm. Image: iStock


Hobson says you don't need to apply lip balm any more than three to four times a day.

"Use first thing in the morning either under your lipstick or instead of lipstick, then post every meal, or if necessary, each drink and then apply your last application just before bed," she says.

If you do find yourself reaching for your lip balm much more than this, it may be worth going 'cold turkey' and stop using it for a while.

"See if the lips improve in texture and if they do, consider trailing a better brand that doesn’t dry the lips out, and one the contains and SPF (in the day time) to protect the lips from UV damage," she says.

Are you addicted to using lip balm?