No, most chapstick is not bad for you. You can’t get addicted to it, and it’s only mildly toxic—even if the whole tube is ingested. Just be sure to check ingredients and pay attention to expiration dates.
Believe it or not, chapstick and other lip balms don't do much to moisturize your mouth. Instead, these products work by placing a wax-type seal over your lips to prevent natural moisture from escaping. This is especially beneficial during cold, windy days or during hot, dry weather when evaporation is an issue.
Even though the chapstick is not immediately moisturizing, it’s still soothing to apply. In fact, it’s so soothing that sometimes people do it in excess. You probably know at least one person who claims to be chapstick fiend. “I’m addicted!” they say, applying a fresh coat every chance they get.
But can you really be clinically addicted to chapstick? A few years ago, researchers seriously looked into the issue. Experts like Julia Tzu, M.D., clinical professor of dermatology at NYU, found that there was nothing to warrant a chemical addiction. However, psychological dependency is certainly possible... but it’s also possible for just about any person or object.
What about ingestion? Since chapstick sits on your lips, it’s reasonable to assume you might ingest some over the course of a lifetime. Could this be unknowingly eating away at your stomach lining or seeping into your bloodstream? Nope: ingested chapstick is no real cause for concern. Poison Control reports that the product is only mildly toxic. Of course, you should still 911 if a child swallows the entire tube, but it’s unlikely to result in anything more serious than an upset stomach.
So if it’s not addicting or poisonous, how else can chapstick be bad for you?
Everything you need to know to ensure your lips stay supple (and safe!) is printed on the label. Start by checking your chapstick’s ingredients. Although the balm is used to moisturize, some additives like phenol, menthol, and salicylic acid actually dry out your lips! Avoid these ingredients, and opt for the softer stuff: beeswax, cocoa butter, and shea butter.
It's especially important for those with allergies to be extra scrutinous of chapstick ingredients. If you are sensitive to bee by-products, avoid beeswax. If you have severe allergies, forego any chapstick that contains synthetic fragrance. If you don't pay attention to what's in the product, you could end up with swollen, irritated lips or worse... suffer a life-threatening allergic reaction.
Next, pay attention to expiration dates. Just like any cosmetic product or toiletry, the product does eventually go bad at some point. Some expired chapstick has been shown to grow mold or fungus! But even if the product doesn’t appear to be growing fuzz, there’s still a risk. Old chapstick tends to harbor bacteria, which can make you really sick. Don’t take any chances: toss the tube once it’s expired, starts to smell bad, or has been open for longer than two years.
Possible short-term side effects
- dry lips
- upset stomach (if ingested)
- illness or infection
Ingredients to be aware of
- salicylic acid
- synthetic fragrance
- uv protection (for spf 30+)