clips of exploding cysts four million views on YouTube

Behind the internet's fascination with pimple popping


Thirty four million views on YouTube; 30 million views; 23 million views. Not figures for music videos, or cats playing the piano, or even celebrities reading mean tweets, but clips of exploding cysts, unplugged blackheads and, reader – I’m sorry to have to tell you – botfly extractions.

Welcome to the world of “popping”. To Generation Xers, popping might be more familiar as the funk dance that came out of California in the 70s – as in body-popping – but in the age of internet, it speaks to two hours spent down a YouTube clickhole of pus and screams.

Popping is seeping across the internet, burying under our collective skin, oozing tens of thousands of likes and clicks.

Not only are there dedicated YouTube channels (YouTube’s Greatest Cysts; Cyst.Blackhead.Acne.Bursting) and an active and enthusiastic subreddit (/r/popping), but there are websites and forums, the sole aim of which are to provide popping aficionados with their hit of zits.

I want to say 'euw gross'. I want to wretch
There are even popping celebrities – including Dr. Pimple Popper (“Blackhead Queen”) and Dr. Vikram Yadav (“The King of Comedones”). Online awards are handed out, best-of roundups created.

I want to say euw, gross. I want to wretch in disgust. But, I’m afraid that, well … my name is Hannah, and I’m a popaholic. And the above numbers are testament to the fact that I am not alone.

Who, among us, can honestly say they have never squeezed a spot? Who has never been frustrated by one of those under-the-skin chin lumps, impervious to zinc oxide? Who doesn’t look at the pore strip after it has been peeled from the nose?

There could be worse things to be into, right? Crystal meth perhaps, or water-boarding.


Does everyone have on their safety glasses?’
The appeal of these videos doesn’t just stop at the lancing of cysts (closed sacs made up of pus, fat, keratin or fluid – I’m so sorry), or even different types of cysts, in which I have become well-versed: ganglion, sebaceous, epidermoid.

A spectrum exists. Some people graduate from, say, whiteheads to abscesses. Before crossing genres to watching the removal of botflies, or impacted earwax, or the tweezing of ingrown hairs.

There’s a lot of debate in the popping “community” about what people are into; judgment even. Tonsil stones? Dude, that’s fucking disgusting. But more often there’s a kind of whatever you’re into acceptance. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Rare for the internet.

The cyst has a name, which is common
I have no idea what started my own fascination with watching cyst-popping, but I remember what tipped the scales: Operation Kill George.

(“Oh wow, thank you for the reminder! That is a classic that I have not watched in a while” says Chris Azzari, founder of PopThatZit.com, when I contact him for this piece.)

I’ll try to explain: Operation Kill George is the sole upload of the YouTube channel ProjectKillGeorge, as if its owner posted it in 2012, saw the response and thought: my work here is done.

George follows the tropes of a specifically popular kind of cyst video. The cyst has a name, which is common. The film, which is almost 10 minutes long, starts with an intro to rival Apocalypse Now, and is backed with dramatic music.

In this case, the song is by Alexandre Desplat, a composer better known for cinematic soundscapes. There’s something about a popping video set to the music of a man who recently scored The Imitation Game which I approve of.

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