Richard-Craven describes herself as neurodivergent, a heavy smoker and someone who has severe anxiety, ADHD and trichotillomania, also known as hairpulling disorder. “For me, lip balm is an act of self-soothing,” the Californian says. “Lip balm stops me from smoking and from hairpulling.”
Morgan Shields is another avid lip balm user. “I apply first thing in the morning, after any snack or meal, before and after workouts in the evening, after brushing my teeth, after showering … let’s round [up] to 12 times a day,” says Shields, director of operations for the creative agency The All In Haus.
Why? She simply hates the feeling of dry skin, Shields says. You can find a lip balm in every room of her house, she shares, as well as on her desk, in her car and (two) in each handbag.
Shields says this started when she was only 3 years old, after a party spent ice skating and eating spicy Mexican food. “I have pictures from that day, and I still look back at my red mouth, knowing that’s when this excessive habit began,” she remembers. “I dug through my grandmother’s purse, found her Vaseline and smothered my lips, and have never looked back.”
The average person may not apply lip balm as often as Richard-Craven and Shields do — but is it a problem if they do? Is there a danger to using too much lip balm? And when people say they're “addicted” to their lip balm, is that actually a thing? Here's what experts say.
Can applying lip balm become an addiction?
The word “addiction” refers to the experience of physiologically craving a substance or behavior and being physically dependent on it. Could something as seemingly innocent as lip balm fall into this category?
“The answer is ‘depends,’ which is unfortunately not as satisfying as using lip balm,” Vanessa Kennedy, director of psychology at Driftwood Recovery, tells Yahoo Life.
But on a basic level, the answer is no. This is because addiction usually deals with a physical dependency, and lip balm doesn’t lead to that. “An addiction typically involves dependence on substances that physically alter brain neurochemistry, producing a high related to a surge of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain,” Kennedy explains.
Further, whether or not something is an addiction comes down to if it significantly interferes with and impairs a person’s daily life, according to Kennedy. More specifically, she says, this might look like having problems in relationships, at work, at school, healthwise or with taking care of children because of that substance or behavior.
Kennedy doesn’t see lip balm use as something that could lead to those problems, per se. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily totally healthy in every case. “While lip balm does not contain chemicals that would lead to this type of physical addiction, it can become a compulsive behavior or habit,” she adds.
She also notes that people may need to use lip balm more frequently if they’ve used products that can be irritating, like ones that contain fragrances, preservatives or flavorings. “If your lips become irritated by these ingredients, your lip balm habit can become more severe,” she says. But again, that’s not a cravings or dependence issue.
What are the signs that frequent lip balm use might be a problem?
While it’s not quite an addiction, Kennedy notes that applying lip balm nonstop can cause stressors in a person’s life that they may want to address. “If you notice that your lip balm use is costing too much money, you or others find it distracting or it is interfering with other healthy behaviors, such as socialization or enjoyment of activities, you might consider some alternative behaviors to replace your lip balm habit,” she says.
As far as physical indicators, lips that are macerated (the skin is breaking down), extra-dry, peeling, burning or have acne around them are a sign a person might be using lip balm too often, Dr. Jennifer Gordon, a dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology in Austin, Texas, tells Yahoo Life.
Is too much lip balm bad for the skin?
To be clear, a person can use lots of lip balm and be fine. Gordon says that usually, people can use lip balm as much as they need (or want), and it’s safe. Her main warning is about the kind of lip balm. Shields, for instance, avoids medicated lip balms, noting that they can actually dry out lips or cause irritation.
“Beware of added ingredients ... like fragrances, colors, etc.,” Gordon says. “Balms that contain SPF can sometimes be not as moisturizing, so although it is good to always protect your lips, consider this if you’re applying multiple times daily and are not outside.”
Other lip balm ingredients that can dry out the lips include phenol, menthol and salicylic acid, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Tips for scaling down on lip balm use
If a person’s lip balm habit is something they want to work on, they have lots of options.
First, Kennedy recommends working with a health care provider. “If there is an underlying problem with your health causing dry or chapped lips, it may be beneficial to consult with a dermatologist or physician who can help you keep your lips hydrated and healthy,” she says.
If the habit is more of a behavioral, mental or emotional compulsion, she believes the best bet is to bring in an alternative behavior that’s healthy and enjoyable. “For example, instead of reaching for lip balm when your lips feel dry or you are anxious, you might try another healthy activity in place of this, such as drinking water or a green smoothie for hydration,” she says.
Individuals may also want to dive deeper into what’s behind their lip balm use, especially if it’s not solely a physical concern. Kennedy says keeping a log of thoughts and feelings experienced during that urge can be helpful in determining what’s behind the compulsion. Is it anxiety? Boredom? Self-consciousness?
“Identifying the feeling can help you choose strategies that target this feeling and help you replace lip balm with an alternative, such as a relaxation strategy to calm anxiety or an activity that redirects your attention away from your appearance and onto something else you care about, such as a good book, movie or productive work task,” she explains.
Whenever someone does use lip balm, Gordon recommends applying plain Aquaphor or Vaseline when they feel like they need it. “Your body should be good at homeostasis, but it can always get out of whack with [dehydration], travel, weather and stress,” she says.
At the end of the day, putting on lots of lip balm doesn't rise to the level of a serious addiction. But as Kennedy reminds people, “There are strategies to help you reduce your reliance on lip balm and get more engaged in other aspects of your life.”