Dermatologist Sandra Lee shot to fame via an unlikely source—pimple popping videos. In fact, you’re probably more familiar with Lee by her other moniker: Dr. Pimple Popper. What started out with simple videos of blackhead extractions and pimple popping has turned Lee into a bonafide sensation with her own television show, board game, and line of skin care products. I sat down with the multi-hyphenate to talk about why people are so into these videos, and how she’s helping to change the conversation around skin conditions.
As we talked, we also played around with Pimple Pete, her recently-launched board game collaboration with Spin Master Games. The game makes me, someone who can’t handle even the most basic of blackhead extraction videos, feel queasy—but it’s a hit. You may be asking yourself, How can you make a board game out of pimple popping? Well, the game requires you to carefully extract pimples from the face of Pete—but if you pull too hard, the mega-zit on his nose will explode and spray you with water. Gross, yes, but that’s the kind of currency the pimple popping world trades with.
So, what is it about pimple popping that taps into something so relatable? The answer to that question, perhaps, lies in Dr. Lee’s show on TLC, aptly title Dr. Pimple Popper. “I think that this show is drawing more people into what I do and creating more fans that aren’t necessarily popaholics,” she said. “It really gets into why I do this. This is based upon something that many people may consider gross or shocking, but it actually makes people happier and improves their lives.” Plus, you get to learn more about the people who are coming to her for treatment.
I asked her if she thought her platforms are helping people feel more comfortable going to the doctor for their skin conditions. “I think it’s so important to show that these are real people and they have feelings,” she said. Not only does this create a more tolerant culture, but it helps people seek help for conditions they may feel embarrassed about. She hopes that by educating people, we help improve people’s lives.
Lee has parents bring in their 12-year-old children who are starting to get whiteheads and blackheads, because they don’t want them to have to deal with the self-esteem issues that can accompany acne. “It affects people in such an important part of their life, the formative years when you’re just trying to figure out who you are and how you relate to the world and it really can affect the development of your personality,” she said.
Despite all of these great reasons to watch pimple popping videos, I told Lee, I still can’t stomach them. She told me I should start with “soft pops” (a phrase I can hardly type without gagging). These are things like blackhead and whitehead extractions. A “hard pop,” she tells me, would be more along the lines of involving blood or a scalpel. (Note: I still have not made it past the five-second mark on any “soft pop” videos.) She, herself, can’t stomach watching videos of poppings that she didn’t perform—though her resistance comes from a different place than mine. “I don’t know if the environment was clean, or if the person was in pain,” she explained.
“I want people to realize that we are more than just pimple popping—we do so much more than that,” she said. “There are so many fascinating skin conditions that we’re learning about, and hopefully by educating people about them, people will be less judgmental.”