If you’ve ever used a peel-off face mask, you know how satisfying it feels to pull it off. You applied the sticky goop and let it dry, leaving your facial movements restricted by a tight film. And finally, after waiting patiently, you peel it away and feel free ― free from the dirt, grime and other gross things that may be in your skin.
That feeling of satisfaction also comes from watching other people use peel-off masks, as evidenced by numerous YouTube videos with millions of views.
Like the video below, for instance, which shows YouTuber Kayla Jay trying a black peel-off mask by Shills that’s clearly painful. Her video has been viewed more than 12 million times.
What is it about these videos that makes us watch?
Well, part of it has to do with feeling a connection to the individuals in the videos, according to Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist and author of Decoding the New Consumer Mind.
“There’s an intimacy, I think, that we feel with the people that are putting on those videos, and so watching them do things, we get the kind of effect of vicarious pleasure,” Yarrow explained to HuffPost. “It feels like we’re actually doing it. It’s kind of like a digital empathy, if you will.”
The whole experience of watching one of these videos ― or any confessional or testimonial-style videos ― also feels intimate because the person on screen is generally speaking directly to the viewer.
“It feels like you and that person [are] together,” said Yarrow. “They are always looking at you, talking to you. It doesn’t seem like they’re talking to 3 million other people.”
Yarrow noted that we tend to gravitate to videos showing people that we perceive to be like us in some way. As a result, “we have this level of intimacy that you don’t get on television [...] you get even more of this vicarious pleasure in watching them do something because you identify with them.”
When a mask is painful to remove, that can just make the final result even more gratifying. For example, the Shills mask in particular is a popular choice among beauty bloggers despite the fact it obviously hurts to use it. Studies have shown that we tend to find pain funny, which could be an additional reason we’re so drawn to watching.
The video above, posted by YouTubers Tiff and Cari, shows Tiff having a hilariously rough go with the Shills mask. “Holy crap, I am really regretting this!” she says repeatedly. Yet, even though she’s clearly in pain, it’s hard not to watch.
Not all the peel-off masks YouTubers use cause pain. Some, like the silver mask shown in the video below, just look a little weird and claim to do things like tighten or firm. They’re just as satisfying to watch.
Peel-off mask videos also promote a sort of purification ― “getting the evil out” ― and control, according to Yarrow. This also applies to all those viral pimple-popping videos.
“It’s this purification and this control over the gunk, and there’s a fascination, I think, with the gunk that we all have. It feels like magic,” Yarrow said, adding that “when people can see the results of what they’re doing, they feel like they have control over their skin.”
“I think that’s also alluring,” she said.
Millions of people who watch YouTube videos clearly feel the same way.