The Reason You Can’t Stop Watching Those Pimple-Popping Videos
You know exactly what we’re talking about.
Even if you’ve never actually clicked on one, the videos are everywhere: Ticking down your Twitter feed, popping up on Facebook, or, if you actively seek them out, on your YouTube homepage. Hell, they’ve even infiltrated Instagram, which is arguably home to the “prettiest” images on the Internet. So, yeah, it’s tough to escape the pimple-popping videos that’ve taken the world by storm.
If you don’t believe us, check the stats: Dr. Pimple Popper, probably the best-known creator of zit-popping videos, currently has 1.8 million followers and counting. In fact, Dr. Pimple Popper, whose real name is Dr. Sandra Lee, actually stumbled across this phenomenon by accident.
When the Upland, CA-based derm first created her Instagram account back in 2014, she did so because she figured people might be interested to see what she did on a day-to-day basis. Then, “I noticed that when I posted a blackhead extraction video clip, there was a noticeable jump in attention, likes, and shares,” says Lee. She did a little more diggingfiguratively, in this caseand discovered the Reddit subreddit channel entitled, simply: “Popping”. That’s when she realized that people actively sought out these popping videosand, even better, that she had direct access to something that those people really wanted to see. Now, she films at least one video every day, though in some instances, she’s done over five in a single day.
Based on all the pros I interviewed for this pieceand, you know, from talking to pretty much anyone with a Facebook accountI learned that there are two types of people in this world: Those who love these videos and those who last about two seconds into them. “No ones in the grey zone,” says Amy Wechsler, M.D., a dermatologist and psychiatrist based in New York, NY. If you can’t get enough of them, you’re not alone (and it’s not weird, either).
It’s actually similar to the same desire that makes you pay money to visit haunted house or watch a horror flick. “Seeking out videos of this sort stimulates an emotional state that isn’t frequently provoked,” says Dean McKay, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Fordham University in New York who studies disgust.
If, for instance, you’re watching a derm lance and drain a giant cyst (sorry if you’re reading this before, during, or after lunch), experiencing that sense of disgust may serve as a “check” for the futureso you’ll recognize true disgust when it serves its evolutionary purpose, which is to avoid harmful contaminants. Doing it vicariously, and in small doses via these videos, gives the same terrifying thrill as bungee jumping or binge-watching American Horror Story. “A lot of disgusting imagery is also associated with fear,” explains McKay. “In the real world, we generally avoid disgusting thingsas well as things that are dangerous.”
Beyond that thrill, there’s also the feeling of satisfaction. If you’ve ever had a breakout, you might already know that popping your pimples yourself isn’t always the best idea (although if you’re going to do so, there is a right way to go about it). But just watching someone pop a pimple might actually make you feel better, as though you’re vicariously getting your own zits popped. “There’s relief associated with popping pimples, even though the product secreted is deemed disgusting,” explains McKay. It’s not exactly surprising, then, that those who love these videos also tend to suffer from acne. “I havent met anyone who watches these videos who hasnt themselves had acne,” says Wechsler. Most people who’ve dealt with breakouts have been told over the years that picking at your pimples is one of the worst things you can do to your skin. But through these videos, viewers can get the satisfaction of picking without having to deal with the repercussions.
Plus, the payoff is instant. That immediate gratificationcoming in with a huge cyst and leaving without itis part of the appeal, says Wechsler. These videos present a problem and the solution for it, all in a five or six minute clip. “Patients who have their cysts, lipomas, blackheads, and even skin cancers removed often can ask to see their tissue that is removed,” says Lee. “I think it’s often fascinating to them.” Witnessing that end-result, even through a screen, gives the viewer a sense of closure that can otherwise be hard to find.
So if you’re into these videos, there’s nothing weird or unnatural about it. You’re not a monster for going down a deep, dark, pus-filed click hole. “Many of my fans depend on them to help them relax and sleep at night, I’ve been told,” says Lee. Obviously, if you’re streaming videos for hours on end and it’s interfering with your day-to-day life, that’s more of a problem, notes Wechsler. Otherwise, consider them fair gameand don’t expect their popularity to fade anytime soon. Out of all the feedback Lee receives, “people mainly tell me to please never stop posting videos,” she says.
Just maybe don’t share them with your queasy friends. Unless you’re those kind of friends. In which case, congrats. You’ve got endless opportunities to continue grossing them out.