Pimple popping is my love language. There are few acts more gratifying than draining zit juice from my own face. I am equally obsessed with watching others’ extractions — and so are the over 4 million other people who follow California-based dermatologist Sandra Lee, a.k.a. Dr. Pimple Popper, on YouTube. With video names like “A Forehead Cyst That Spit on Me,” Lee’s page is dermatology PornHub. But why, exactly, are we so drawn to pimple popping?
A fixation with the convergence of repulsion and pleasure is hardwired into our brains, says Diana Fleischman, a clinical sexologist and senior lecturer at the University of Portsmouth, in England, who specializes in the science of disgust. “When you pick a scab or peel something off you, you feel relief in the same way that you feel relief after having sex,” Fleischman explains. “It’s not sexual gratification per se, but it’s a similar sense of relief and a similar chemical response.”
Here, 14 fearless zit-snorkelers divulge their most horrific conquests, including a hallucinogen-fueled excavation, strange artisinal odors, and ill-timed bursts.
As a nurse, I was assisting my supervising physician in a cyst excision. Typically we try our best to keep the cyst intact in its perfect little sac to cut it out but sometimes they pop in the removal process. The doctor went to make the first incision and a huge shot of greenish yellow liquid shot directly into her face. I quickly grabbed some tissue to dab it off her mouth and eyes. The look on her face was pure horror.
The Annual Ass Pimple
I am 100 percent convinced that my obsession with unappealing bodily functions is hereditary. My mom used to line us up weekly to clean our ears and pick our pimples. She was always super disappointed with my small pores and lack of earwax.
At about 21, I was blessed with adult acne. Then I started to develop an annual ass pimple. I take yoga regularly so I can normally get it myself but recently my boyfriend of two years heard me fall over in the bathroom and came in to catch me ass up with a needle. I decided it was a now or never, ride or die moment and told him. He shook his head because he doesn’t believe in popping them but knew it was happening with or without him. He conceded and we sanitized the needle.
I lifted my leg on the counter in our least sexual experience with that position … and it was anti-climatic because it wasn’t ready yet. I took it as a sign to FaceTime my best friend so she could help me do it myself.
Couples Who Extract Together, Stay Together
My husband and I find a lot of joy in getting a good squeeze in on each other’s bods. Nowadays, we rarely hit the jackpot. But there was one so grand and exciting that we talk about it even to this day. A few months into our relationship, I was sitting on my husband’s butt like a seat as he was lying on his stomach shirtless. I began to analyze his back to see if there were any treats. I said, “You have this really weird mole though, you need to get it checked out.” I did a pinch of the area, just in case and noticed something started rising within the pore.
With a hard squeeze, a tube (which felt like half the size of my pinky nail) proceeded to slowly come out. It was rock hard and the first fifth of it was completely black. It seemed to go on forever. When it finally finished, all that was left in his back was a dark gaping hole. No blood or anything. We still reminisce about the happiness we felt when we found the crater. Every once and a while, I hopelessly squeeze around the black hole, but hardly anything reappears. It just serves as a reminder of one of the happiest days of our lives.
My Forehead Looked Like a Crunch Bar
Back when I was in high school, my skin was single-handedly out to ruin me. I used to say that my forehead looked like the bottom of a Crunch chocolate bar. I was desperate to make the pimples go away so I did literally, everything. I used toothpaste and witch hazel to dry them out but that really only made it worse and left really bad scarring behind. I would pop them too. I would use my nails, knuckles, and even that little pimple popping tool.
Once I had one that was so big it was basically a third eye right. I was patient. When it was finally ready, I squeezed and heard that satisfying “pop” sound that meant I got it. But I was horrified when I saw that it was oozing a continuous stream of black pus. It went on for like way too long and it just kept coming. I never knew my face was that dirty.
Beware of Curious Odors
My boyfriend felt some pain in his derriere and decided to ask me if I would pop the pimple right under his left butt cheek. He also had this ingrown white pimple on his back he wouldn’t pop. I finally convinced him to let me me pop it since he wouldn’t.
Once it was popped, a horrific odor came out that made me dry heave and almost vomit. That stubborn white ingrown pimple came back and I will never touch it again. Just looking at it gives me PTSD.
I Performed a Gruesome Botched Surgery
In college, my acne was made so much worse by amphetamines, THC, and ecstasy. One cystic pimple, in particular, grew into a dark aubergine bubble on the right side of my nose that I picked at on an almost daily basis. It stayed there for almost a year but it went away shortly before I graduated college.
The following summer, I was living at home, and therefore had switched to a more mellow combination of Dilaudid and mid-level scotch. I had started to notice an orb growing in the right corner of my mouth. One afternoon, the ball began to discolor and turn dark. I slurred, “Never again” thinking about my previous cystic friend and vowed to get rid of this lip globe once and for all.
With a Steuben rocks-glass in one hand and a pair of Tweezermans in the other, I performed a gruesome botched surgery. The next morning, I walked down to partake in my usual breakfast of coffee and opioid abuse, when my mother shrieked. The right side of my face had ballooned. She immediately made a dermatologist appointment for me.
The aging man looked at my face and gave a knowing, sympathetic look to what he thought was the average run-of-the-mill acne extracting go-getter that had gone too far. He took his scalpel to my lip and to both of our horror, a hardened pearl revealed itself. His eyes widened, and he told me he had never really seen anything quite like it. I feigned ignorance. It was rushed to the lab only to come back as benign. As I write this, the indented scar that still lives on my mouth pulsates and mutters, “You fucking idiot.”
We Had to Sterilize the Room
I see a lot of cysts, but one in particular definitely stands out. The patient was in his early 30s and had a tender lump on his cheek that had been there for years but recently grown. You could see it clearly sticking out from the cheek — it was the size of a cherry tomato.
As I gave him a pinch of numbing and opened it, it was so full of oil that the pressure shot the cyst contents against the wall and even the ceiling of the exam room. (Picture a Dr. Pimple Popper video on steroids.) We had to have the maintenance crew come in to sterilize the room and replace the ceiling tiles. The good news is that we fully drained the cyst and the patient left the office a happy camper.
The Team Effort
I had spinal fusion surgery about ten years ago and there is this pore that lives right on the edge of my scar. I blame the scar for creating the blackhead. (Though it’s a small price to pay for a straight back.) At first, my sister helped. She tried sterilizing needles, tweezers, and even nail clippers at one point. Eventually, I had to go to the dermatologist and get it removed.
The thing about this pore is it needs continual maintenance so that I don’t have to see a dermatologist. Every couple months, I turn to friends to extract it for me. It’s a weird test of friendship to find someone who finds great joy in popping things. It’s a good blackhead to extract if you like that sort of thing.
Before they both moved away, two of my friends would regularly prepare their tweezers and iPhone flashlight while I got half naked for extraction. They were probably my favorites — they took it seriously and would give me a play-by-play, and then show me the blackhead when it was over.
Always Delete the Evidence
I have a recurring pimple inside my ear I have to try and pop every so often. Why? I don’t know why. I’m very, very clean. Anyway, the problem is, you can’t really see it, you can just feel it, so whenever I’m in the process of de-pimpling, I have to take lots of iPhone flash pictures of the area to monitor my progress and make sure I really knock it out.
The last time I did this, I was so exhausted that by the time I finished sterilizing my tools and performing surgery, I completely forgot to delete the evidence. It didn’t take long for a friend to find the sea of bloody inner ears in my camera roll and interrogate me for it.
I Don’t Know How Much Toilet Paper We Went Through
My freshman year of high school this weird red bump appeared on my arm. It was pretty big and hurt like hell if anyone hit it. Surprisingly, it got hit a lot. My friends thought it was funny to slug me on my left arm when joking around because they knew it was my weak spot. For over a year, that red bump was just a bump. No white head. I got used to the fact that I had this sensitive massive bump on my arm and there was nothing I could do about it.
Finally, during my sophomore year of high school I was getting ready to go on a college tour. I got out of the shower and toweled off when the towel brushed against the zit. It had popped and the pus ran out so quickly. There was so much pus that instead it just drained down my arm. I don’t know how much toilet paper we went through, but the whole process of squeezing out easily took over 30 minutes. The blood was another 30 minutes. By the end of it, I had missed the start time for the college tour. We went to a dermatologist and discovered I had some gland issue and would need to take Accutane.
Cheese Will Never be the Same
My husband and I were laying in bed watching a movie when he noticed a black dot on his chest. We both felt it and realized there was content beneath this tiny hole, and then he graciously let me do the honors of squeezing. It was a sick pleasure. As I squeezed a thin strand of whitish-yellow string cheese started spiraling out, and just kept going.
The smell hit us both at the same time — it was like a pungent rotten Brie. Needless to say, it brought us to a whole new level of intimacy.
It Took an Hour and a Half
I went to a dermatologist and she realized I had a dry scalp so she prescribed me a topical steroid. I followed the directions, but the next morning my entire forehead was broken out in white comedones. I now had 20–35 pimples on my forehead. I had very short hair at the time so my forehead was on full blast.
I reached out to all these facialists to see who could help because it was painful, but also I didn’t want to leave marks. I went to see Christine Chin and she spent an hour and half popping every single pimple.
Pimples and Hallucinogens Don’t Mix
I was in Joshua Tree for a friend’s birthday weekend. She had invited a bunch of “cool” people I didn’t know and was trying to set me up with her boyfriend’s friend. A few days prior, I had felt a cystic zit beginning to form on my cheek. The night we arrived, it began to surface. It was HUGE and so painful that it felt like it was throbbing.
The next day, we went to a pool party and were offered some chocolates with mushrooms in it. It made me feel totally blissful and carefree. After the party, we all showered and I knew this was my chance to assess the situation. A whitehead had finally formed and my skin was all nice and steamed from my shower so I felt like it was prime popping time. Huge mistake. The thing began to bleed profusely and it wouldn’t stop.
My mushroom trip also began to go south. I also could not look away from the mirror. My eyes were glued to it and the indescribable weirdness that one feels when looking into a reflective surface while on hallucinogens really took hold. I knew time was passing but I didn’t have any perception of it. All I could do was stare in horror at the grotesque situation unfolding on the center of my face, laugh/cry/dissociate, and frantically text my best friend who lived 3,000 miles away.
The Surprise-Party Pimple
I was at the critical two month point in dating. I was meeting my crush at my friend’s house party. I had on a burgundy Burberry suit with low-waisted dress pants, to which I had lifted an extra-high bikini pair of Jockey underwear to almost my belly button. I paired with it with a one shoulder asymmetrical Mugler crop top and studded belt for a look that could only be described as Eddie Redmayne x Mark Wahlberg x Avril Lavigne. But I also had a legit quarter-size mound of a zit in the middle of my forehead. Huge! Like I had walked into a door or something.
I’ve struggled with acne my whole life but had never seen anything like this. There was no pain, seemingly no way to pop it, and I truly felt like my face had gone rogue on me. I had no bangs to speak of, so I tried doing one of those hair looks where you flip everything over the side the way that Alice Dellal used to.
Fortunately, when I found my crush, now boyfriend, he was outside in the pitch dark front yard, and he didn’t see it until the next morning. Of course, unbeknownst to me, I was to meet his sister, and nephews for the first time that day. I had to meet them undercover in this Burberry spring/summer 2012 Prorsum hat which was the only thing I could find that would cover it completely.