Why is popping spots so satisfying and addictive?

Why is popping spots so satisfying and addictive?

Every single person on this earth at one time or another has popped a spot.

I don’t care who you are, where you have been or how much you deny it, but popping a zit is a universal experience we have all embarked upon.

It is single-handedly one of the most satisfying and addictive exploits available to humans.

However, we are told time and time again not to do it.

Whether it be skin experts on TikToks or dermatologists, zit popping is frowned upon.

Sadly, for the poppers amongst us, this knowledge won’t prevent us from pricking, prodding and poking our faces.

So, why is it so satisfactory and addictive? And at what point does our compulsion become a problem?

Mehmet Göker, Dermatology Specialist at Vera Clinic says popping spots is gratifying because each time you do it dopamine is released.

‘It’s very common that people find the experience addictive,’ Mehmet says. ‘This is due to the dopamine released after popping a spot. Dopamine is a happy hormone and after popping spots, some people experience the sensation of pleasure and relief.

‘It is also highly satisfying for many knowing they have accomplished squeezing the spot. It’s like they have fixed a problem.’

Mehmet explains that extracting zits can and will make skin problems worse.

‘Although, it is highly tempting, you’re interfering with your skin’s natural healing mechanism causing extra scarring and infection,’ he notes. ‘Squeezing can also push bacteria and pus deeper into the skin, which might cause more swelling and redness. 

Additionally, celebrity skin expert Marie Reynolds says popping spots will actually lead to more appearing.

‘A spot is a build up of mature skin cells, sweat and bacteria and they thrive in an anaerobic state in the follicle,’ she explains. ‘By picking the skin or extracting in an incorrect way, it can break the follicle wall and reinfect the neighbouring follicle. This is why sometimes after popping a spot, another appears.’

While Marie notes there is a correct method to extracting spots, you should never do it yourself.

‘It is not advised,’ she states. ‘If it is really bothering you, seek help from a professional.’

When does it become an obsession?

Because of it’s addictive nature, spot popping can be a risky game. Often it becomes obsessive.

Dr Catherine Borysiewicz Consultant Dermatologist at the Cadogan Clinic explains it can be become a condition.

‘Obsession territory occurs in severe cases where people develop a skin-picking disorder also known as acne excoriee, which is a form of OCD,’ she says.

‘It is characterised by excessive picking at the skin which can cause psychological and emotional damage as well as significant damage to the skin.

‘There are many things you can do to try to help yourself, and we are all guilty of picking at spots, but if you are picking at your skin incessantly, if it’s causing serious damage to your skin and if it is affecting your daily life, it’s important you seek help to try to break the cycle.

‘In this case, seek help from a skin expert and a psychologist.’

To prevent and treat spots, Dr Borysiewicz says there are some key ingredients to look out for.

How to prevent and treat spots

‘As a general rule, be gentle with your skin, don’t aggravate or damage it by picking or squeezing spots or over exfoliating,’ she advises.

‘Avoid harsh products that further strip and imbalance the natural oils of the skin and its microbiome.

‘Some key ingredients to consider include Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA). AHAs are water soluble molecules that work on the surface of the skin to loosen and release dead skin cells on the top layers of the skin as ‘chemical exfoliators’. 

‘BHAs are also effective chemical exfoliants which can loosen the upper layers of the skin to smooth texture. They are also oil soluble and able to penetrate into pores, taking this exfoliant activity to a deeper level. They are also antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. These features make them fantastic for people with acne prone skin.’

She continues: ‘Retinol promotes cell turnover and improves the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and uneven skin tone. I recommend these products to all my patients with concerns about texture or post acne scarring.

‘Meanwhile, benzoyl peroxide is an ingredient commonly used to treat acne. It has an antiseptic effect and reduces the presence of bacteria on the skin. It can be used as a treatment gel or cream or a face wash which are all available over the counter at a strength of 5%.’

Finally, Dr Borysiewicz explains spots are always triggered by something internal or external and it’s vital to get to the bottom of the issue if you want spot free skin.

‘Everyone will and has experienced occasional spots which will flare up and settle down with time,’ she says. ‘But it is always good to know where the aggravation is coming from so the temptation to pop spots can go away too.

‘Spots can be caused by internal triggers such as hormones and external triggers such as occlusive make up, skin care products, environmental triggers, pollution or high humidity environments.

‘Dietary factors can also play a part, especially very high dairy intake.

‘And medication triggers, as some tablets can cause severe acne eruptions.

‘As always, it’s important to seek medical advice when seeking these answers.’

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