You might know dermatologist Sandra Lee by her buzzy television name: Dr Pimple Popper. The American expert is world-famous for her wince-inducing yet compelling skin extractions, amassing legions of loyal fans who just can't look away (even Gwyneth Paltrow is said to be obsessed). But Sandra isn't just an expert popper; she knows all there is to know about common skin gripes, whether that's acne or dry skin and everything in between. Hundreds of clients flock to her clinic in a bid to achieve their best skin ever.
It makes sense, then, that Sandra would launch her very own brand, SLMD Skincare. From targeted skin treatments to acne-busting sets and even body products, her US fans have been using the expertly formulated collection for a while now. From today, you can get your hands on the entire range as it finally lands in the UK at www.slmdskincare.co.uk. To celebrate, we caught up with Dr Pimple Popper herself over Zoom. Here's everything we learned about how to achieve great skin.
The three skincare ingredients that actually work
Sandra's core collection consists of three main ingredients: salicylic acid (which gently exfoliates inside the pore to get rid of dead skin and oil, preventing breakouts), vitamin C (which protects against pollution and brightens dull skin and dark spots over time) and retinol (this encourages newer skin cells, minimising breakouts, fine lines and uneven skin texture).
"These are ingredients and products we’ve been using for years and as dermatologists we know that they work. That’s what I’m really trying to bring people. I’m not trying to hike to a random mountain in Nepal and find a berry that grows on the north side of the mountain. My skincare line educates people." Referring to new, trending skincare ingredients, Sandra adds: "There are trends in skincare but look at new trends with a little bit of a side eye. It’s wonderful that there are new innovations out there but they might not always work for you – or work in general."
If you are going to pop your spots, know this first
Performing extractions at home can lead to permanent scarring, especially if you go too far. However, Sandra knows that a lot of people can't resist. If you're a DIY popper, remember this: "I know a lot of us are going to do it and my responsibility is to explain why you shouldn’t. But if you do, make sure your instruments or hands are clean." Another tip? "Set a timer! Don’t over-squeeze. Try for 10 seconds or maximum 30 seconds. If you’re not getting anything, stop, because there’s probably nothing to pop there. Patients come to see me all the time, saying that they’ve been trying to pop something, and when I take a look, it’s just not something you can pop; there’s nothing you can squeeze out. It might be a mole or an oil gland, for example, and it happens very often."
This clever skincare hack brings down breakouts fast
Sandra says that applying salicylic acid to spots is great as it is anti-inflammatory, but you might also want to use something to keep your hands off active breakouts. "Using a little bit of pimple cream like the Sulfur Lotion, £30, can help and remind you not to pick at it. You can even use a little Band-Aid because it’ll help you when you reach up absentmindedly to pick. I think that spot patches are great and a lot of them are impregnated with helpful ingredients." R29 recommends Dots For Spots, £5.99, as the hydrocolloid patches help spots heal. "You can also soothe spots with an ice cube to take away the sensation of pain and discomfort, or use a little over-the-counter cortisone, which can help diminish the inflammation," adds Sandra.
Here's how long it really takes for your skincare products to start working
"Things take patience," says Sandra, who suggests sticking to a new routine or product rather than switching things up frequently. "In general, when we see patients in office, we say not to expect a result straightaway," especially if you're dealing with acne. "I recommend trying something to see if it works for a good one to two months," adds Sandra. "Skin issues don’t happen overnight so they can’t be treated overnight."
Read ahead for our review of the most sought-after SLMD Skincare products.
This simple kit is the ultimate acne routine. "It’s a system and the combination of salicylic acid, sulphur and retinol are what us dermatologists recommend for our patients," says Sandra. "I wanted to give people access to that because they’re already watching the videos and learning about acne in that way, so it’s about teaching people how these things work." Inside the kit, you'll find a salicylic acid cleanser (which can be used twice daily), a vitamin C moisturiser for the daytime, the sulphur spot treatment for nixing the odd spot and a retinol serum for nighttime use.
If you're using acids and retinol, always wear SPF in the daytime, as both can make skin sensitive to sunlight.
If you find spot treatments too harsh (many contain acids or drying alcohol), Sandra suggests trying sulphur. "Sulphur is much gentler on more people as opposed to benzoyl peroxide," which you can get over the counter in UK pharmacies and can cause irritation. Sulphur does have a very strong medicinal smell but Sandra continues: "It’s a great anti-acne ingredient for minimising the production of bacteria because in combination with blackheads and whiteheads, that can lead to an acne breakout. It’s really one of the main things that you need to use." The SLMD Sulfur Lotion isn't a thick paste like other sulphur products. It's lightweight and absorbs easily so you can use it as a targeted spot treatment or as a facial moisturiser to keep breakouts at bay.
Dermatologists like Sandra rate vitamin C for brightening skin and providing protection against the environment (for example pollution). This is a serum and moisturiser in one. It's hydrating and nourishing but for bolstered protection, layer a high factor sunscreen over the top in the daytime.
"Retinol increases the efficiency of your cell turnover so you don’t get dead skin cells sitting on your skin," says Sandra. This helps minimise spots, hyperpigmentation, rough skin texture and fine lines and wrinkles. But it pays to start slow. "Less is more. Start once or a couple of times a week [at night] and then increase your use," says Sandra. "You don’t want to slather it on; it's not a face mask. Pair retinol with a moisturiser immediately after to help keep the moisture in your skin," she adds, as retinol tends to make skin flaky at the start as you get used to it.
The best SLMD Skincare product for keratosis pilaris (KP or 'chicken skin'): Glycolic Acid Body Lotion, £36.
"People with dry skin are more prone to the bumps on arms," says Sandra. Otherwise known as keratosis pilaris (KP) or 'chicken skin', a body lotion or scrub containing salicylic acid can help smooth these bumps over time by exfoliating the surface of the skin. This body lotion is also great for those with body breakouts and Sandra says it's gentle enough to use on your bikini line or bottom. "A lot of acne in those kinds of areas is to do with friction, like wearing tight clothing that pulls at hairs which become ingrown and may result in a little localised infection. Also waxing and shaving can do this." Glycolic acid keeps those pores clear and prevents bacteria from building up in that area.
This gel-to-foam body wash is also a great option for treating body acne, according to Sandra, and it's a lot gentler than glycolic acid so might be a better option for sensitive skin. It smells slightly medicinal (that'll be the eucalyptus) but it really helps unclog pores, exfoliate away dead skin and minimise shaving bumps.
This foaming facial cleanser is an excellent treatment for reducing blackheads and mopping up excess oil, though it isn't drying thanks to the addition of moisturising glycerin. "People with oily skin can definitely use this two times a day," says Sandra. "I run out of my salicylic acid cleanser way quicker than anything else because I go through that on a daily basis. It’s so gentle and also helps to lighten brown spots or keep them away, which is important for me, because I have more of a brown base. It helps keep pores clean and even out skin tone as well as texture." Salicylic acid is also useful for people who don’t have acne, says Sandra, as it helps rid skin of debris, oil and dull skin cells.
Aside from her salicylic cleanser and blemish kit, Sandra always recommends this one product. "Skin Drink is a hyaluronic acid serum with moisturising squalane. It’s great to use on wet skin, too, as serums can be drying, so this helps keep moisture in the skin." At first it feels more like a lightweight oil than a serum but it sinks in fast and helps smooth over dry, flaky patches of skin.
Refinery29's selection is purely editorial and independently chosen – we only feature items we love! As part of our business model we do work with affiliates; if you directly purchase something from a link on this article, we may earn a small amount of commission. Transparency is important to us at Refinery29, if you have any questions please reach out to us.