The camera is zoomed in on the nose of a man identified as Mr. Wilson. From this angle it looks more like a sandy mound with peaks and valleys speckled with dark spots. Those spots are blackheads, and soon the hands of Sandra Lee., M.D.—better known as Dr. Pimple Popper—appear on screen. She’s holding a comedone extractor, and as she slowly presses it onto the blackheads, white puss oozes out.
The video has more than 7 million views, and the Dr. Pimple Popper channel has nearly a million subscribers. While some people shudder at the thought of watching explosive cysts and massive blackheads, it’s clear Lee and her zit-popping videos have struck a chord with a corner of the Internet. And the experts we talked to agreed: Some of us are hardwired to love this kind of stuff.
“There’s some level of fascination with things we don’t really experience,” says Alex Skolnick, Ph.D., a psychology professor who specializes in the emotion of disgust. “A lot of people wouldn’t actually pop their own pimples, but watching someone else do it is a way to accommodate this gross experience into your mindset.”
Still cringing at the thought of the videos? Skolnick’s research has found that people tend to be either low disgust (meaning you’re not grossed out by that much) or high disgust. We don’t know why people fall into one camp or another, but it’s pretty unlikely you’ll go from despising these types of videos to watching them on repeat.
There’s also a reason we can’t easily forget pimple-popping videos (besides the ick factor). “Visual memory in particular is very salient for humans,” Skolnick says. “It’s the same thing with odors. I bet if we could send each other nasty odors online, we would.”
Dermatologists like A. Yasmine Kirkorian, M.D., see these videos as a good thing if they allow people to get their fix without popping their own pimples. “There is a misconception that popping a pimple makes it go away,” she says. “What many people who have popped their pimples know is that you can often actually make the pimple worse and turn it into a cyst.”
Lee is a certified dermatologist who uses sterilized instruments in her videos, but most people trying it at home aren’t wearing gloves and may have dirt on their hands, which can infect the pimples.
Even though dermatologists tell you to steer clear from at-home pimple popping, they know patients still do. But the better route (if good old soap and water doesn’t work) is to opt for over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide gels or overnight creams to dry your pimples out, says Nazanin Saedi, M.D., a cosmetic dermatologist. You can also put a drop of Visine on your skin to ease redness (it works the same way it does on your eyes!).