If you don’t know Dr. Sandra Lee, a simple Google will reveal all you need to know. Today, for instance, these were the first results for her name:
- Dr. Pimple Popper just popped tons of tiny blackheads on a woman’s forehead
- Dr. Pimple Popper just squeezed out chunky white “grits” from a huge eyebrow cyst
- Dr. Pimple Popper snips tons of tiny skin tags off man’s armpit in new Instagram video
The California-based Dr. Lee is probably the most famous dermatologist, ever. Using the catchy name “Dr. Pimple Popper,” Dr. Lee has found runaway success in media both new (3.3 million followers on Instagram) and old (her eponymous television show just finished its second season on the TLC Network, posting its best ratings yet). She has legions of fans, including even Sansa Stark. “Sophie Turner is a popaholic,” says Dr. Lee. “Remember the scene where they were removing the greyscale, and then right after that they dipped into a pie? I reposted that and she liked it. I really think that little thing was an homage to Dr. Pimple Popper.”
And not only does Dr. Lee dutifully chronicle every excavated lipoma and withered cyst that comes her way, but her posts get reposted by numerous outlets looking for that cheap web hit heat.
In many ways, Dr. Pimple Popper is a perfect reflection of the times we live in, where everything is recorded and monetized, no matter the act. It’s not enough to be honest, you have to expose everything inside of yourself, no matter how gross it may be. Something that used to be a private indulgence for many (OK, all) of us—standing before our bathroom mirror and bursting a zit—has now become not only socially acceptable but also a gold mine of #content. Yet as Dr. Lee’s television show chronicles, what she does is more than just bustin’ zits: Dr. Lee makes people’s lives better, one nausea-testing skin condition at a time.
GQ: Maybe I’m different than most people, but to me your show is so interesting from a medical standpoint. It’s also a little bit gross, to be honest.
Dr. Lee: I think you’re like most people. I mean, you’d never heard of it until you saw it on TV, right?
I knew that videos about popping pimples were popular online in a general way, but I had not specifically heard of you.
When you first saw the show, were you thinking, “This is ridiculous?” Or you just saw a clip and you thought the show might be interesting?
First I saw the name of the show, and it’s the best name for a show on TV. It’s perfectly explanatory. You know exactly what it is. It’s kind of like People magazine.
It’s actually sort of tongue-in-cheek, because it’s so much more than just pimple popping, so I think some people get the wrong impression of it. I hear a lot of people saying, “Why do they use that name? It’s disgusting.” But it gets people remembering it. I think that’s what makes it key.
I feel like I know so much more about the body thanks to your show. Like, I’ll watch your show and a patient walks in and I can say, “That’s definitely a lipoma,” or “Oh, with a cyst you’ve got to get the bag out of there or it will likely grow back.”
Yes, that’s right. And we have so many little fans, which is crazy. We have five-year-olds that come in, and I have so many videos of them with Play-Doh, pretending that they’re taking out a lipoma. I saw a kid last year at Halloween who dressed up as me and carried around a raw chicken cutlet in a Ziplock bag to look like a lipoma. That’s pretty cute.
When you mentioned Play-Doh my stomach turned a little bit. Can you still eat mashed potatoes?
I can eat egg salad right after a procedure. But you know what is funny is that we have these pimple cupcakes that are very realistic and I cannot eat them with my eyes open. I can’t stand over a cyst and eat something; that would be gross.
Is there anything you couldn’t treat? Any condition that would gross you out?
Toe jam is my kryptonite. Like, I don’t like long toenails and stuff like that. But in dermatology there’s a lot of fascinating skin conditions. We learn so many things, like about jellyfish and the way that they create rashes on our body, to like bot flies that lay their eggs under our skin, to loa loa, this mosquito that transfers this parasite that you see in your eyeball.
There’s just so many fascinating things that we learn as dermatologists that technically I would like to see, but I don’t want to have them walk into my office. So there’s a lot of things that we read in books that you don’t see in person.
I don’t know that much about you, because the show is all about the patients. When you were growing up did you have skin problems? Were you popping your own pimples?
No, and actually my dad is a dermatologist, so I knew about dermatology. I, myself, was not a popaholic. I call myself a born-again popaholic, because now if I see something and I’m like, “Oh my god, that’s a good one for social media.” In the past I would see things like this and be just like any other dermatologist, who would say, “Don’t worry about that. That’s not a skin cancer. That’s not a melanoma. That’s nothing to worry about, it’s just a blackhead or it’s just a cyst.” But I discovered that so many people really liked it—it essentially makes people happy, which is the weird thing, too.
It makes your patients happy, but it also makes your audience happy to watch you pulling this stuff out of people’s bodies. As a viewer it’s oddly satisfying to watch.
It makes people content, or they feel better about themselves, about humans or something. It’s just so fascinating, this whole thing, how it just built up and became something like this. And now we have a TV show. I mean frankly it’s ridiculous, but it is very cool, too. And I think that the reason that it’s going somewhere is really because it makes people happy.
The show is edited in such a way that when you come in with the results from sending stuff off to pathology, it’s never cancer, it’s never something horrible. And the people on the show are pretty much having their lives changed for the better. So I think people who watch the show tune in knowing there are going to be happy endings. It’s almost like wrestling. You kind of know how it’s going to end but you’re in for it anyway.
Well, I’m not taking off a melanoma and telling this person that this is life-threatening. But I think what you’re tuning in for is that you see this person that has like a third arm coming out of a shoulder, and you’re like, “I’ve got to see this. What is this? Where did he come from? Why does he have this and how did he let it grow so big?” All these sorts of questions. And then when you hear them tell their story then you realize that they’re just really like all of us. Like, this is just what happens to people. I see people on social media and they go, “This would never happen in Canada. Oh, this would never happen in the UK.” I’m like, yeah, right. It happens anywhere in the world, and part of it makes you realize they’re people too, and you shouldn’t judge them.
When you started posting these videos on social media, were you surprised at the reaction? Or did you know people wanted to see this type of stuff?
I was just creating a public Instagram. But early on I posted a blackhead extraction video, and I noticed an increase in interest. I thought that was very strange, so I did it again right away and I got the same reaction. And it was really me seeing that opportunity. Like, I saw this was something there, and from there I quickly discovered the popping Subreddit I found that there was a subculture on the Internet that shared popping videos, and that just flabbergasted me. I was like, What is going on? Why are these people sharing this?
And on the other hand, I was like, I could be their queen. I could be their person. So I just thought I would just keep posting things, and I saw the reactions, I saw people getting excited about it and it was just like this bonfire I felt like I was building. I was like let’s see what we can do with this. There’s got to be an ending, there’s got to be a limit, but it’s still growing. It’s crazy. So, I really kind of stumbled upon it but I saw there was this something there that I could sort of take advantage of being in my position, where there’s very few of us that could do this.
At the end of the day you’re a dermatologist, and you have your own SLMD Skincare line that people can buy at home. But how much of having skin problems is treatable with medicine, and how much is just good genes and good luck?
Because I have this platform, I knew that I had millions of people who trust me as a dermatologist. And I’m not going to sell them things just to make money. So this is not about eliminating dermatologists, because there are absolutely prescription medications that are required for many skin conditions. But the only other option we have now is that weird aisle in CVS, the one that’s like As Seen On TV, where it’s like Tag Off or different brands for psoriasis or what not. And the web is like the Wild West. I just want to try to give people as correct information as I can from a dermatologist and let people take it into their own hands if they can.
Last thing: When you’re traveling, what skincare products do you make sure you bring with you?
I don’t use hotel lotion unless I have to. Hotel lotion is fragranced, usually, and fragrances actually dry you out. So they’re not good if you want good moisturizer, and I’m very dry. So, I always keep like a little Aquaphor, a little Vaseline, like a little lip balm that you can use on dry, cracked areas too. And I always carry a good moisturizing cream. Creams are better than lotions if you want moisture, because creams are oil-based and lotions are water-based. So creams are more moisturizing. And I always carry something with sunscreen for the face, like a little powder. There’s powdered sunscreens these days which are really great, especially for us females or anyone who wears makeup, because you don’t want to reapply your sunscreen in the middle of the day.
Originally Appeared on GQ