Are you addicted to your lip balm?
Some of us feel like lip balm is a habit we can’t quit. We put it on every few minutes or at the slightest feeling of lip discomfort. If we leave for the day and realize we don’t have it with us, we make an emergency drugstore stop to pick some up.
Sometimes we apply chapstick without even knowing we’re doing it. We find ourselves putting it on our lips and think, “Did I just get this out?”
What’s going on here? Is lip balm addictive or is something else happening to your skin?
Rest assured, you are not technically addicted to lip balm. But there’s a reason you continually reapply your chapstick – it’s not all in your head.
If you find yourself applying lip balm as a habit or becoming frantic when you can’t find it, there’s another culprit. Here’s what’s happening with your lips and how it fix it.
The More Lip Balm You Apply, the More You Need It
Lips love the feel of lip balm. It’s immediately moisturizing, soothes the skin, and just feels good on our lips. Why? Lip balms contain a heavy ointment which provides relief and seals in the moisture.
The chapped feeling comes when we lose moisture through the lips. So we immediately put that heavy ointment on to relieve it, making our lips feel so much better.
But here’s where the problem comes in: ingredients.
Lip balms often contain a preservative, flavor, or fragrance that irritates the lips. The more you apply the irritant, the more chapped your lips feel. Botanically, the barrier formed by the ointment stops the water loss causing the discomfort. But with continual application, you’re applying the preservative, fragrance, or flavor that’s causing the problem. So when you apply more lip balm to get immediate relief, you’re also exacerbating the problem.
This starts the lip balm “addiction” cycle. The chapsticks that contain these ingredients sooth the lips temporarily but cause irritation in the long term.
The Top 3 Reasons Your Lips Are Irritated
Chapstick isn’t the only reason your lips are irritated. There’s a culprit we don’t often suspect in causing our lip sensitivity: toothpaste.
We see a lot of patients with toothpaste irritation from the whiteners and strong flavors in most products. Often cinnamon can be a big driver of lip irritation — both in toothpaste and other flavored items like gum and lozenges.
Like spicy foods? Your lips don’t. Jalapeños and peppers trigger lip irritations too.
See, the reason we compulsively use lip balm is more about irritation than addition. Your lip skin is irritated because of the ingredients in your lip balm, toothpaste, gum, and/or food choice. Naturally, if you want the irritation to subside, you need to avoid the products that trigger it.
An Easy Way to Stop Lip Irritation
What are you supposed to do — never use chapstick, brush your teeth, chew gum, or eat the spicy foods again? Of course not.
In fact, with most lip irritations, one simple fix makes all the difference.
Change your toothpaste.
Try a mild toothpaste — the cheaper, bottom-shelf, boring kind. Choose something like plain Crest that doesn’t have teeth whiteners or strong flavors. It takes time for the irritation to go away. But in a few weeks, you’ll likely notice a big difference in the comfort of your lips.
Don’t believe me? Most patients don’t.
Just try it. When people actually make the change, they’re surprised by the difference. Those cracked lips and rashes in the corners of their mouth clear up within a few weeks.
Some patients still don’t believe the toothpaste made a difference, so they go back to using their old tube. Guess what? The dry lips return.
For Caucasian patients, irritation often looks like chapped, cracking, red lips. For darker-skinned patients, irritation makes the lips a darker shade. Both can be frustrating for patients, so if you’re experiencing cracked, chapped, dark, and irritated lips, first change your toothpaste.
If that doesn’t resolve the problem, think about what else could be causing the irritation. What ingredients are in your chapstick? What foods have you been eating? Is gum causing the problem?
No amount of lip balm is going to fix an irritation if you keep applying the product that’s causing it. If you’re tired of relentlessly applying your lip balm, you can fix it. Just find the source of the irritant and make the appropriate changes. If you think your lips feel great after a fresh application of lip balm, imagine how good they’ll feel without any irritation at all.
Dr. R. Todd Plott is a board-certified dermatologist in Coppell, Keller, and Saginaw, TX. His specialization and professional interests include treating patients suffering with acne, identifying and solving complex skin conditions such as psoriasis, rosacea, atopic dermatitis, and identifying and treating all types of skin cancers. In his spare time, Dr. Plott enjoys cycling, traveling with his wife, and spending time with his children and new grandson.
Learn more about Dr. Plott.