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Photo courtesy of Sandra Lee
Photo courtesy of Sandra Lee

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Meet ‘Dr. Pimple Popper,’ the Dermatologist Who Became a YouTube Sensation

Her epic blackhead squeezes and whitehead pops have earned her millions of views and an army of admirers on Reddit.

Dr. Sandra Lee may just be the reigning queen of pimple poppers. A new entrant to the world of zit popping videos, the dermatologist has quickly built up a following of over 50,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel, where she posts epic blackhead squeezes and whitehead pops that have earned her millions of views and an army of admirers on Reddit. When she’s not zooming in on her patients’ faces (with their permission, of course) at the Skin Physicians & Surgeons practice in Upland, California, she makes appearances on TV shows like The Doctors. We called her up to talk about how exactly she became a skin-squeezing sensation.

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How did you get into popping videos?

I’d been doing TV segments for a while, maybe about five years or so, and would post them on my YouTube channel, which had a few thousand subscribers. When I joined Instagram, I began to post clips of things I’d do in the office to give people a window into my world. Then I thought, "Oh, this one’s a little longer, why don’t I post this on my YouTube?" I didn’t realize how big it would be. The first big one was this gentleman, the guy with the rhinophyma and a lot of blackheads on his nose. Someone wrote in the comments, "Someone posted your video on the Popping subreddit." I didn’t know anything about Reddit! I went on there and was just floored. It's a whole community of people who like this sort of thing.

What's been your experience with the community?

When I started doing it, I was an amateur. I didn’t know how it worked! My name on Reddit is "DrPimplePopper." The people on the Popping subreddit know me now, and they’re really wonderful. I find this little subculture fascinating. I pop these things, and yeah they kind of make me feel good, they’re satisfying, but it’s not like I seek them out. If a patient comes in, I ask if they wouldn’t mind me removing these for them in exchange for them allowing me to post it. I try to make it as anonymous as I can. The interesting thing is that nobody ever says no.

My Instagram following has increased too. It's hilarious to read the comments. People are like, "I can’t look away!" Then they tag their friends, and every now and then you’ll get a friend who says, "Why did you do this to me?!" or "Stop liking these photos ‘cause they’re showing up in my feed." I just learned about ASMR. I guess this is a form of that. It’s in dispute as to whether it's a real entity or not, but most people wouldn’t deny that you can get this sort of feeling. I can imagine what people are talking about, and they get that from my voice too. It’s a very calming effect. I hear people say, "I have to watch your videos before bed because they help me go to sleep."

Do you feel like you're a part of the popping world?

I don’t watch any of the other videos. They all kind of gross me out! When they’re amateur, I don’t want to hear screaming, I don’t like that stuff. That may make me not a true popper. Everyone says, "She’s one of us! She’s one of us!" but I’m not really. I mean, I like it, but I don’t need it.

What’s your dermatology background?

I’ve been in practice for a little over a decade. Actually, I come from a family of dermatologists: My father is a dermatologist and my husband is one too. I remember opening my dad’s textbooks and seeing the most horrible pictures. Skin is different than internal organs, and being a dermatologist is different from being a G.I. doctor or an ob-gyn—not a lot of us can relate to that. But we all know what skin looks like when it looks normal, so to speak.

"I realized there’s a soft pop and a hard pop. Some people just like blackheads, it’s like soft porn, a soft pop."

When I went to medical school, I realized that dermatology is the best specialty, especially for a woman. It's a good lifestyle. We don’t deal with a lot of emergencies, I don’t get called in the middle of the night to deliver a baby. We deal with healthy people. It’s usually pretty common things that people come in with, and we can fix them. It’s very gratifying in that sense.

What are the different categories of popping?

The type of popping that's most popular is having blackheads and whiteheads extracted. That’s usually a form of acne, but older people can get blackheads and whiteheads for other reasons, like sun exposure. Blackheads and whiteheads are called comedones. Then there are milia; milia are really superficial cysts that are under the skin. They’re usually on the face, they’re white, and you can’t squeeze them. People often get them around their eyes.

Then there are deeper cysts—a lay term is sebaceous cysts, but they’re technically epidermoid cysts. Those are the ones that are on the body that you see people squeezing out like in Animal House. When you have a cyst like that on the head, it’s called a pilar cyst because it actually looks a little different since it's made from a different part of the hair follicle. The last thing that we pop out, which is very cool to see, is a lipoma. Those are so fun, you pop them out of a smaller hole and it’s this ball of fat. Not everybody likes that. I realized there’s a soft pop and a hard pop. Some people just like blackheads, it’s like soft porn, a soft pop. And then there’s a hard pop, where people like more of a cyst.

What’s your technique?

It’s not completely sterile, but I use clean techniques, which is what I do with most of my procedures unless I’m doing an excision. I have gloves and my comedone extractor. It probably costs under $20, it’s not very expensive. It’s from a medical distributor, but I’m sure you could find very similar things at a drugstore. People at home, if they really need something, can probably use a bobby pin. It can get a little infected, but the main risk is scarring.

I can’t advise people to do it at home, but have I done it? Yeah. We’ve all squeezed pimples! People are going to pick, no matter what. The best advice I have is if somebody has a pimple, use a warm compress on it, because that helps it come to a head. Once it comes to a head, if it’s a whitehead, you can get a sterile needle and nick it and then that will relieve the pressure. Personally I would try to put a little antibiotic cream on it. When I make my nicks in the skin, I try to keep them in the direction of our skin tension lines. There are all things that I think about. Could a person do it at home? Probably, but I can’t tell you that you’re not going to scar.

"I feel like Game of Thrones or something. I’m standing there, and there are all these pimple popper lovers behind me."

How do you make your videos?

I do it all myself. I edit, everything. I use my iPhone and iMovie—that’s it. My staff has been getting better at videotaping me. I have Google Glass and it sucks; I can’t get that stupid thing to work. I might try to see if I can do some sort of GoPro or something like that, but I can’t wear something really heavy on my head. My staff knows I’m crazy.

I try to show a little of the human side of some of my patients, tell a little of their backstory—the last one I did was this gentleman. It’s so sad, because his wife just passed away. The last time I saw him, I didn’t know his wife had passed away, and he was choking back the words telling me that because they were inseparable. I just happened to ask him on his way out, "You know, you have these bumps on your nose. Do you want me to see if I can remove any of them?" He said yes and he was so happy that I did it. I never would have done that if it hadn’t been for all of this. I think it really helped him feel better about himself.

Do you worry about being pigeonholed as the pimple popping doctor?

People might construe that I’m addicted to this stuff, but I’m not. This isn’t everything that I do. In fact, it’s a very small part! I posted some of my other surgeries, and I realized not as many people are interested in that. I joke with my friends that I want to be a pimple popping sensation! I feel like Game of Thrones or something. I’m standing there, and there are all these pimple popper lovers behind me. They’ve got my back.

I’d be tickled if somebody was into pimple popping and they came in to see me. But I don’t actually think that someone would come see me if they were, because they’d want to do it themselves!


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