Please upgrade your browser for the best Refinery29 experience. Read more.

Saved! Access Favorites in your account profile. Removed from my favorites

This Pimple-Popping Doc Is Taking Over The Internet

  1. Begin
    opener_mariadelrio

    SHARE IT

    comments
    See All Slides
    Sandra Lee, MD, is an unlikely internet star. Sure, she’s beautiful and accomplished, but it's her pimple popping skills that have garnered the attention — and the name Dr. Pimple Popper. And by attention, we mean nearly half-a-million subscribers obsessively refreshing her Instagram and checking her YouTube feed. You can't say that for many dermatologists, can you?

    Dr. Lee’s fans are logging on day and night, waiting impatiently for this raven-haired Southern California-based doctor to post a new video to feed their insatiable need. Sure, watching her extract an enormous blackhead, remove an inflamed cyst from someone’s neck, or delicately excise a glistening blob of extraneous fat (a.k.a. lipoma) from a forearm is, well, nasty. Yet, for Dr. Lee’s thousands and thousands of fans, these videos are the first thing they want to see in the morning and the last thing they watch before bed.

    I should know: I am one of those fans. I have spent an embarrassing amount of time watching Dr. Lee’s videos, as well as the scads of poorly lit, super-shaky, at-home extractions uploaded by less-professional people every day to YouTube — which often feature a girlfriend eagerly doing the squeezing on a guy, beer cans scattered in the background, a dog scuttling underfoot, and an ear-splitting squeal when something explodes. Regardless of how grainy or gross the video, when it comes to pimples, blackheads, cysts, and any and all enlarged, clogged, or otherwise deranged pore, I'll watch. I’m a “popaholic,” the term Dr. Lee has affectionately labeled fans of the genre. Ahead, I chat with Dr. Pimple Popper, take a closer look at why popaholics are so fascinated, and let you watch my top 10 favorite videos — if you dare.

    Begin Slideshow
  2. <iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/bj8-XpiBpno" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

    SHARE IT

    0 Comments
    See All Slides
    0 of 11

    It was almost one year ago that Dr. Lee first decided to upload a clip from a blackhead extraction to YouTube in an effort to broaden her social media presence and diversify things. At the time, she mostly had snippets of her TV appearances and some other procedure-type videos and only about 2,000 followers. Within a few days, the likes and comments were pouring in and it was obvious that these videos were meeting a demand.

    “I was floored," she says. "I had no idea that there were whole websites devoted to pimple popping. It was quite clear that I had access to something that people wanted.”

    She quickly added a new Instagram account dedicated to these clips, @DrPimplePopper, and started asking patients if she could film them. In mid-December, she hit the 500,000-follower mark and her YouTube channel now gets about a million views a day.

  3. <iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/r6LoPnFYXKE" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

    SHARE IT

    0 Comments
    See All Slides
    1 of 11

    To keep up with demand, Lee says she stockpiles about two weeks’ worth of videos, so she can mete them out day-by-day. (She has an assistant shoot them with an iPhone.)

    It’s not all that hard to get willing patients, says Lee. “Patients ask almost on a daily basis for me to identify a blackhead, cyst, or milium. Normally, I would as most dermatologists do, just reassure them that the bump is benign and doesn’t need to be treated. However, now I suggest that I can remove the area if they let me film the removal to post on my social media. I make it as anonymous as possible. And 99.9% of the time, they say yes, often even before I have a chance to get the whole proposal out of my mouth!"

  4. <iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/MDUs-BjqNBQ" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

    SHARE IT

    0 Comments
    See All Slides
    2 of 11

    You might notice that many of the videos or of older people. “I tend to see more of the elderly patients with [a] history of skin cancer,” notes Lee.

    “So I see more solar comedones, a.k.a. blackheads, in older patient population — and luckily for my viewers, these blackheads can be quite big.”

    One of her most popular videos of all time is of a man called Mr. Wilson, whose enormous blackheads are so incredibly numerous that she simply identifies them as "TNTC" — too numerous to count. So far, over 6.1 million people have watched the video.

  5. <iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/9Qoagk0rjI4" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

    SHARE IT

    0 Comments
    See All Slides
    3 of 11

    And as her star has risen online, clogged-up clients have been coming from all over the country — and even the world — to seek out her help. They make the pilgrimage not just because Lee is one of the only doctors posting these things online, but also because most skin doctors just don’t do this sort of stuff on a daily basis.

    “Most dermatologists, including myself before all of this, don’t really do a lot of these things like blackhead extractions or milia removal,” says Lee. They aren’t considered a billable condition, so they aren't covered by insurance and docs don’t get paid for them. “So most of the time, I am doing them for free in exchange for being able to film the process," she explains. "For a lot of people, these are things that really bother them but they wouldn’t have a way to get rid of otherwise. It’s not like they can just go to a facialist either. In some of these cases, I have to use a blade to nick the skin first, and aestheticians in most states aren’t legally allowed to use that sort of tool. Not to mention that they don’t have access to numbing medication, like I do.”

  6. <iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/TzkSsjEf_NE" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

    SHARE IT

    0 Comments
    See All Slides
    4 of 11

    But the question remains: Why are we all watching? What’s behind the fascination with being disgusted? There’s no clinical term, but just like every human emotion, disgust is actually rooted in self-preservation, says Daniel Kelly, an associate professor of philosophy at Purdue University and author of the book Yuck: The Nature and Moral Significance of Disgust. It’s actually a part of what social scientists call the “behavioral immune system,” our brain's way of engaging in a kind of preventative medicine, he explains.