The untold truth of Dr. Pimple Popper

Dr. Sandra Lee

Popaholics are having a moment, thanks in large part to Sandra Lee. The dermatologic and cosmetic surgeon based out of Southern California struck gold — or should we say blackheads? — with her viral pimple popping videos, and made this guilty pleasure a little less guilty.

No longer do popaholics need to feel ashamed of their fascination with skin extractions. Lee, best known as Dr. Pimple Popper, has proven there are many others out there like them with her 3.6 million subscribers on YouTube and 2.7 million followers on Instagram. That’s a lot of popaholics! “People were watching under a closet, almost like it was porn, and people are now embracing it,” Lee told the Daily Mail.

It appears Lee has just started to scratch the surface, as she starred in her own TLC special, Dr. Pimple Popper: This is Zit, in 2018 and has a 12-episode reality TV show for the network in the works. For a little more insight on Lee and the videos that made her famous, here’s the untold truth of Dr. Pimple Popper.

To squeeze or not squeeze? Should you ever pop at home?

Dr. Sandra Lee with her comedone extrator

For $20, you can buy the Dr. Pimple Popper comedone extractor — billed on the Dr. Pimple Popper website as the same utensil Lee uses in her videos — and squeeze out your own blackheads and whiteheads. But should you? Nylon reported that all the skin care professionals they spoke to advised against home extractions.

Some believe amateur poppers are less likely to cleanse the treatment area beforehand and disinfect afterward. To be fair, those steps are clearly stated on the Dr. Pimple Popper comedone extractor page, but that doesn’t mean everyone will follow the instructions. Others think extractions can lead to scars, especially if you apply too much pressure. Well+Good reported that the national spa franchise Clarins is against the practice because of the potential skin damage.

Needless to say, Lee doesn’t agree with those who believe comedone extractors can damage the skin. “That is B.S.,” she told Mental Floss.

She's *gasp* not a popaholic

Dr. Sandra Lee with popaholics

The popaholic community has embraced Lee as one of its own, but the truth is, Dr. Pimple Popper doesn’t share the same compulsion for popping as her popaholic fans. Popaholics tend to have the constant urge to pick skin. She told The One with Greg Gutfeld that she doesn’t. Her popaholic audience revels in pimple popper videos of all types, but she admitted to Gutfeld that she can’t stand them — the non professional kind, that is. The pain inflicted and lack of cleanliness involved disgusts her.

Lee echoed these sentiments in an interview with Racked, telling the website, “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.” She understands and accepts that she may not be “a true popper,” explaining: “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.”

She jokes that she has the "worst kind of fame"

Dr. Sandra Lee on The Today Show

Lee isn’t exactly camera shy. Besides her TLC special, she has appeared on a wide range of shows, from the Today show to the Rachel Ray Show and Tosh.0. And that’s why it’s surprising to hear that Lee — who often steps in front of the cameras in her videos to discuss procedures and whatever else is going on in her life — isn’t entirely comfortable with her fame.

She told Broadly that she gets recognized so often in public that she wears a hat to the grocery store. “I joked this is worst kind of fame you can have — it’s a lot of fame, but not much fortune,” she said. “I think it’s better to have it the other way around, a lot of fortune and no fame, right?”

Her popularity spans the globe, with people traveling from as far as the UK and Saudi Arabia for treatment. But Lee isn’t entirely comfortable with these types of patients. “It puts a lot of pressure on me,” she told Broadly. “I don’t like it when people travel across the world and get a hotel room to come see me because they think I can help them more than other doctors. I don’t proclaim I can do that, though it is quite amazing.” Sounds like a good problem to have.

Certain procedures actually do gross her out, but she'll never show it

Dr. Sandra Lee wearing surgical gear

Don’t let Lee’s relaxed on-camera demeanor fool you. She gets repulsed by stomach churning procedures every now and then like the rest of us. Her kryptonite? Inflamed and infected cysts. She told Cosmopolitan “They smell because there is an infection there and if there is bacteria involved, that creates an odor.” And then there are abscesses, which “are very liquid-y and can squirt you. It ruins your day if you get it in your hair.” Lee said she had to go home to take a nap after treating a cyst and abscess on the same day because “it was too much for me.”

The reason Lee hides her disgust is because she wants to make sure her patients feel as comfortable as possible. “This is very important to me as a physician, because I want to make sure my patients feel safe and respected,” she told Lad Bible. “It’s a big deal to go and see a doctor about something that you are scared or embarrassed about… you don’t want to feel bad about yourself after a doctor’s visit.”

This is how she convinces her patients to show their embarrassing blemishes to millions of viewers

Dr. Sandra Lee with a patient

People go to great lengths to hide embarrassing skin imperfections, from applying cover up make-up over the area to hiding it with bangs or a hat (we’ve all been there). So then why would anyone let Dr. Pimple Popper film their blemishes for millions to see online? The same reason we do many things in life: Money.

Lee told Forbes that she offers to do the procedure for free if patients let her film and post it on YouTube. “Of course, I make them anonymous and remove anything identifying. Literally, they all say yes.” She explained that none of these procedures are covered by insurance because they’re benign, but these patients “really want these things to be removed.” It’s totally a win-win situation! “My patients win, because they get the blackheads removed for free. I win, because I get to take it out and put the video on YouTube.”

Pimple popping is not her #careergoals

Dr. Sandra Lee smiling in one of her videos

Dr. Pimple Popper does more than, you know, pop pimples. She provides services such as botox, fillers, liposuction, eye lifts and skin cancer surgery. In fact, The Cut reported that those conventional procedures are her bread and butter and bring in most of her income. She doesn’t post videos of these procedures as much as she used to because they weren’t as viral as the popping kind. And as she told Mental Floss, it’s a more “self-conscious” clientele.

Little known fact: Most dermatologists do very little popping. That’s more of an aesthetician thing. Lee revealed on YouTube that pimple popping made up only about 1 percent of her procedures, but it has grown to about 15-20 percent since her videos took off. “That’s really a small part of what I do as a dermatologist,” Lee said. “… My love, or what I like about dermatology, is doing surgery.”

She's a total control freak

The days of Lee filming, editing and uploading every video herself using her iPhone and iMovie are no more. She now has a team helping her. But it took some getting used to, as Lee likes to be hands on with every aspect of the operation. “I have a little bit of a problem letting go because I feel like it’s my responsibility,” Lee told Mental Floss. “They’re my patients, and I try to keep them private and anonymous. If (the team leaves) something in accidentally, then I’ll feel really bad. But it’s harder and harder to (do every video).”

The reality show will prove to be an even bigger test for Lee. She’ll have less control due to the fact that she’ll be dealing with direction from producers and TLC. “This is really stressful for me and I think the reason is there’s a little sense of loss of control for me,” Lee said on YouTube. “… I am a control freak for sure.”

She was pretty pissed at YouTube for considering her vids "gory, disgusting and for shock value"

Dr. Sandra Lee with her youtube golden button

There’s a reason Lee tends to refer to blood as “ooze” in her videos and is quick to clean it up. She wants to avoid the wrath of YouTube, according to The Cut. The social media platform is sensitive about graphic content and used to take down Dr. Pimple Popper videos that it deemed inappropriate.

“They were considered ‘gory, disgusting and for shock value.’ she told Forbes. “I fought back. I was like, ‘That’s not what this is. I’m a dermatologist. This is what I do.’ I’m not doing this for shock value. Honestly, it was insulting that they leave videos on of people getting shot or even porn.”

It appears Lee and YouTube have since mended the relationship, for the most part. When Lee reached 1 million subscribers in 2016, YouTube sent her a framed gold play button to commemorate the milestone along with a letter stating “We’re incredibly proud of all you’ve done.”

This explains why she isn't phased by those gruesome growths

The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Lee’s father was also a dermatologist and exposed her to the profession at a young age. She told The One with Greg Gutfeld, “we would have textbooks sitting around the house, with the most crazy pictures in it. It just became normal to me. My dad would be reading a journal with somebody with some growth coming out of their head and I would be eating breakfast next to him.” That explains a lot.

Lee revealed on YouTube that she and her husband, Jeffrey Rebish, who also happens to be a dermatologist, took over the family business from her now-retired dad. “I think he had been waiting for a while… to retire,” she said, “and I feel kind of bad because I had so many years of training that I kind of kept him working for a little longer than I think he wished.” She credited dear ol’ dad for her calm bedside manner in an interview with The Cut and revealed on Instagram that he used to play the ukulele for his patients.

Her videos are being used as… bedtime lullabies?!

Who needs Ambien when you have Dr. Pimple Popper? Lee said her oozing videos have been known to help viewers get some shut-eye. “Believe it or not, my videos are bedtime lullabies to many,” Lee shared in an interview with Lad Bible. The sound of her voice might have something to do with it. She’s heard it “has calming qualities, what people call ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response).” But she doesn’t alter her voice to create that tingling effect many find relaxing. Lee told Broadly that’s just how she talks.

Patients who suffer from obsessive skin-picking disorders also find the videos beneficial, according to Lee. She said in the Broadly interview that some patients who regularly watch her videos claim that they decrease their urges to pick their skin. “There’s a sense of completion, of cleansing,” she told Lad Bible. “It calms people with some obsessive compulsive tendencies.” Hey, whatever works.

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