Dr Sandra Lee is the last person you’ll want to see after lunch.
While she’s responsible for making people feel beautiful and treating skin cancer patients, she’s also behind one of the most stomach-churning things found online.
If you don’t know Dr Lee, you may know her stage name: Dr Pimple Popper.
For the last year she’s been feeding the popular addiction no one really wants to talk about, but everyone seems to want to watch.
If you’ve been shown a zit or cyst being squeezed, oozed or exploding on to your computer screen it’s likely Dr Lee uploaded it.
The 44-year-old board certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon has gained more than 200,000 followers under her alias by sharing pimple-popping videos to her Instagram and Youtube accounts, catering to a wide audience of pop-a-holics.
And she likens every blackhead to a snowflake, in the sense that every one is different.
“There’s hardcore poppers and softcore ones. A “softpop” is a simple blackhead extraction, an easy pop. A “hardpop” is more hardcore - maybe a cyst or lipoma popped out via excisional surgery. There may be pus, there may be blood, and there is always a “pop”,” she said.
“Some people just like soft popping, others like a bit of both.
“I’m hoping by drawing the attention of many to see “what’s popping”, I can also educate people how to take care of their skin. I want to make it so much bigger than just pimple popping”.
She said she started offering to remove her patient’s pimples for free if they let her share the squeeze with her followers.
It’s a pretty good offer when a pop procedure could cost between $300-$500 in the US.
“My patients’ get bumps on their skin that they’ve hated removed for free, and I get to show these extractions or excisions to my excited followers. Everyone’s happy!”
— Dr. Sandra Lee (@SandraLeeMD) June 14, 2015
“It’s all in good faith, the most important thing is that my patients don’t feel exploited,” she said.
And while vanity is usually the reason patients want their pimples gone, Dr Lee wasn’t entirely sure why people enjoyed watching other people get popped.
“I’ve been trying to figure out why people are so interested… there are a few theories,” she said.
“One is, it gives people a sense of completeness as it feels good to see something gone.
“I’ve found it helps relieve anxiety in those with obsessive compulsive disorder and dermatillomania, as it helps to decrease their compulsions to pick at their own skin. Also, many people insist that they watch my videos to help them to relax and sleep. The videos are addictive, some are embarrassed to admit that they watch, but they can’t look away.”
People usually have a strong reaction to my videos- they either love them or detest them. Either way, lucky for me, they tag or share the videos with their friends!
Despite this, she said many of her fans were secretive about their love of a pop.
“They feel like it’s gross but they secretly like it,” she said.
I really was not “addicted” to popping blackheads before I started doing it on a regular basis, but now i will admit, that I’m a popaholic.
"I’ve become more addicted to it the more I do it,” she said.
— Dr. Sandra Lee (@SandraLeeMD) June 11, 2015
“I’ve never popped as many blackheads in my whole life than what I’ve done in the last few months.”
“I consider myself a “high class popper” which distinguishes my videos from all the rest. Most videos are “amateur”, filmed in someone’s own home, not in a medical office like all my procedures I film.
"I often get asked if I watch other “popping” videos and I don’t! I don’t like to watch them! I don’t like the screaming, the absence of gloves and sterility, it doesn’t appeal to me.
“I’m not someone that will pin someone down and start popping as I don’t feel that urge. But I do find enjoyment in what I do as it gives so many others a thrill and makes other people happy”.
And while she had no problem with fans enjoying a good ‘pop’ she did encourage them to leave it to the experts.
“Blackheads you can certainly express them but I wouldn’t pop a cyst” she said.
“I don’t like it when people say ‘I saw this video and now I can do it at home… I don’t watch a vasectomy or a heart surgery and think that I can go and do that at home now”.
But even the professionals can’t avoid the messy side to pimple squeezing and there are some she’d rather avoid.
“I don’t like when cyst contents get in my hair… a lot of the time they will get you, and this can ruin your day,” she said.
“I don’t like infected cysts as they’re filled with pus and when you squeeze them you can smell it and they’ll usually get you. I try to avoid it as I don’t like the mess and I don’t like to be squirted.”
She did enjoy a good ‘blackhead surprise’ though.
“It’s fascinating when you get a blackhead and you think it’s going to be small but it comes out really long,” she said.
Fans of Dr Lee may also be familiar with two of her leading men, “Mr Wilson” and “Pops”, two older men who are featured in some of her more ‘pop-ular’ videos.
“Mr Wilson is the one that really got things going, he has rhinophyma a form of rosacea, which causes thickening of the skin of his nose (think WC Fields), and gives him huge whiteheads and blackheads on his nose . We’re creating a new nose for him,” Dr Lee said, “and my followers love to follow his progress. I’m essentially re-sculpting his nose, giving him a nose closer to what he had when he was in his 20s.”
“Pops is really special. I saw these huge blackheads on his nose and started popping them. He started telling me the story of how his wife passed away, how much he desperately missed her, and how miserable he was after having to move into an assisted living facility. People around the world listened to his story and everyone fell in love with him,”
“We started a Go Fund Me for him and because of his blackheads and people hearing about his beautiful wife that he missed so much, and his present struggles, people have come out and donated over $12,000!!” This story has showed me that although the world is huge with different races and cultures, we humans are all so similar when we deal with loss of a loved one, and getting old.”
While her male patients usually had more pimples to pop, Dr Lee said women were the more resilient gender when it came to pimple squeeze pain.
“Men are definitely the bigger babies, most of the time they’re the bigger squirmers,” she said. I call this the “Mohamed Ali move”, because they bob and weave, trying to avoid my comedone extractor.
““I don’t want to upset anyone but this is generally true”.
While Dr Lee is incredibly open about her work life online, she preferred to keep her home life offline.
Running her practice in Upland, California alongside her husband Dr Jeffrey Rebish, the couple also have two young sons who don’t quite know what to make of their mums pimple-pop fame yet.
“One of them can’t stand it and the other one barely entertains it because he doesn’t want to hurt my feelings,” Dr Lee said.
— Dr. Sandra Lee (@SandraLeeMD) June 13, 2015
She said her father, also a dermatologist, wasn’t too keen on the idea either until he was won over by an unexpected fan.
“I was at dinner at his house and said did you know I’ve been posting my blackhead extractions on YouTube?”
“He said ‘are you kidding me? Who would want to watch that?”
“The next day he went to the Apple Store and asked the teacher to show him how to use YouTube.
“Without knowing that I was his daughter, the teacher showed him my channel, telling him it was her favorite channel and that everyone there followed it! . It took an Apple teacher to get his respect!”
And while some may think she’s got the world’s grossest job, Dr Lee was quick to disagree.
“Why would they think mine is the grossest? It’s not gross…there’s way grosser jobs than mine. I deal with skin and very superficial things,” she said.
“When I was a medical student I was in my surgery rotation and was working with colorectal surgeons. We were doing a colonoscopy and this guy was very constipated and the camera would only go so far… it was my first day on the job and the doctor asked ‘who has got the smallest hand?’… I had my arm up to my elbow in there trying to get poop out. Now, THAT was gross”.
Follow Dr Sandra Lee/Dr Pimple Popper on Instagram or YouTube
Get to know your pimples
Dr Lee takes us through the most common types of pimples found on the body.
Comedones – The medical term for blackheads and whiteheads. Essentially, they are pores clogged with keratin (skin cells).
Blackheads – Open comedones. They’re black because the keratin plugging the pore is exposed to air so it oxidized and turns brown or black.
Whiteheads – Closed comedones, closed off to air, so they remain white. keratin/skin trapped in a dilated pore
Solar comedones – Blackheads and whiteheads that you see in adults and the elderly, and are due to acne. Caused by chronic exposure to the sun.
Milia - Deep seeded white bumps that form when skin cells become trapped rather than exfoliate naturally. This is a very superficial cyst.
Epidermoid Cysts - Many people call these sebaceous cysts. It is a sac under the skin that contains keratin (skin cells), and they enlarge, because these skin cells “flake off” as they would normally on our body, but these skin cells get trapped within this sac. You can squeeze them (I don’t advise this), but the cyst will likely reoccur because the sac is still there. The only way to definitively prevent it’s recurrence is to remove the entire cyst including the sac wall.
Lipoma - growth of benign fat cells in a thin, fibrous capsule usually found just below the skin. Felt as a very mobile, painless bump under the skin.