How a diy pimple-popping toy called the pop it pal became an internet sensation the outline

The popularity of such videos is difficult to explain. It’s part body horror, sure, but perhaps also partially based on the sense of implied relief they convey. That is, something invasive and painful being removed from a stranger’s body, so that they may heal. That, and some people just enjoy popping pimples. Billy and Summer are in the latter two categories. “I’ve always been a picker, pretty much. I enjoy doing it,” Summer says. “I would pretty much attack my husband if I see a pimple or ingrown hair or anything on him.” Billy chimes in, laughing, “It’s true.”

After Summer came up with the idea, she did a quick google search to find that, nope, nobody else had ever made a fake pimple-popping toy.

They were on to something. “I took out a notepad and we talked the whole ride home, about different ideas we had,” she says. “How to make it happen.”

Translating the appeal of pimple popping videos into a physical object was more difficult than they expected. They had no previous engineering experience. Billy was working a managerial position at Samsung at the time, while Summer is a registered practical nurse. Billy bought supplies at a craft store and began experimenting in their living room and kitchen. The initial versions weren’t very satisfying.

“I started getting in depth with like, how is a pore shaped, what creates the propulsion — like when you push on it, what happens to make the pus blow out or pop, and basically there’s a particular shape that creates that propulsion that makes it shoot,” he explains. “I had to get that shape before it would work.” He used a small bead to create a teardrop shape in his molds to replicate an actual clogged pore. The force of pushing this large reservoir of fake pus out through the smaller opening above it would result in the pus “exploding” out of the toy.

Creating the pus was even harder to figure out. After numerous failed attempts to get the consistency correct, Billy got an idea. “I went looking at how DIY chapstick was made,” Billy says. “The thing about chapstick, it’s solid enough to hold shape, but soft enough to melt when it touches your lips.”

A few days after Christmas in 2017, the experiments paid off, and they had a working prototype. They created a website and began selling their toy online, to almost instant success. Their initial excitement soon turned to dread. “For a second I was like, Oh my god, I’m going to be a millionaire overnight,” Billy says. “And then the next thing was, Holy crap, I’m going to be building these until I’m 90.”

When I finally got my own Pop It Pal in the mail, I was surprised at how repulsed it made me feel. Something about a disembodied slab of flesh sitting on my kitchen table unsettled me. Touching it is even more disturbing. It feels kind of like a dollar store dildo. When you push on its gaping pores, you can feel the hardened pus inside. Squeezing it out is simultaneously satisfying and horrifying. In other words, it worked as advertised.

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There’s the Pop-a-Zit game, in which players roll a die, and then push a giant zit-like a button until it blasts silly string pus at them. Pimple Pete features a plastic cartoon face from which a player attempts to extract rubbery pimples Operation-style while trying to avoid having pus explode in their face. Zits Pop n Play Pimples (aka Zits Ewww!) are goo-filled stickers that can be affixed to one’s face (or presumably any other body part, like — ugh — one’s genitals) and then subsequently popped to the amazement of all spectators.

Whether this pimple popping toy trend was launched by Billy and Summer, or they merely had excellent timing, is hard to say. The product was so successful that Billy had to quit his day job, and they are now both making the toys full time. As they work long days to meet demand, they’re mostly just surprised their product caught on at all. “You always hear people say the American Dream is dying, and things like that,” Billy says. “We want people to know that good things happen to normal people.”