YouTube’s favorite dermatologist, Dr. Sandra Lee—a.k.a. Pimple Popper—tells Mental Floss in her own words how she got her start, the hazards of the job, and why people love her videos.
As told to Erin McCarthy
1. "Dermatology kind of fell into my lap. I was surrounded by it. My dad's a dermatologist, so I would go to the office, and there were textbooks all around the house. But it was never like, I'm going to be a dermatologist. It just was kind of a natural path."
2. "In my fourth year of medical school, I didn’t match with a dermatology program for my residency. You feel like you're in a dream: Is this really happening? I even considered emergency medicine for the blink of an eye. Thank God I didn't do that."
3. "Posting to social media was a science experiment. I went to go see this Instagram-famous hair stylist, and I thought: Could I do this? Because dermatology is a really visual field. Initially, it was OK—maybe a couple thousand people following me—until I posted a black extraction video and it just popped up. I was so intrigued by it. So if I saw anyone with a blackhead, I’d ask to take it out and video it. And it just grew from there."
4. "There's like an allure to watching blackhead removal—a hypnotic quality. You just feel good. It decreases people's panic and anxiety and relaxes them. I hear all the time: This is gross, yet so satisfying."
5. "Psychologists have told me, 'We refer your videos to help people with skin picking disorders.' They watch these videos and it decreases their own compulsion to pick."
6. "My favorite thing to extract is a dilated pore of winer. They come out fresh and whole—they’re not so easy to find and they’re really big."
7. "My girls at work say, you have the strongest squeeze muscles anywhere. I'm like a snapping turtle. I can’t hit, but I could hurt somebody with my pinch."
8. "When people are in my chair, I want them to feel safe. The key to having a good bedside manner is to put your mind in that person's place. There are so many things that I do and say to make sure that they know this is their decision. I'm going to talk them through everything. I want to make sure they're never in any pain. And I think that that's part of why people travel from around the world to see me—they know that they can trust me and that I'm trying to take the best care of them that I can."
9. "I just use my phone to film. You should see my phone—it’s just people and their growths. I usually give people a discount to get something filmed. They sign a consent form giving me permission. When I’m filming, I'm not showing their face and I'm going to omit their name or where they live. I think that’s important to do."
10. "The main hazard of my job is getting splashed. And smells, maybe. It’s skin cells that are wet, that have been stored for years. It smells like really stinky cheese or like maybe like really bad, old toe jam."
11. "YouTube gave me the financial means to start my own line, SLMD Skincare, which was really my dream. I wanted to create something that wasn't out there yet—a medical skin care line that would reach the people I'm reaching with my videos, people who have questions about their skincare issues. A lot of people can't see a dermatologist. I’m trying to reach them and provide them with good skincare."
12. "With the show, I was scared—just like I like to give my patients control, I like to have control. I had to trust the production company. It turned out great, but I was freaking out the day that the first episode aired on TLC. I was like, What did we do? But it was really well received—the show is doing crazy well."
13. "All of the failures that have happened in my life have led to the big successes. I don't think that I would actually be here with a book and a TV show and a skincare line if I hadn’t had the experience of not matching right after medical school into a dermatology residency. When things become difficult, you realize how much you want it, and I think you appreciate it more. I’m so fortunate—I’m just so lucky."