The Real Reason You Love Watching Those Pimple-Popping Videos

What will the internet reveal about us next? How about the fact that pimple-popping videos are all the rage? There's a scientific explanation—we promise.

It sounds, well, insane: Pimple popping videos are actually popular. We asked experts, including the woman behind the craze—Dr. Pimple Popper herself—dermatologist Sandra Lee, MD, what it is about these disgusting videos that pull people in.

They’re helpful

Whatever the impulse is to watch, there’s no question the videos are popular: Dr. Lee has 2.5 million social media followers and more than 1 billion views of her videos. Some experts ascribe the fascination to taboo: “Don’t pop that pimple,” we’re told over and over by experts, which makes watching a pimple popping video a guilty pleasure. But Dr. Lee believes there’s more to it: Watching the videos seems to help people resist the urge to go at their own skin. “People who have a tendency to pick at their own skin when they are stressed say that watching my videos really helps them to keep their hands off their own skin,” she explains. (Dr. Lee is also behind the SLMD skincare line.) By the way, here’s the easiest way to get rid of a pimple.

They’re primal

Our fascination with pimple-popping videos seems to tap into our primal urge to remove things from our body that we perceive as dangerous, explains Hersha Diaz, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist. Although we know on an intellectual level that a pimple doesn’t present an actual life-or-death struggle, on a subconscious level, we absorb the spectacle of “man versus zit” as being about survival. “Once the potential ‘source of harm’ is removed,” Dr. Diaz explains, “we feel a sense of relief and the ‘feel-good’ chemical dopamine is released.”

Speaking of dopamine…

Both Dr. Lee and Dr. Diaz note that the videos have a tendency to calm the viewer. Even those with clinically-diagnosed issues such as obsessive-compulsive disorders, panic attacks, and insomnia, report feeling more relaxed and content after witnessing a pimple-popping video. Especially for people with OCD, notes Dr. Lee, the videos may provide a “sense of completion, of cleansing.” Check out this step-by-step pimple popping tutorial.

The ASMR effect

ASMR, which stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, is a feeling of euphoria that comes from certain types of repetitive sensory experiences. Dr. Lee notes that some people report feeling a bit of a “rush” from watching her videos, which she says could be attributable to witnessing “what can come out of the skin of a regular, normal, healthy human being,” or to the calming quality of Dr. Lee’s voice as she methodically performs the process. “Believe it or not, my videos are bedtime lullabies to many.”

Sharing is caring

“We may be inclined to share these videos with our friends and family as a way to communicate and share information,” Dr. Diaz adds. It’s a way of connecting, whether we’re on the giving or the receiving end. There’s pleasure in “sharing the sense of relief and enjoyment.” Find out what your acne says about you.

Why we’re hooked

This isn’t the only gross-out spectacle that draws people in, of course—just think of horror movies, for example. According to therapist Christie Tcharkhoutian, MA, LMFT, disgusting things trigger at least two conflicting desires: To turn away, and the desire to freeze (similar to our fight or flight impulses). Being trapped between repulsion and curiosity is compelling, and it keeps us coming back for more. Next, don’t miss 8 ways to get rid of your acne once and for all.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.