The internet’s visual answer to ASMR, we spoke to the woman who started it all, Dr Sandra Lee AKA Dr. Pimple Popper
From YouTube clips of people scratching their dandruff to those make-up smashing videos that exist in the dark recesses of the web, we all have those things that make us tick. Beauty Fetish is a regular column where we uncover the weirdest beauty trends the internet has to offer and meet the people behind them.
Mention Dr. Pimple Popper, even whisper it, and people with either moan with orgasmic glee before tearing their phones from their pockets, quickly falling into a deep hole of deep hole extractions, or they’ll tense up, back away and tell you you’re gross.
But pimple popping is universal — there’s no shame in it — we’ve all been there: Saturday night, while the boyf has gone to get the takeaway, chocolate, Diet Coke, condoms, we sit, legs akimbo, on our beds, picking away at our upper thigh ingrown hairs, or those fuckers that collect around your mouth after a particularly greasy KFC. If we’re feeling especially luxurious we might even give the contents a little sniff. Just me? Didn’t think so.
There are hundreds of us out there, thousands even, who appreciate a good cyst squeezing, zit popping, crater excavating sesh. And the focus doesn’t have to be on our own formula. In fact, there’s an entire thread on Reddit dedicated to sharing and enjoying videos of people from all over the world relieving their pimples, that has a loyal following of 164k and seems to have been around for the better part of eight years. There’s a huge appetite for it. That’s why, when everyone’s favourite professional pimple popper, Dr Sandra Lee moved her practice to Instagram, for all to see, it quickly caught the attention of some 2.9 million followers. That’s more than Kylie Minogue.
It all started back in 2015 when Dr Sandra Lee uploaded her first pimple popping video onto social media. “One day I offered to remove a patient’s blackheads in exchange for her allowing me to videotape the process and post on my Instagram,” the California based dermatologist told Dazed Beauty. “She jumped at the opportunity, and when I posted it – to my surprise, it immediately got a lot of likes. I was pretty curious. So I did it again, and it got a jump in attention – again. I thought, ‘hmm maybe this is a ‘thing’.’” And she was right.
Now it attracts fans in their droves — her videos totalling literally billions of views. Even more since she launched her own TV show earlier this year. Yes, her very own TV show. That’s how popular she is. When asked why she thinks this is, she talks about the soothing and cleansing nature of her work — of gouging cysts and popping a face full of deep set blackheads as something akin to a relief, a kind of visual ASMR. “And one thing I will say… the popaholic community is a very positive, supportive community and I am so grateful for that!”
She’s on the money there, too: a simple scroll through the comments on YouTube and you’ll find some rather devoted fans. “Good lord that first one was a gusher,” says commenter one, “and it looked like condensed milk” says commenter three. Commenter five wades in, boldly, with “looked exactly like when I made Jello’s Cheesecake Pudding with too much milk and it’s really thin and runny… I still eat it, I still love it.” Then, commenter six, to really hammer home the point, brings the conversation to a climax with: “I’d like to dip my bread in that.” Just to be clear, by “it” and “that” we are talking about creamy, oozing puss.
But it seems as though the fascination isn’t simply with the grossness of the process, but with the release each pop or pull or lance brings with it. To see if we could find out any more about why this is, we went straight to the source — Dr Lee herself — to see how she got here, what she thinks of her fans, and how she feels about her pop-stardom.
How did your focus turn to pimple popping specifically?
Dr. Pimple Popper: People seem to be curious about it; even obsessed with “popping”. I noticed that there were strong feelings for my Instagram posts: it was either they were grossed out or they loved it and wanted more. Either way, they tagged their friends. I started to “throw another log on the fire” posting on social media every day and uploading a daily YouTube video. In just three years I have nearly 3 billion views on my YouTube channel, and have well over 10 million followers across all my social media platforms. Mind boggling and crazy!
When did you realise the practice of pimple popping would be so obsessed over on the internet?
Dr. Pimple Popper: I never thought this would happen. As I mentioned, I just was curious and had a hunch that this might be a thing. I discovered the subreddit popping category and realised it was a thing. The rest is history.
What do you think people are getting out of watching?
Dr. Pimple Popper: I think there are a few reasons people watch, but ultimately I think it really makes many people happy, content, or relaxed. There’s a sense of completion, of cleansing. It calms people with some obsessive compulsive tendencies. People who have a tendency to pick at their own skin when they are stressed say that watching my videos really helps them to keep their hands off their own skin. Many people actually watch my videos if they are having a panic attack, or to help them sleep! I also think it may give some people a little rush similar to what a person may feel from riding a rollercoaster or watching a scary movie. I think it’s fascinating for many people to see what can come out of the skin of a regular, normal, healthy human. Also, people say that my voice has calming qualities, what people call ASMR. Believe it or not, my videos are bedtime lullabies to many.
What are the most extreme responses you get to your videos?
Dr. Pimple Popper: There are a variety of responses that my videos get but they are all positive for the most part. These videos have a shock factor that people love and I often hear people comment and compare the popping to food or something else in real life, which is crazy.
Are there any procedures you don’t post? Why?
Dr. Pimple Popper: I am a full-time dermatologist and I do many procedures besides pimple popping such as medical dermatology, and cosmetic and surgical procedures including liposuction, MOHs surgery, cosmetic fillers, botox. I share these from time to time and some find them interesting but they don’t tend to have the same satisfaction factor as some of the pimple popping.
There are also videos that maybe are in more private areas of the body that are not always appropriate to share on social media. And of course, if the patient doesn’t want to be filmed or doesn’t want the footage to be shared, we respect that completely.
What is your favourite type of extraction and why?
Dr. Pimple Popper: I like them all. I’ve been doing this for quite some time but there are still new and interesting cases that fascinate me. I will say… I don’t love when a cyst or something squirts on me or gets in my hair or something like that. It kind of changes the direction of my day… but it’s all part of the job.
How does it make you feel when you have a really successful extraction?
Dr. Pimple Popper: After any extraction or procedure, I am usually happy as long as my patient is happy. Of course, some cases are more complicated than others but the most important thing about all of this is that the patient feels great. While I’m working with a patient you’ll hear me frequently make sure that they are not in any pain or discomfort and it’s always nice to finish and see how relieved and happy the individual is after having something removed.
Can you explain the process of extracting a giant spot, from its formation right to the moment it bursts from its pore?
Dr. Pimple Popper: You can experience what this looks like yourself, if you watch almost any of my videos on my YouTube Channel!