The stomach-turning online world of ‘popping’ We examine an online subculture forming around the world's worst boils, zits, recluse spider bites, and exotic skin conditions. Disgusting images ahead!

Human beings are gross. We’re barely-functional assemblages of fluids and bones, held together by a barrier of skin that constantly struggles with an atmosphere full of pollutants. And when that delicate membrane gets irritated, things get even grosser. So gross, in fact, that the resulting video looks like something out of horror sci-fi.

Welcome to the world of r/Popping, the Reddit destination for “pictures, videos, and stories about cysts and pimples.” Over 86,000 people subscribe to this Subreddit to see and share the nastiest boils, zits, recluse spider bites, and assorted skin conditions in grisly detail.

Here’s a warning, right off: we’re about to share some insanely disgusting images, videos, and stories in this article. If you’ve eaten any time in the last 48 hours, you might want to close this browser window and read something else.

Magnificent ingrown hair clump pulled out from popping

An explosion of pain

To really understand r/Popping, the best thing to do is look at the all-time highest rated posts, which stretch back many years. These are the pictures and clips that have galvanized the community – the classics, as it were.


(To see the full original video, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K62EDt-Ea-c and log into YouTube.)

The most popular submission in history is called “The Exorcism Of Aaron,” a video where a woman removes a cyst from her boyfriend’s face. Watching this thing is nearly ten minutes of abject horror, rendered even worse due to the eerie silence of the clip (they had to take the audio out because music was playing in the background and it kept getting flagged by YouTube). For normies like you or I, this is painful to watch. For popping enthusiasts, well…

That’s the kind of commentary you’re going to get here: people who are fascinated by the ooze, pus and other junk that comes streaming out of boils and blackheads when they’re popped. For post after post, images and videos of the human body violently rejecting infections are greeted with praise, applause, and excitement. When people post about nasty cysts or boils but don’t get a video, the community tears them apart.

Here’s the so-called “tree trunk blackhead,” another r/Popping classic oft reminisced about.

I didn’t know a “pore strip” is a thing.

Used a pore strip on my nose today. from popping

It’s not all humans. Here’s a cow getting relieved of an absolute ocean of puss.

My wife is a vet, she thinks you may appreciate this. from popping

And it’s not all blackheads or cysts, either. Have a look at the birth of this man’s mutant hair strand. I can almost see where the fascination with this stuff begins.

Sometimes I get these "mutant hairs". Behold, the miracle of birth. from popping

Popping sees over 20 posts a day, some of which get hundreds of comments and upvotes. This isn’t a tiny niche community – it’s a well-established hub for gross-outs.

Dude, see a doctor

The majority of r/Popping posts are pretty benign. But every so often, some Redditor posts a picture that’s so intensely scary that the only proper response is to demand they seek medical attention immediately.

For example, one of the most notorious happened in 2012, when a Redditor by the name of GokkunMilkshake posted a picture of his upper lip, hideously swollen, and asked “So, do you think my infection is ready to pop yet?” He’d caused the swelling by popping a zit and then letting his dog lick it, which is about the worst possible idea we’ve ever heard.

So, do you think my infection is ready to pop yet? from popping

The answer was a resounding “yes.” Thankfully, he listened to the group and went to a doctor, where he was diagnosed with MSRA, a dangerous staph infection that’s resistant to traditional antibiotics. They strapped him down and drained 4ccs of pus out of his upper lip. He updated Reddit every few hours from the hospital high on morphine, making him an r/Popping hero.

He’s not the only one, though. The main creator of popping content is a dermatologist named Sandra Lee, known online as “Dr. Pimple Popper.” On her Instagram and YouTube pages, Dr. Lee shares unsettling close-ups of her procedures. Her patients don’t seem to mind having their gross skin conditions shared – it might help that she offers services for free.

Having a laugh

One of the most interesting things about r/Popping is the sense of humor they have about their bizarre interest.

This is totally how I am with my so from popping

In addition to gross photographs of infections bursting, people also submit things that look like them. One of the most popular posts in the subreddit’s history is an animated GIF of a latte oozing a string of foam out of the top like pus spirals from a boil. Another user baked cupcakes that look like oozing cysts and blackhead-infested skin.

Keeping it sanitary

What drives people to share and consume these incredibly vile images and videos? Daniel Kelly, author of Yuck!: The Nature and Moral Significance of Disgust, argues that getting grossed out is actually a potent evolutionary reaction. We observe this unpleasant stuff as a way to warn ourselves away from infectious diseases.

Studies have also found that we’re more likely to share gross stuff than cute stuff, on the whole, so the creators of these gross things have tapped into an unconscious viral vector. We enjoy watching gross stuff because we don’t have to experience it, so by popping and lancing and otherwise mangling their blackheads, warts and boils these men and women are doing the world a service.

That said, I’m never clicking over to this subreddit again and deleting all of the links from my browser history. Even for a storied explorer of the gutter of the Internet, this was too much for me to handle.

Contributor.

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