There's an old urban legend that states that the makers of lip balm (Carmex, specifically), add ground-up fiberglass to their product. The glass irritates people's lips, causing them to feel like they need to apply the balm again and again. There's another urban legend that states that lip balm interferes with the moisture sensors in the lips, causing lips to become dry and requiring more lip balm to be applied. Neither of these urban legends is true. Carmex debunks the fiberglass myth on their website
, and the moisture sensor one is false because there are no such thing as moisture sensors in the lips. (At least, not ones that regulate the moisture levels of the lips.)
However, an Associated Press article
points out that many lip balms contain salicylic acid or other irritants, and that these additives could encourage repeated use, thereby lending some substance to the charge that lip balm is physically addictive:
Dr. Monte Meltzer is the chief of dermatology at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore. He says lip balm often includes ingredients that cause a tingling, such as salicylic acid, phenol and menthol. Some of these are exfoliants that cause lips to peel. In turn, the lips become thinner and less able to protect against the elements. So people need to apply again, and the vicious cycle continues.
Carmex, in its defense, tries to make out as if salicylic acid is a mild, non-irritating chemical, pointing out that it's "closely related to aspirin." However, I don't see why its relationship to aspirin is relevant since salicylic acid obviously does dry out your skin (which is why it's used in acne medicine).
However, even if lip balm isn't physically addictive, I know that it's definitely psychologically addictive, because my wife is totally addicted to the stuff. (I try to tell her that if her lips feel dry, she should drink more water, but she doesn't listen.) For those who are hooked on the stuff, Lip Balm Anonymous
can offer some help.