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It’s a sight all too familiar to you: A few fingers close in around an anonymous, deformed piece of skin, applying gentle pressure. A split second later, the skin above that bump gives way, and yellow pus oozes out as more pressure is applied.

Yes, this is just one of the many Dr. Pimple Popper videos floating around the Internet. These videos have garnered Dr Sandra Lee, the now famous dermatologist, more than 2.3 million Instagram followers and an equal number of YouTube Subscribers. But if these videos are so revolting, then why are there so many millions of views on her (and other similar) videos?

First, let’s talk about why we feel “disgust”

To understand the reason behind this fascination with such gross material, we have to understand that disgust is a disease-avoidance mechanism. There have been plenty of studies into the evocation of disgust as a method of disease control. Our ancient ancestors didn’t have healthcare, or the level of public cleanliness we possess today. Caught the flu? Congratulations, you’re most likely to die. Bacterial infection? There’s no cure. 

Most diseased creatures tend to look a certain way. Dogs with rabies might be frothing at the mouth, and people with flus have mucus coming out of their noses. Dead bodies also look and smell bad because of the abundance of bacteria and creepy crawlies. Our early ancestors realised that these disease-ridden objects could kill them as easily as a bear, albeit slower and in rather painful ways. They were also easy to beat: Just keep away from them. Therefore, they quickly developed the defence mechanism of disgust and subsequent avoidance.

Times might have changed, but these survival mechanisms remain deeply ingrained in our Simian brains.

This is why some people find these videos entertaining

Modern day public health services protect us from both bacteria and true feelings of disgust. In the past 200 years, we’ve gone from burying our dead as quickly as possible to being able to preserve them sanitarily in a morgue. Sewage services mean that we flush our waste immediately, doing away with the need for a bucket system. We’ve come a long way in keeping ourselves clean and safe from disease. That means the shock value of a disgusting scene is also exponentially higher.

Which brings us full circle back to the obsession with pimple popping videos. You see, it used to be dangerous for us to be in touch with pus and whatever other hazardous wastes fluids that other humans produced when they were infected with something. Modern day video technology has changed all that. We can sit comfortably in bed and induce that unfamiliar, and thrilling, sensation of disgust without ever putting ourselves in danger of infection. It’s a safe way to get a cheap thrill!

Is it healthy to indulge in these videos?

Some people actually find these videos to be soothing, and experience a certain zen-like state when they watch them. If you have an inclination towards such material, there certainly isn’t anything wrong with indulging in a few videos. However, if you’re finding yourself getting more and more obsessed with such videos, you might need to seek some professional help. Remember: If it starts to hijack your daily routine, it’s an addiction!