We asked Dr. Janet Prystowsky, board certified dermatologist in New York with 25 years-experience, about chapstick addiction and here's what she told us.
Can you be addicted to lip balm?
Technically no, but in my 25 years of experience what typically happens to people who appear to be "addicted" to it is this: they use a lip balm and eventually develop a sensitivity to components in it. This sensitivity leads to a reaction in the lips that adds to a chapped feeling in their lips which makes them think they need to use more lip balm. As they continue to use the lip balm, thinking they are helping matters, the lip sensitivity frequently increases, making the situation worse, and their lip balm use continues to increase.
Are there any side effects of using too much lip balm?
Eventually a severe contact dermatitis of the lips with cracking and soreness and irritation of the skin around the lips may occur.
This is dermatitis:
How do you know if you have a lip balm problem/how much is too much?
If the lip balm seems to fix your problem initially but after continued use (weeks, months, years later) you find you have to keep using more and more, there is a problem and you are using too much.
Does lip balm actually work?
Lip balms work by sealing moisture into the lip tissue and preventing evaporation into the dry winter air. This allows for healing of chapped lips and also prevent chapping.
Is the myth true that the more lip balm you use, the more you need to reapply?
I recommend that for the easiest lip treatment with a low risk of adverse reactions, stick to either plain petrolatum (Vaseline) or Aquaphor. As soon as you start using more complicated products, anything can happen. Sun blocks are also added to lip balms which are great if you are going to be skiing, playing golf or tennis or hanging out at the beach. I would not recommend them for daily use to avoid getting sensitized to the chemicals when you do not need the block. However, if you have a history of significant lip sun damage and are at risk of lip skin cancer, your dermatologist may recommend daily use, so always check with your personal physician.
One last consequence:
I also have seen overuse of lip balms lead to clogged pores along the lip line (black heads); another reason for not using them more than necessary.