I've never been a lip balm user. This is because I tend to avoid things that my friends find addictive -- and I've had friends who have been, dare I say, addicted to lip balm since elementary school. After a few hours without it, they're clearly jonesing, twitching, and needing a fix. I won't name any brands here -- they seem to be pretty much the same, as far as I (a non-user) can tell. To me, lip balm just feels weird -- but apparently this weirdness turns into a necessary feeling after regular use.
Apparently other people have noticed this addictive* quality too -- there's a Lip Balm Anonymous website dedicated to documenting what might cause the pseudo-addiction of lip balms. Check out their Is Balm Addictive? page for some well-cited discussion of what addiction is, and whether it might apply to lip balms.
I also came across a well-written blog post about quitting lip balms as well as moisturizing lotions, entitled An Addiction. Here's a snippet:
The chapstick story starts a long while ago. Ever since middle school or so I can remember using chapstick every day. I would always carry a tube around with me and frequently reapplied it. This continued on through high school and college until the point where forgetting my chapstick was a horrible occasion. If I realized I wouldn't have chapstick for more than an hour or two I would have to borrow or buy a new one. (Thankfully I was usually with Joey who was a user too). Finally, while working at Google, I was fed up. I decided that it was time to get rid of my addiction and of course starting searching the internet for advice. I ran into a bunch of articles about whether or not lip balm is actually addictive (it definitely is) but finally made it to one that described the process of withdrawal... Without that article I am sure I would have given up because it was hard. Because chapstick prevents your lips from exfoliating properly when you stop using it you have a lot of dead skin to get rid of. This results in a really gross set of lips for a while that are constantly shedding. Thankfully, vaseline was there to help. Vaseline is sorta like a midway drug. It is worse than not using anything, but a lot better than chapstick. Vaseline was able to slow down the exfoliation to the point where I didn't feel disgusted about going to work, and after a couple of months I was able to stop using it too and I am now lip product free.
I'm not sure that lip balms prevent exfoliation (see the links above at Lip Balm Anonymous for more discussion of this) but they certainly seem to have effects that make your lips feel super-weird when you stop using them. It seems that avoiding this feeling is more what drives users not to quit; though there's also the element of something tingly (mint, etc.) in some brands that gives a pleasant effect when it's applied. All I know is I don't want to get hooked on this stuff.
* = Lip Balm Anonymous has a very nice disclaimer at the bottom of their pages, saying: "While our pain and addiction do not obviously compare to the horrors our brothers and sisters suffering from alcohol or narcotics addiction are feeling, Lip Balm Anonymous supports those members of other 12-step programs and no harm or slight is intended by this page." I thoroughly agree.
Are You in Recovery?
Are you a lip balm user, or a recovering user? Share your story in the comments. I'm genuinely curious how widespread this possible balm addiction thing is.
(Photo by Westside Shooter, used under Creative Commons license.)