WARNING: This post contains images that some readers may find graphic.
Squeezing your own spots is one of life’s strangely satisfying pleasures, if not mildly gross. But, watching other people’s zits and blackheads being squeezed? Well, that’s a whole other level of grossness. And it’s one that happens to have a cult following of millions of eager viewers. So, what exactly makes these videos so mesmerizing?
LA-based dermatologist Sandra Lee — better known to us as Dr. Pimple Popper — is the queen of the popping scene. Lee has tapped into this widespread and voracious appetite for clips of unplugged blackheads, exploding cysts, and oozy spots. Since starting her Instagram two years ago, she’s gained over 1 billion YouTube views and amassed 2.3 million Instagram followers.
Dr. Pimple Popper initially set out to show what her life as a dermatologist was like. But she’s since found internet fame for her videos of extractions and procedures. “I quickly noticed that when I posted a blackhead extraction video, there was a jump in attention and likes,” Lee continues. When she came across Reddit’s r/popping subreddit — a community dedicated to pimple and cyst popping — she discovered the extent of the popping subculture of people wanting to see extractions and pimple pops. “I thought to myself, wow, I could be their queen, since I see this type of stuff on almost a daily basis.”
A simple scroll through the comments on her posts will reveal the depth of enthusiasm for zit popping. “Blackheads are my fav,” writes one viewer. “So satisfying omfg,” writes another. “It’s disgusting but I love these videos idk why,” admits another. The word “satisfying” is a particularly common response among viewers.
Lee can certainly relate to the satisfaction her viewers feel. “There is definitely something satisfying and cleansing about watching a cyst being popped out or blackheads being removed,” she says. “I have heard that it can relieve people with certain conditions like dermatillomania that make them want to pick their own skin. And, it can be therapeutic and relaxing to some that enjoy watching before bed or at the end of a long day.”
“I just feel a sense of relief in a weird way,” says Claudia DeCicco, a diehard Dr. Pimple Popper fan who spends hours on end indulging her zit squeezing obsession, particularly enjoying footage of blackheads and cysts. “As she goes in and starts squeezing, in my head I’m saying: “YESSSSS GET THAT BASTARD.”
“I love those videos. They are totally gross but it’s really cathartic to watch!” says another fan, Kate Wilson, explained her love of pimple-popping videos.
Many of Lee’s viewers also report an autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), a unique, pleasurable feeling triggered by specific digital media stimuli. Those experiencing ASMR say that the sounds in Lee’s videos cause an intense tingling sensation on their skin.
Experts think that the response to Lee’s videos are linked to typical human responses to feelings of disgust. “Disgusting things tend to capture the attention pretty easily, and (surprisingly) it’s been found that people are more likely to pass along and tell their friends about something that’s disgusting versus something that isn’t,” Daniel Kelly, assistant professor of philosophy at Purdue University, told Cosmopolitan.
The fact that viewers are watching something negative happening to someone else also has an appeal. “Negative sensations are interesting, particularly when you’re in a context where they can’t hurt you,” said Nina Strohminger, author of The Hedonics of Disgust. “You’re probably not going to step in dog shit just for the experience, but maybe you’d click on a link to watch someone else doing it.”
Pimple popping videos continue to divide the internet. They’re gross but captivating. They bring feelings of almost orgasmic pleasure and feelings of absolute disgust. And, much like that zit on your face, they ain’t going away anytime soon.