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Self-proclaimed lip-balm addicts need their fix

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Many lip balm addicts feel the need to acquire new salves frequently. Carrie Baum from New York estimates she has 200 lip balms in her bedside drawer (above).

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Though doctors debate whether lip balm is indeed addictive, constant users swear it is. Some admit to applying the salve up to every 10 minutes.

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Though doctors debate whether lip balm is indeed addictive, constant users swear it is. Some admit to applying the salve up to every 10 minutes.

Amy Sciarretto, 31, of New York City knew she was addicted when she noticed that tubes of her substance of choice where scattered around her apartment.

Jillian Carson, 19, of Houston knew things were bad when she went on a road trip without it and made her boyfriend borrow some from a stranger.

Corrie Baum, 31, also of New York knew she had a problem when her friends started calling her Corrie “Lip Balm.”

Sciarretto, Carson and Baum all say they are all addicted to lip balm and lip gloss.

“I like to have soft, moist lips at all times,” Baum said. “If my lips don’t have something on them, I feel naked.’’

Baum says she is constantly reapplying lip creams, lotions and gloss.

“It truly is an obsession, or maybe a security blanket of sorts," she said. “It’s somehow comforting to me to have lip product on.”

Fellow lip-balm addict Qian Huang, 19, of Los Angeles echoed that sentiment. “I’m addicted to that feeling. You know, when you first put on lip balm, it makes your lips feel all smooth,” she said. “Whenever my lips feel dry and I can’t seem to find my stick of lip balm in my pockets, I can’t help but lick my lips, just for it to feel moisturized.”

And these women have plenty of company. Forums and groups devoted to lip balm addicts abound on the Internet. Even though most users joke about their addiction, they admit that being without lip balm is no laughing matter.

“I am constantly applying it,” Baum said. “If I don’t have it I start to panic a little, it’s like a security issue.”

Baum says she spends well over $200 a year on the salve, while Carson says she spends about $70 to $80 for hers. Sciarretto spends about $100, but she also collects free samples as part of her job reviewing online beauty products.

“It’s America’s hidden addiction,” said Kevin Crossman, 39, founder of lipbalmanonymous.com. “I think anyone who’s used it takes it seriously because they know it’s habit-forming.”

The Web site provides a mock 12-step program for kicking the habit, which begins with admitting that one is in a state of powerlessness over lip balm. Initially begun in jest, the site has caught on, and now, 12 years later, testimonials of addiction continue to pour in.

Many say they feel good knowing they are not alone in their obsession. Others recount how they became addicted: For some it was the biting cold in the Northeast; for others it was dating another lip balm addict. Some say they want to quit; others see no harm in the addiction.

Crossman started the site in 1995, the same year that he realized he was addicted to cherry-flavored ChapStick.

“I got used to the taste and it felt good,” he said. He was applying before and after every meal, and his friends had begun to take notice. Crossman hasn’t used the product in more than 10 years.

“It’s not like heroin or meth,” he said. “But try and tell me if you go cold turkey that it’s not hard."

Carson said she wasn't sure "if the addiction is a physical thing." But, she added, "it’s pretty compulsive. I use the lip balm about 20 to 30 times a day, whenever my lips are too dry to rub against each other, or if I’m just bored.”

Amanda Cola, a 21-year-old student in Queens, N.Y., said she used lip balm about every 10 minutes.

“If my lips are really bad I put it on a little more than that,” she said. But “I noticed that as I started to use lip balm more regularly it has kept my lips less dry and soft.”

But Brad Rodu, an oral pathologist, said that the "outside of the lips is meant to be a dry surface.” People get into a loop of reapplying lip balm constantly. “Not maybe once a day after being out in the cold but every 10 minutes,” he said. If a person didn’t apply the lip balm, their lips would heal themselves, Rodu said.

Crossman said that he thought that lips built up a tolerance to the moisturizers.

“It’s a cycle: more chapped, more balm,” he said.

Then there are the urban legends that one manufacturer adds shards of glass to its lip balm, and that all lip balm manufacturers have secret files about the addictive properties of the salve that they won’t share with the public.

Crossman says such beliefs stem from a certain mystery surrounding the products.

“It’s unclear what research the lip balm companies have done, like the tobacco companies,” Crossman said.

These rumors are repeated so frequently that some leading manufacturers have set up “facts and myths” pages on their Web sites.

Carmex, under the heading “Carmex lip balm is addictive--nope,” declares, “Carmex lip balm restores the moisture to your lips, and when the climate is dry and your lips show the effect, people simply repeat the soothing, tingling and healing process Carmex lip balm provides.”

Blistex, in its frequently asked questions section, writes, “People may become habituated to the soothing feeling of having a lip care product on their lips.” But the company says that physical addiction to lip balm can’t happen.

Doctors, on the other hand, weigh the pros and cons of lip balm.

Some people apply lip balm too frequently, and if they get an irritation or minor infection in the lips, lip balm will exacerbate it, Rodu said. “If they get an infection, the lip balm seals it in,” he said.

But Rodu says such complications are rare.

“If you’re having problems with weather, go ahead and use it,” Rodu said. “It’s not any great problem; moderation is key.”

Nonetheless, many users are adamant that addiction to lip balm is all too real.

“Who are you going to believe?” Crossman asked. “The people who say it’s not addictive or the people who’ve suffered?”

E-mail: hjc2114@columbia.edu