Lips Are Sealed

Some can't lick an addiction to balms

November 03, 2008|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,jill.rosen@baltsun.com

He thought about it all the time. He had to have it. If he went too long without it, his need for a fix consumed him.

This wasn't about drugs or alcohol or cigarettes. Not even checking his e-mail.

Kevin C. was a lip balm addict. A sweaty, obsessed, quivering addict.

So much so that he founded Lip Balm Anonymous.

He's clean now.

"It's been about 13 years, six months and two days," says Kevin Crossman, who will share his full name now that he's gotten past the shame. "I went cold turkey."

Crossman is just one of millions who are, let's just say, quite attached to their lip balm. According to ACNielsen Co., sales of lip balms grew last year to more than $378 million.

Dr. Marcia Driscoll, a clinical associate professor of dermatology at the University of Maryland, says lip balm addiction is real - albeit a bit surprising.

She said she recently asked some residents on her staff about it and three of them pulled lip products out of their pockets.

She said to herself, "This might be more common than I believe."

Indeed.

On Facebook there are 192 groups dedicated to lip balm, many of them addiction-oriented. They include: "I Think I Might Die Without Lipgloss, ChapStick or Some Form of Lip Balm," "Lip Balm Appreciation Guild," "I forgot my lip balm, my life is over!" "I Think I'm Addicted to Lip Balm," and "Addicted to lip balm like CRACK."

Balm companies, well-aware of people's predilections, have started packaging the tubes in packs of two or three to capitalize on what's often an impulse purchase, says Drug Store News.

Crossman, who's a Web site manager in San Francisco, says his addiction started with cherry-flavored ChapStick. It tasted good and felt nice on his lips. "It wasn't very cool to have pinkish lips, but I couldn't help it," he says, adding that before he quit, he was using dozens of times a day and that his lips felt naked without it.

Lipbalmanonymous.com hit a nerve. People from all over the world have visited it, and though Crossman hasn't been actively updating it for years, people are still tracking him down to talk about it.

Even so, Driscoll doesn't think there needs to be so much drama associated with chapped lips, which is an issue she deals with a lot as a dermatologist. She estimates about 80 percent of her cases are women.

Unfortunately for balm addicts, causes for the chapping of lips come from all corners.

First, wind, sun, cold and dry air can wreak havoc with the lips. It's a problem that can strike any time of year, but particularly during the colder months when the air is chilly and dry.

Driscoll also points the finger at lip licking.

"You get a little dryness, you start licking and you could end up with dermatitis of the lip, which can spread all around the mouth," she says.

According to the Mayo Clinic, breathing with an open mouth is a trigger, as is dehydration.

But Driscoll thinks the reason so many women suffer chapped lips is poor cosmetic choices. In fact, she blames cosmetics above all else.

In lipsticks, glosses, moisturizers and even seemingly medicinal balm, she says there are numerous ingredients with the potential to irritate.

One of the most common allergens in general, not just for the lips, are the fragrances that have invaded all sorts of products. Culprits, Driscoll says, include laundry detergents that come with the aroma of everything from lavender to a spring breeze, the endless list of scented soaps and lip glosses that people want to eat, infused with aromas like pumpkin cheesecake, tropical fruit and bubble gum.

It's also possible that chapped lips are a symptom of something else - often a more pervasive skin ailment. Those with sensitive skin, with tendencies toward dermatitis or eczema also tend to get chapped lips, Driscoll says.

If chapping is severe and doesn't respond to treatment, Driscoll and other doctors advise seeing a dermatologist.

LIP SERVICE FACTS

What does a normal case of chapped lips look like?:

Usually the lips are red and they're flaking or scaly. Sometimes there's cracking. Patients describe pain, especially when consuming foods with a lot of acid such as tomatoes or orange juice.

Recommended treatments:

Aquaphor and Vaseline: Dr. Marcia Driscoll, a clinical associate professor of dermatology at the University of Maryland, recommends Aquaphor an over-the-counter treatment. The gooey ointment, without fragrance or irritating additives, comes in a tube. She also endorses Vaseline, or any simple petroleum jelly.

Dr. Dan's Cortibalm: Dr. Dan's is a lip balm in a tube designed by a dermatologist. It contains 1 percent hydrocortisone, an active ingredient to help healing that's not found in Aquaphor or Vaseline. The brand isn't easily available but people can order it at drdanslipbalm.com.

Sunscreen: Doctors and the Mayo Clinic recommend people apply lip balm with sunscreen before going outdoors. The sun's rays are as damaging in the winter as they are in the summer.

Hydrate: Drink plenty of fluids and consider using a humidifier.

Avoid: Driscoll advises people steer clear of balms with phenol, lanolin, parabin and anything with a fragrance or a "botanical." "People can have allergies to plant ingredients." Phenol, which is found in some balms, gives a soothing effect at first, but it also is an irritant that promotes peeling of the skin, she says.

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