Can I confess something? I'm addicted to popping zits and blackheads. Like, very addicted. It's something I can't control and, in my defense, something I that do without any prejudice. They could be on me, on one of my relatives, on a boyfriend, on coworkers, on a stranger: no matter where, if there's a red or yellow dot, I will want to pop it. Of course I control myself to avoid unpleasant situations, but it's a daily battle.
I thought I was the only one with this obsession and that I needed psychiatric treatment until, one fine day, I discovered a vast universe of videos on YouTube in which doctors popped the diverse disgraces out of our complexions. I recognized right away a very specific kind of "pornography" that satisfied me—and also satisfied thousands of people: well produced, shot and edited skin explosions.
The videos I watch the most are from the channel of American dermatologist Sandra Lee. She has almost 300,000 subscribers on YouTube and more than 500,000 views. Her audience comes together to watch blackheads, zits, and cysts being extracted from her patients, with different degrees of grossness and medical difficulty. Her Instagram, @drpimplepopper, is also a hit: 230,000 give their opinions about upcoming videos and tag their friends for comments. Dr. Lee recognizes this "fetish" and responds to the request of her followers—affectionately nicknamed "popaholics"—with videos detailing each extraction with proper quality and framing.
But where does this fascination come from?
I had to investigate.
The first thing I concluded was that scholars don't discuss this subject a lot—out of prejudice, I thought. But there are surveys such as the ones on Medical Daily, which list a few possible explanations for this strange pleasure.
The first theory is that we enjoy watching pimples being popped because we like to see something disgusting happening at a good distance from us and that, in some way, we are attracted to feeling negative sensations. Another theory, supported by the actual Dr. Lee, is that these videos generate an Autonomous Sensorial Meridian Response (ASMR), which could be translated in layman's terms as "cerebral orgasm."
ASMR is a term that translates a pleasant sensation of tingling that we feel in the head or in the spine in response to visual, hearing or cognitive stimulus. The stimulus can vary from simply hearing the noise of rain to the calm sensation of watching Lenny Kravitz's dick pop out of his leather pants.
This explanation, while not as widespread among scientists, makes a lot of sense when we apply it to the success of Sandra Lee's videos. She says that some followers watch the content in order to be able to relax and go to sleep.
There's a feeling of closure that can help to alleviate some of the stress of those who are prone to obsessive compulsions, she told Motherboard. "I know that a lot of people with Dermatilomania, who feel compelled to poke their skin, watch my videos to be able to keep their hands away from [themselves]."
The compulsion to pop any acne that appears on our skin is, obviously, connected to anxiety. But to really enjoy watching the extraction videos is different, explains Geraldo Magela, a dermatologist and advisor in the Department of Cosmetic Dermatology at the Brazilian Society of Dermatology. "The wish to watch these videos goes well beyond human curiosity, from the fact of being curious to know what is happening in our body, to wanting to watch something different."
But is it all related to curiosity and the emotional factor? Speaking to Dr. Lee, I quoted from a portion of Charles Bukowski's Women, in which the author describes his relation with the sculptress Linda King who would climb on top of his body and pop zits, feeling a lot of pleasure and an indescribable voluptuousness. From an excerpt, "It was a sexual thing, sort of. You know, climb on top of somebody, that whole thing." Would it be that the sensation from seeing these things could get to be a sort of a turn-on?
Dr. Lee agreed in part with this theory. "Maybe that happens, but in a way that this sexual satisfaction exists in the most mundane things around us. Feet, chairs and even rubber gloves, anything can become a fetish, but I believe that this is not the case for the majority of my followers. It's just something interesting to watch that makes people feel satisfied."
Her videos are well-produced and professional, she says—people like them because "it's a doctor who does these procedures in a sterilized clinic with anesthetics.There's no shaky camera, no removals without gloves, no shouting and also no dirty instruments." Her videos are calm and pain-free.
Watching Dr. Lee in action is almost relaxing—and a little funny as well. She tends to ask about her patients' lives and make cute comments, even during the extraction of a gigantic cyst or an infinite blackhead. All with her patients' previous consent.
Some of Dr. Lee's followers have even developed crushes on her patients.
"People started 'to know' many of my patients and even to fall in love with a few, like Dr. Wilson and Pops," she said. "I think it's important to do this kind of thing to follow the improvements of my patients' skin and to allow people to get to know a little bit more about my life and my patients', and also for my followers to feel connected."
Passions and turn-ons for pimples aside, Dr. Lee and Magela don't recommend removing our protuberances on our own. "The risks of manipulating at home is to mark the skin in a permanent way, infect it, or create abscesses that will need antibiotics to heal. Or even a visit to the hospital if it gets out of control," she warns.
"The correct way is to treat them with facial cleaning products recommended by the dermatologist and, if necessary, the extraction must be done in the correct environment by the appropriate professional, where there will be no risk of contamination," Magela recommends.
So you got it, right? If you have the wish to pop, just press play on the videos of Dr. Pimple Popper's channel and relax. My suggestion is Dr. Lee's favorite video, a removal of a pilar cyst. "It came out of my patient in one piece as if it were a dental abscess and I was able to catch it before it hit the ground," she said. "It was really fun!"
This article was translated from Motherboard Brasil.