If you can’t stop watching Dr. Sandra Lee’s (better known as Dr. Pimple Popper) videos, you’ve got plenty of company. In addition to her Instagram account, which boasts nearly 3 million followers, Lee has launched a skin care line and has her own show on TLC.
The squeamish among us often need to look away, but the proof is in the numbers: Millions of people find these videos appealing. "The best-studied reason for why people like seeing videos and TV shows featuring medical procedures is the process of curing someone of the disease," psychiatrist Dr. Damian Jacob Sendler tells SheKnows, noting that we like to see broken bones get fixed, bleeding stopped with pressure and brain tumors that get sucked up into surgical vacuums.
"It makes us feel as if the disease process is being eliminated," Sendler says.
There’s also the matter of disgust being a survival mechanism. "While watching gross videos featuring popping pimples on Dr. Lee’s show or eating bugs on Fear Factor satisfies our inner curiosity about how other people can do these gross things and ‘survive,’ the underlying reason why we like to expose ourselves to these materials is to learn how to deal with these gross situations ourselves," Sendler explains.
Dr. Hersha Diaz, licensed clinical psychologist, also tells SheKnows that at least part of the fascination with these videos may be biological in nature. "[The videos] appear to trigger an adaptive response that developed as we evolved to understand the importance of removing dangerous parasites or cysts from our bodies in order to improve survival," Diaz says.
Viewers experience a sense of relief when the potential source of harm is removed, triggering the release of the "feel-good" chemical dopamine, Diaz explains.
For her part, Lee tells SheKnows that she thinks her videos are appealing because they make many people feel happy, content and relaxed. "There’s a sense of completion, of cleansing. It calms people with some obsessive-compulsive tendencies," Lee explains.
Diaz says that in addition to communicating a potential harm, the inclination to share Dr. Pimple Popper’s videos with our family and friends may also be to "share the sense of relief and enjoyment that one experiences from this internet sensation."
The videos also serve what is arguably an even more important purpose: According to Lee, people who have a tendency to pick at their own skin when they’re stressed have told her that watching the videos helps them kick this habit and keep their hands off their own skin.
Lee says the videos may also give people a rush, comparing it to what we may feel when we ride a roller coaster or watch a scary movie. "I think it’s fascinating for many people to see what can come out of the skin of a regular, normal, healthy human," she tells SheKnows.
And, going back to Sendler’s point that the appeal is related to humans’ survival mechanism, he adds that the videos show there are solutions for us if we ever develop the same skin problem. "It’s all an innate survival strategy — learning to deal with something by looking at tested solutions," he explains.
Whether they give you a rush, assure you that (almost) any skin problem can be remedied or both, it doesn’t appear that the fascination with Lee’s videos is going to die down any time soon. And, luckily for us, now we have a TV show and social media to satisfy all our pimple-popping viewing needs.
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