Beware Addictive Chapstick

UPDATE: This post has an important followup delving into the issue more thoroughly.

When buying chapstick, check to make sure it doesn’t contain salicylic acid, like Carmex does. This ingredient actually eats through skin layers. The result can be a vicious spiral of lip destruction and product reapplication.

Other common lip balm ingredients to avoid are irritants like sopropyl myristate, eugenol, and phenol.

Instead, seek lip balms with FDA-approved protectants and/or a hydrocortisone base.

If you’re suffering from chapped lips, you can also try this cheap solution: keep your tongue inside your mouth and stop licking your lips. — BEN POPKEN

Treatment of Cheilitis [US Pharmicist]

UPDATE: A lightly researched Snopes article last updated in 1998 says Carmex addiction may be a hoax. We’re not so sure they’ve got their facts straight and may delve further into the secret life of salicylic acid. [via BoingBoing]


Edit Your Comment

  1. WindowSeat says:

    I was shopping with a friend in Brooklyn and she bought me this hideously expensive ($12) lip balm from Malin and Goetz for my chapped lips and I’m addicted to the stuff now.

  2. Meg Marco says:

    I’ve found that Burt’s Bees is very effective.

    • Belinda Short says:

      @Meg Marco: Agreed. Burts bees is the bees knees as it were. I like the pomegranate stuff for when I just want something for chapped lips, but the regular peppermint stuff packs just as much punch as Carmex, and doesn’t dry my lips out once it’s worn off.

  3. Falconfire says:

    cough…. maybe Consumerist should read a bit more into that whole salicylic acid thing since if you guys did you would have learned the truth…. CARMEX AINT CHAPSTICK!

    Its ment for coldsores and the salicylic acid is in it to dry them out and heal them. Normal people with chapped lips probably wouldnt want to use the stuff, but people who have severe chapped lips or coldsores should because it will heal them.

    Likewise salicylic acid is FDA approved too. The way thats worded you would think Carmex and other brands ment to heal and not prevent chapped lips where getting around FDA regulation somehow.

  4. Clare says:

    Phenol in lip balm? For real? Yikes. I wrote a magazine article a few years ago about one-day cosmetic surgery procedures and in my research I discovered that phenol is used to eat away wrinkles and take off skin cancers.

  5. acambras says:

    Meghann’s right — Burt’s Bees is great. They also make several tinted versions for us girls who are sick of our boyfriends/husbands stealing our lip balm.

  6. Gena says:

    Beware of salicylic acid if you have sensitive skin. I’m allergic to the stuff, and didn’t know it until a dermatologist tested me and figured it out. If the product isn’t working the way it’s supposed to, it’s possible you have an allergy to something in it.

    And the other way to prevent chapped lips is to make sure you’re hydrated…I’ve found that by drinking water everytime I want to use chapstick or lip balm, not only am I doing the healthy thing for me, but I’m not using as much lip balm.

  7. MattyMatt says:

    If you’ve got angular cheilitis, then you might actually WANT a product that dries your lips. AC is caused by a fungus (ew) that lives on everyone’s face (ew), and takes advantage of weak immune systems to split open the corners of the mouth (ew ew ew). Wet lips are what keep it alive. Carmex might be a useful treatment, though I have no medical training and I’m just guessing.

    In the past, I’ve treated it over the counter with Clotrimazole, which is intended for ladies’ delicate bits but works just fine on face-lips, too. As a bonus, you get to see lots of shocked faces when you apply a vaginal cream to your mouth in public.

  8. miss_smartypants says:

    Uhm, I’ll pass MattyMatt, but thanks for the tip…I guess :)

  9. kerry says:

    Not 100% positive from the info on the side of the tube that it fulfills all the criteria above, but Softlips is pretty great stuff and I’ve never felt “addicted” to it. The best defense against chapped lips is proper water intake, but when all I’ve had to drink is coffee and it’s the coldest, driest part of the year I need a little extra something. Softlips gets my business every time.

  10. alhypo says:

    I heard some form of this many years ago and forced myself to stop using chapstick. Once I got past the initial discomfort I haven’t needed anything of the sort since, even while staying in arid climates.

    Now, I wonder if I stop using dandruff shampoo…

  11. stonestix says:

    Sometimes you guys are just too credulous. Or maybe you had perfect skin growing up. Salicylic acid is in tons of products, from OTC acne products to shampoo. Removing skin — to help remove buildup — is its benefit. And it’s not addictive; that’s an urban legend. Check out snopes:

  12. Antediluvian says:

    Re: Clare’s phenol comment
    Lots of very powerful chemicals can and are used in more modest concentrations or alongside other chemicals without causing terrible consequences.

    I’m very surprised no one’s mentioned that salicylic acid is used in lots of anti-acne creams and treatments, as well as Compound-W wart removal treatments. Different concentrations, different application methods, different delivery mechanisms.

    Why are people shocked to discover that a chemical in one product can also be used for something much different? Is the US population’s understanding of science that poor?
    Here’s a link about dihydrogen monoxide and its dangers:
    In fact, DHMO is one of the chief causes of chapped lips!

  13. Salicylic acid is what I use for my acne. It does chemically ‘burn’ the skin. Hence, I have chapped lips often. I use regular chapstick, but I moisten ’em with water before applying.

  14. Crosius says:

    Not to be a wet-blanket for the Corporate-conspiracy-to-make-you-buy-more fans, but Snopes has run a lot of this stuff to ground already.

    Carmex does not add lip-irritating compounds to it’s product to turn you into an addict.

    Shouldn’t RTFSA (Read the Freaking Snopes Article) be a first stop on this kind of story? It’s even on Snopes under the Carmex brand-name – not exactly hard to find.

  15. yumyum says:

    Crosius, uh

  16. MissPinkKate says:

    If your lips are crusty/dry, something like Carmax will be good to get the dry gunk off. The key is to layer- put on some Carmex, wait a few minutes, put on something non-medicated(I personally like Kiehl’s Lip Balm #1).

  17. yumyum says:

    Crosius, RTFPU (read the freaking post update).

  18. Pelagius says:

    Hm. Aspirin is addictive, too, then? Since we’re all about the acronyms today – GMAFB

  19. Myron says:

    We breathlessly await your investigation …

    Suck it up Ben. Snopes is reliable. You’ve been duped.

  20. leyahgreen says:

    The best lip balms to use are those with natural ingredients like shea butter and olive oil. Anything too chemical and petroleum-based my irritate the lips, but of course not everyone’s lips. There’s actually a great blog all about this very topic: Chaptastic. It has lots of great reviews of about a million lip balms, including Carmex.

  21. Salicylic is just aspirin. *shrugs*

  22. valleywanker says:

    Better check this out:

  23. major disaster says:

    Salicylic is just aspirin.

    No, aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid. Related compounds, but not the same.

    As for lipstuff, I like Vaseline, straight up. Works well, looks like lip gloss, good times all around.

  24. artstra says:

    I have not read this article, or any of the comments; just the headlines linked off saying it is a hoax.

    About 10 years ago I tried some kind of lip balm in the little blue round tin often seen at checkouts. In the week I tried it I felt my lips were more and more dry and I figured it was the balm causing the problem.

    What can I say, hoax or not, that was my personal uninformed opinion. And, I have noticed one or two friends over the years who seem to constantly use the stuff…

    Not a great comparison, but I tried one of those face strips for your nose once and for about 2 months afterward I constantly felt I wanted to do it again… I did the math and figured I couldn’t afford another “habit”.

  25. Dashiell says:

    I’m with Ben on this one. It’s not like he got this in an email forward. The US Pharmacist site and doctor who wrote that article are real. Nothing in that Snopes article contradicts what was said there, if you read it closely.

  26. acambras says:

    “Vaseline, straight up… good times all around.”


  27. I always thought it was the camphor in the carmex that was addictive. It makes your lips all tingly and you definitely get less tingling over time, and you have to apply more lip balm to get the same effect.

    I’ve found the same with other lip balms with camphor, as well.

    But maybe it’s just me. And BY GOD Carmex is a brilliantly good lip-balm so if the camphor makes it a little addictive, hey, no problem.

  28. acambras says:

    Maybe camphor in Carmex is addictive like menthol in cigarettes?

  29. TedOnion says:

    acambras, you da man. Petroleum jelly is the only thing that you need to cure chapped lips. Apply at night just before you go to sleep, and your chapped lips are cured. You may be amazed by how quickly the lips can heal themselves. (Try filling a bottle cap with it an keep it on your headboard or nightstand for easy application.)

    I see so many people using chapstick like products constantly throughout the day, and it is just unnecessary when such a simple cure works so well.

  30. acambras says:

    Thanks, TedOnion, but I was just quoting Major Disaster (see several posts up from mine) and adding some of my own snarky innuendo.

    I myself like the Burt’s Bees, or if I want to get really crazy, there’s some Hershey’s lip balm that’s yummy. It’s gotten a little hard to find, though.

    And while I take “you da man” as a compliment, I’m female. ;-)

  31. Crosius says:

    Yumyum, the update wasn’t there when I posted my comment.

  32. stonestix says:

    Dashiell: The article may be authored by a pharmacist, but his conclusions about Carmex are only conjecture. None of the references show evidence that salicylic acid causes a “vicious cycle” of overuse. I’m not trying to knock you, and I’m a recovered Blistex addict myself. I just get tired of seeing bad science.

  33. MeOhMy says:

    Even Snopes freely admits that they are not the be all end all of hoaxbusting.

  34. JeffreyK says:

    Or maybe… just maybe — work with me here… some of us might just like the way Carmex feels and smells. That hardly makes the stuff addictive. Enjoyable and likeable, yes. Addictive, no.

    Now, those Nazi T-shirts? Ohhhhh yeah, I can’t get enough of that. I’m sewing me a Totenkopf thong tonight.

  35. etinterrapax says:

    Carmex does cure a cold sore like nobody’s business, though. I don’t use it unless I have one, but when I did, it took away the pain and the horrible cracking every time I opened my mouth more than an eighth of an inch.

    I do like Softlips, myself. I always need something in the winter, so I have about a dozen balms all over the place and in every coat pocket. But I prefer things I don’t have to stick a finger into, as a general rule. It doesn’t seem all that sanitary, especially since you touch your mouth afterwards.

  36. Citron says:

    People with oral piercings shouldn’t wear lip balm with petroleum jelly in them, so Caramex and Vasoline and the like are just major no-nos. I just stick to Burt’s Bees. Addictive or not, balms help me exfoliate my lower lip so it and my piercing stay nice and healthy.

  37. jennylane says:

    This is indeed FALSE. Alpha-hydroxy acids (which include salicylic acid, lactic acid, and glycolic acid) are the active ingredients in Chemical Peels.

    Chemical peels work by breaking down the elastin and collagen in the outer layers of dead skin, thus accelerating EXFOLIATION. (The exfoliating face scrubs you buy in the store are just a physical means of ‘scrubbing’ away the outer layers of skin.)

    This process actually causes the body to generate new skin faster and results in thicker, younger feeling skin. These peels typically cost between $150-$300 per peel, and some women get them on a regular basis as they are known to help maintain younger, healthier skin.

    Sorry – I didn’t mean for this to turn into a plug for chemical peels, but just wanted to drive the point that salicylic acid is actually GOOD for your skin.

  38. sodium says:

    “…salicylic acid is actually GOOD for your skin.”

    Not if you’re allergic to it, jennylane.

    Don’t try to pretend that these things are black and white, good or bad, etc. People’s reactions vary and people just need to test things out, and educate themselves about other people’s experiences. Mindless rhetoric does not help.

  39. marlowgs says:

    You already have the perfect lip balm – natural skin oil. Just transfer some to your lips with your finger. Within a few days the addiction is broken.