As you can see in the above chart from Google trends, interest in “pimple popping” was virtually non-existent until a few years ago. Since then, the demand has skyrocketed from the trenches of internet subculture into a mainstream form of entertainment. There’s even a reddit community with a quarter-million subscribers,r/popping, dedicated to sharing homemade pimple popping videos.
The craze began when Dr. Lee posted her first skin extraction video in 2014. She struck gold—in the form of pus and blood. Her videos became so popular that TLC offered her a reality TV show,Dr. Pimple Popper, in 2018.
But the question remains: Of all the guilty pleasures to indulge in, why watch somebody get gunk extracted from their skin?
The Psychology of Pimple-Popping Popularity
Being mesmerized by bodily fluids getting squeezed out of clogged pores might seem taboo. But as it turns out, there’s a physiological basis for why millions of people are “popaholics.”
Here are three explanations:
It’s 100% normal to have an urge to remove bumps or impurities from your own skin. In fact, it can even give you a small hit of dopamine. That’s why watching someone else pop a pimple can trigger a similar sense of satisfaction.
“Some people may get a sense of control and satisfaction that they are ‘treating’ themselves,” says Abigail Cline, M.D., Ph.D. of the Center for Dermatology Research at the Wake Forest School of Medicine.
Just like watching a horror movie or riding a roller coaster, pimple-popping videos give people a rush without any real threat of danger or illness. Having someone dig into a cyst, blackhead, or pimple on your body probably wouldn’t be pleasant. But a stranger? Dig away.
“Negative sensations are interesting, particularly when you're in a context where they can't hurt you,” says Nina Strohminger, author ofThe 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.”
Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR)
Dr. Lee says that many of her viewers report a euphoric tingling sensation known as ASMR when they watch her videos. Put simply, ASMR is like an orgasm for your brain that can be induced by pleasurable sights, sounds, or smells.
“There is something hypnotic about pimple popping,” says Lee. “Sometimes when I upload my own videos I find myself watching certain parts over and over.”
Leave it to the pros