Available at every drugstore, convenience store and grocery store in the country, ChapStick is one of the most popular lip balms ever made. A staple for almost 100 years, these sweet, flavored wax sticks command over 55% of the lip balm market. Second-place competitors Burt’s Bees and Carmex each have about 30%.
How ChapStick Began
The ChapStick story began in Lynchburg, Virginia. In the late 1890s, pharmacist Charles Browne Fleet decided his customers needed something to soothe their chapped lips in the winter. Fleet—a successful inventor who would later create the C.B. Fleet medical products company—was known for the handmade salves and ointments he created in his shop.
His first attempt resulted in a small block made from emollients and wax. Although Fleet’s blend of ointment and medication worked, the wax block was bulky and hard to apply.
The Fleet Formula
In 1912, Fleet offered the formula to his friend John Morton, and Morton bought them for $5.00, which would be about $140 in today’s dollars. That would turn out to be a wise investment.
After tinkering around with ways to make the wax block more marketable, Morton’s wife suggested they melt the wax and then pour it into brass tubes. They attached the wax tubes to wooden sticks, which would allow users to push the product up as they used it.
The portable wax tubes were lightweight and easy to carry. The Mortons called their new product the ChapStick and registered a trademark for it. The trademark has been regularly renewed ever since.
They began making them for local stores, and they quickly realized they had hit gold with ChapStick. They founded the Morton Manufacturing Company and watched as their profits and the company grew.
In 1936, the Mortons hired local artist Frank Wright, Jr., to design their logo and packaging. He designed the distinctive logo and the black and white tube. ChapStick still uses Wright’s original designs today.
The Mortons ran their company as a family business until 1963, when they sold it to the A.H. Robbins company. The new owners moved the company to Richmond, Virginia. It has remained there ever since.
Changes to ChapStick
ChapStick was originally only available in one flavor, but A.H. Robbins introduced new fruit flavors like cherry, strawberry and grape. Later, the company added sun protection to some ChapStick flavors.
In 2019, pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline purchased ChapStick. Through all these changes, the company has remained in Richmond, where it continues to make the familiar black and white tubes that are sold around the world.
The company has expanded ChapStick’s line into several new areas. ChapStick now makes flavors aimed at teens and flavors with popular movie tie-ins. The company also has a line of lip scrubs and lip butters, which are made from natural oils. A line of tinted, unflavored lip balms, lip moisturizers and other lip care products are also available.
Is It Addictive?
Like any popular, longstanding brand, ChapStick has been the subject of some strange conspiracies. One recurring myth is that ChapStick is addictive. Numerous articles and online forums suggest that its popularity is the result of something addictive in its formula.
The addiction idea is so persistent and widespread that one person founded the Lip Balm Anonymous group. Clearly meant to poke fun at these theories, the group’s charter said it followed the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous and offered help to those with “a desire to stop using lip balm.”
Doctors have categorically stated the balms aren’t addictive. They note that it’s possible some people have developed a habit of using them more frequently than they need to.
ChapStick’s logo has remained almost unchanged from the original 1936 version. It is a simple logo that features a black, lip-shaped oval with the word “ChapStick” in white script across it.
This design is on every tube of ChapStick lip balm. The original tubes were black with white caps, but they now appear in many colors.
In 2021, the so-called ChapStick Challenge went viral on social media. It’s not clear where it started, but the point of the challenge was to guess which flavors of ChapStick other people were using. Videos of couples completing the challenge exploded across YouTube and TikTok.
In response to the challenge, ChapStick stated, “We love that people are embracing this lip care essential.” The company also posted some of the videos on its corporate website.
ChapStick has had some memorable marketing campaigns in its history. Most of these have emphasized ChapStick’s use as a must for harsh weather. One famous campaign depicted Olympic skier Suzy Chaffee introducing herself as “Suzy ChapStick.” Others have featured Olympic skier Diana Golden and ski racer Picabo Street.
ChapStick has also expanded its range of flavors from basic fruit flavors to seasonal and specialty flavors like pumpkin pie, mango sunrise, vanilla latte and cotton candy.
ChapStick has not had to defend its trademark in court, but it has been the target of several lawsuits.
In 2019, a New York City man sued the company for the allegedly misleading claim that its ChapStick with sun protection factor (SPF) would protect lips for 8 hours. The man claimed that when he read the directions, he discovered he would have to apply the balm every two hours. He also said the product was a rip-off because ChapStick charges more for its balm with SPF.
In 2020, a San Francisco law firm filed a class action lawsuit alleging that ChapStick’s lip butters are not “all natural” as the label claims. ChapStick advertises these lip balms and butters as “100% natural” and “100% naturally sourced.” The lawsuit alleges that the products contain high amounts of synthetic, artificial and processed ingredients.
There has been no resolution of either lawsuit.
Read more on trademarking common words.
Sticking with a Formula
ChapStick found a winning formula that combined a product people liked with a simple, striking logo and portable packaging. That formula has made it one of the most recognized brands in the country for almost 100 years.