How Sandra Lee became Dr Pimple Popper and started making wildly popular gross-out videos she says some watch to calm down

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How Sandra Lee became Dr Pimple Popper and started making wildly popular gross-out videos she says some watch to calm down
Sandra Lee, also known as Dr Pimple Popper, has shot to fame as a dermatologist on YouTube and TLC.Dola Budazhapova
  • Dr Sandra Lee is better known as Dr Pimple Popper, a YouTube and "ZitTok" phenomenon.
  • Lee told Insider about her success as a pimple popper raking in more than 2 billion YouTube views.
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A low-definition camera focuses on an elderly woman's deep, wide blackhead before a hand wearing surgical gloves and holding a pair of tweezers comes into view.

Dr Pimple Popper is about to remove the blackhead. In her soothing voice she says "it's like a little plug in a faucet – do you wanna see?" before presenting her findings to the recoiling patient. The video has been viewed 75 million times.

The doctor, whose real name is Sandra Lee, has become a household name by carving out blackheads, cysts, and benign tumors from willing patients to a mass audience of "popaholics". Now she is juggling her clinic in Upland, California with her social media channels, a hit show on TLC, and a skincare brand.

'Car crash TV'

In the 12 years since she started her YouTube channel, the dermatologist's videos have had more than 2 billion views. TLC, which airs her show Dr Pimple Popper, gets millions more views from Dr Pimple Popper on its own YouTube channel.

Lee, whose father and husband are also dermatologists, still struggles to comprehend the popularity of her videos. She describes it as "car crash television", because her 7.5 million "popaholic" subscribers cannot look away. Some watch it to be grossed out, while others find it relaxing, she says.

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"There's a sense of satisfaction, where you're getting rid of something that shouldn't be there," Lee tells Insider. "A lot of people focus on it because of this big splash that can happen or this craziness that occurs, but a lot of people actually watch my videos to calm them down."

Lee's reactions are in sharp contrast to the content on screen. Referring to the interior of the oily mounds as "boiled eggs" and "pearls from an oyster", Lee has become notorious just as much for her soothing voice behind the camera as her actions in front of it.

She thinks that her bedside manner is as responsible for her success as the graphic nature of her videos.

"You're standing over somebody with a knife on a table, so part of it is making things light-hearted," she said, adding even before the TV show people would travel from across the US to see her because they felt like they knew her.

Lee says she knows people in high stress jobs, such as nurses, doctors, and police officers, watch her videos to calm them down.

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Now her nascent TikTok channel, where she conquers #ZitTok, has more than 15 million followers and has raked in more than 180 million likes, with Lee doing a combination of quick bursts and reaction videos.

@drpimplepopper #duet with @estheticsbyestep #pimple Try NOT to pops those pustules! #drpimplepopper #SLMDskincare ♬ Aesthetic - Tollan Kim

A skincare brand and a hit show, but not much revenue

Since her fame exploded, Lee says her job had changed a lot, and not always in ways she would like. Filming days involve her tackling increasingly rare skin conditions to attract more viewers and she wonders when a blackhead will stop being "the biggest ever." Those obligations have cut into the time she can spend with her regular patients.

Lee now juggles her time between her social media accounts, her channel, and her clinic. "When you have a lot of success that certainly comes with a lot of stress, and sometimes the success can be detrimental to you," she says.

It's also not proved to be as lucrative as people might suspect.

Lee told Men's Health magazine in 2019 she wasn't making much money from her TV show. She declined to discuss her income with Insider, but also suggested her YouTube views didn't make as much as some creators because advertisers were less keen to appear beside "explosions."

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Her skincare brand, SLMD, that was launched in 2017, is aimed at those dealing with acne, blemishes and other conditions and could help generate more income as well.

Despite the stress, Lee can't help returning to doing what she loves most: squeezing blackheads and fixing skin conditions.

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