Though it isn’t an addiction in the medical sense, lip balm use is a vicious cycle: the more you wear it, the more you need it. Why? According to the cosmetic scientists behind The Beauty Brains, it all has to do with the way your skin renews itself. As the top layers of skin die and flake off, your body signals the bottom layers to produce fresh cells. But when you apply balm, you slow moisture loss, so your dead top cells don’t dry out as quickly, and your skin isn’t producing fresh cells deep down. Once the balm wears off, there are no plump new cells to replace the expiring ones, which means your lips feel dry. Then you’re inspired to reach for the balm again.
What’s worse is that many lip balms contain ingredients that will actually make your lips even drier. Take Carmex for example. This drugstore staple markets itself as a two-in-one cold sore remedy and lip ointment. Yet three of its main ingredients are suspect. Menthol and camphor provide a cool tingly sensation, but they also dry out skin (good for cold sores, not so much for ordinary chapped lips). And phenol, an antiseptic, can actually strip away your top layer of skin, leaving lips more exposed than ever.
The solution to lip balm overkill? Keep your lips hydrated by drinking lots of water, and only bust out the balm on those cold, windy days when you really need it. Look for an all-natural formula that won’t aggravate your lips. My pick is Pangea Organics Lip Balm, which has organic oils and essential fatty acids that will soothe (not strip) your lips. Since the formula is super moisturizing, you won’t need to smear it on at five-minute intervals throughout the day.But wait. Now that I’m thinking about it, my lips are feeling kind of chapped. Time to go reapply my lip balm. What can I say? Old habits really do die hard.