The popularity of Dr. Pimple Popper and our obsession with gross out zit videos

Are you a popping peeper? You’re not alone. WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT FOLLOWS.
(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)


(which, it seems, will dissuade a surprisingly small number of you)

You may not know Dr. Sandra Lee, but she's pretty famous. As a board certified dermatologist in California she's actually better known by her nom de guerre, Dr. Pimple Popper. What it lacks in elegance, it makes up for in candor. Her medical savvy, though sound, is not specifically what's squirted her to the top. It's her life as a POParazzo that's brought her prominence (sorry, I'll stop). She photographs and films cysts, blackheads, pimples and lipomas being purged, giving the world what they want: popping porn. Yes, it seems that gross is trending hard.

How famous is she? She has more than double the IG followers of Justin Trudeau and he's categorically huge right now. With over 2 million YouTube followers and just as many Instagram fans, Dr Lee/Dr Popper wants to teach us about taking better care of our skin and give us a peak into her super repugnant world. Pimple popping has been good to her. She's recently released a skin care line called SLMD. Maybe that was her marketing scheme all along, freak us out for years and then spring a skin care line on us. Crafty.

Fact: my knees are still a little weak from the black hole of blackheads I just Internet spiralled into thanks to Dr. Popper's brand of media. Despite ourselves, we love this stuff. It's revolting. But you can't look away. Full disclosure: I had to look away a few times.

There's a weird psychology to disgust. It's the conflicting push and pull that makes us watch the most gore-heavy horror scenes through barely spread fingers — but you're still watching. Or that impulse to smell sour milk three times yourself before inviting everyone within earshot to share in the revulsion and catch a waft of the liquid repugnance. There's a desire to protect ourselves from the grotesque even while it pulls us in. The cocked head. The squinting eyes. The body tries to get away but the brain wants more.

Psychologically speaking, the push and pull of pimple disgust is one of the more baffling internal dances we engage in. We can't stop peeping people popping pimples. Or popping them ourselves. It's intensely satisfying.

If popping holds your fascination too firmly though, you may need treatment. Serious skin-picking disorders are linked to OCD. Though most people don't suffer a preoccupation with popping or picking that disrupts their lives, it can happen. The initial neurochemistry of popping, though, is the same for us all.  

Dr. Heather Berlin, a neuroscientist and assistant professor of psychiatry at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City says "there's a cycle of anxiety or arousal before the act and a sense of relief after." The satisfaction of zeroing in on a zit and then forcing its festering contents out actually releases dopamine, activating our brain's reward center. Just like food, sex and drugs do. We're into it.

Dr. Lee celebrates our very human fascination with biological curio by sharing explicit media of her life's work, however harrowing some of that work may be. "I know you guys love them and I love that you love them" she says in her YouTube welcome video. "I think my videos make a lot of people happy in general." She may be right, but "happy" is strong word. I'd have gone with "mesmerizing revolt" as a qualifier, but then, I'm no doctor.

Marc Beaulieu is a writer, producer and host of the live Q&A show guyQ LIVE @AskMen.