Pop go the acne myths: Dr Sandra Lee, a.k.a. Dr Pimple Popper, bursts the bubble on acne, her favourite beauty hack, and why people can’t get enough of her videos
She’s the Princess of Pop, yet she has never set foot on a concert stage or recorded a hit song. However, she is no stranger to the camera and Instagram videos that go viral within minutes. In fact, her YouTube channel is hovering near the 8 million mark and her legions of international fans are affectionately known as ‘popaholics’. Among her loyal followers are celebrities, doctors, nurses and the unapologetically curious who can’t get enough of this unlikely “pop” star’s prolific outpouring.
Dr Sandra Lee, a.k.a. Dr Pimple Popper, did not set out to be social media’s most celebrated, yet reluctant gross-out video star. The daughter of a dermatologist from Singapore, Lee followed in her father’s footsteps after graduating from UCLA and Drexel University medical school. After years of private practice along with her dermatologist husband, she had the modest notion that a video or two posted to YouTube would be a great way to give the world a window into the daily life of a dermatologist, cyst popping and all. There was no intent at voyeurism or cheap blood-letting thrills. Just honest-to-goodness medical practice on educational display. How was she to know there were potentially millions of people who get a cathartic thrill to see a lipoma removed or blackheads blasted?
For Dr Lee, the videos are not only a telescopic lens into her profession, but a learning tool for both medical practitioners and lay people alike, and a way for people to feel better about themselves and skin issues many of us face at one time or another.
With a runaway hit TV reality show and a best selling skin care line under her belt, Dr Lee’s latest endeavour is the launch of Ah-ha! It’s Acne Hormones. In a partnership with Sun Pharmaceuticals, Ah-ha! It’s Acne Hormones is an awareness campaign designed to spotlight hormones as a major underlying cause of acne, regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. The campaign features graffiti-style visuals to profile more than 20 individuals at different life stages who share their personal struggles with acne while highlighting their personalities, hobbies, and passions.
‘I’m participating in the Sun Pharma campaign to help people who suffer from acne understand the crucial role that hormones play in causing the condition,’ said Dr Lee. ‘I also want people to know that acne caused by hormones impacts everyone regardless of gender and can happen at any age—not just in teenagers.’
We caught up with Dr Lee to pop some acne myths and misconceptions, why watching pimple-popping can be cathartic, and her favourite antidote to looking tired and lifeless.
Lucire: How and why did acne and lesions become your speciality?
Dr Sandra Lee: As a board-certified dermatologist, I treat all types of skin conditions. Of course, we see a lot of patients with acne since it’s such a common condition—affecting about 80 per cent of the US population at some point in their lives, especially as hormones fluctuate through one’s life cycle. About eight to nine years ago, I started to post some of my patient procedures on YouTube and realized that people were really interested in watching blackhead extractions. I thought it would be of interest to post more videos of things “popping” out of the skin, so I created the persona of Dr Pimple Popper and posted more procedures related to different types of pimples on different social media platforms. So I suppose now people may view me as an acne specialist, but the breadth of what I do is so much more.
What is the best way to prevent breakouts?
There are a few things people can do to help prevent breakouts, but keep in mind this also depends on the severity of one’s acne. These tips are going to be most effective for mild to moderate acne, without other complications such as concurrent eczema or rosacea.
• Wash with a mild cleanser twice a day but not harshly, and don’t over-wash, followed by a good moisturizer.
• Use a good spot treatment for the occasional pimple. Topical cleansers and spot treatments can help get rid of acne once it occurs on the face, but a lot of people also break out on their back or upper chest, which is harder to control.
• Be educated! Don’t listen to myths and misconceptions like eating greasy food will cause breakouts. While personal hygiene and wellness are important for overall health, hormones are the underlying cause of acne. You can learn more about this by going to www.acnehormones.com and reading through the information provided.
• If breakouts are bothersome, a person really should consult with a dermatologist to determine a skin care regimen«which may involve a combination of over-the-counter and prescription products—to control them.
What are the warning signs a breakout is about to occur, and why does it always seem to happen at the least auspicious time?
Stress in and of itself doesn’t cause acne, but it can change the serum levels of different hormones, and thus create an imbalance of hormones impacting the skin—which may lead to breakouts. It may not always be so easy to predict a breakout, but generally, a person should be extra-prudent when they expect a change of hormones in the body. This may be easier for females to identify, for example before a menstrual cycle, post-pregnancy, or around menopause, but hormones trigger breakouts in males too. While acne can happen to a person of any ethnicity, gender, and any age, the highest risk is during teenage to young adult years, about 12–24 years of age. After experiencing acne for a while, some people can identify their breakout patterns, but this may not be possible for everyone.
Why do you think people are fascinated with watching your videos?
People seem to get a lot of satisfaction from watching extractions, no matter how big or small. I think it’s human nature to want a resolution to a problem, and with acne and other growths on the skin these are visible issues a person has that others can relate to. I’ve been told repeatedly that those who love watching the videos find them relaxing—almost trance-like. A lot of people watch them to destress in the evening and to help them go to sleep. Of course, there are people who do not want to watch these procedures, but whether a person loves or hates them a lot of people like to talk about it!
Your favourite red-carpet or beauty hacks in an emergency?
My favourite red carpet beauty hack is Lumify eye drops. It instantly brightens and makes me look well rested and bright-eyed, bushy-tailed for the red carpet (even if I’ve had a non-stop day seeing patients, working on my skin care brand SLMD, filming for my TLC show, mom duties, etc.).
What is your recommended skin care routine to prevent and treat acne? What product ingredients should one look for on the package label? What should be avoided?
I’m of course partial to my SLMD Skincare Acne System and Sensitive Skin Acne Systems, which are complete kits with everything you need to treat and prevent acne. The essentials here are an exfoliating cleanser that’s gentle enough to use every day, an antibacterial acne treatment, a retinol to regulate cell turnover, and a moisturizer. People have a misconception that oily or acne-prone skin doesn’t need moisturizer, but it’s important to protect the skin barrier, especially during acne treatment.
What motivates you to do this and keep it going?
If by ‘this’ you mean Dr Pimple Popper, I just love extending what I do for my patients to anyone who can benefit from the information I share. If it makes people happy, that makes me happy. As for the Ah-ha! It’s Acne Hormones campaign, I also want people to know that acne isn’t their fault. They aren’t breaking out because of what they ate, or how little they washed their face. Acne is heavily driven by hormones, and if patients understood this, they would be much more interested in understanding the need to control the hormone levels in their skin and follow an effective skin care regimen.
Follow Dr Lee on IG here or browse her vast YouTube library here.