The first thing you notice about Dr. Sandra Lee is her luminous skin. Everyone wants to look good and not have things out of sorts on their body or with their smile.
Lee’s career has veered from dermatological A-to-Z procedures to becoming the guru of pore perfection, by way of some pretty in-your-face popping videos that seem to resonate with millions.
TLC Network took note of that and the incredible number of viewers that flock to her YouTube channel to watch everything from blackhead extraction to full-on cyst removals, the scope of which can boggle the mind.
One thing is for certain, TLC is not known for letting opportunities escape their grasp and capitalized on her bonhomie in the face of imperfect skin. She makes patients who carry a load of shame feel accepted and takes care of business with professionalism, words of wisdom, and good cheer.
During the recent Television Critics Association summer press tour in Beverly Hills, we spoke to Dr. Lee about her remarkable road to success that is resonating with a TV audience on TLC.
Monsters and Critics: So many people that watch this show many of the comments are “I would never live with that on my body, or why do people do that?” And I don’t think that they realize or their naive about the cost of cyst surgery and what that bill is and how often insurance doesn’t pay. And I was wondering if you could talk about that for a minute.
Doctor Lee: Yes, I mean, like I said, that is just one of a few reasons why people don’t get these things done. You know the main thing is that actually, sometimes people go to see the doctor and may say, “I want to have this done.” And the doctor actually tells them not to do it because the doctor says, “don’t worry about it, it’s nothing to worry about, it’s not life-threatening, it’s not medically necessary”.
Or maybe, they do say yeah, or you may have to pay cash for it because it’s not covered by insurance, right?
It could be quite expensive to do this. And different kinds of doctors too, we have different ways of removing a cyst or removing a lipoma. Some of us might do this under general anesthesia and that already increase the cost quite dramatically. A lot of us who are dermatologists, board-certified dermatologist that do surgery, we do most of our procedures or surgeries under local anesthesia. This is when you actually can be less expensive.
So the way that I do it is actually less expensive than going in and getting an anesthesiologist and going into a hospital and doing it. Actually, it’s a safer way.
You don’t have that risk associated with general anesthesia. And I just think that this is actually one thing that this is sort of highlighting that there is a way to do this that is not strange or unusual, it’s just not really well publicized. That this can be done under local anesthesia in a very safe way.
M&C: When did you realize that, hey, this pimple popping thing is, there’s something here?
Doctor Lee: Well, probably six months or so into posting my videos on social media and it was growing pretty fast and at that moment. It went viral at one moment because somebody made a reaction video and they posted it on the internet and it got tons of views it awesome but see they made a video.
That is when my phone, I had my notifications on my phone, so on Instagram, I would know whenever somebody starts following me or liked a photo. My phone just started flipping, because people kept joining or watching. I think I grew by 20, 000 in just a couple of hours, you know, followers, and I just couldn’t get in my phone. That was when I like, oh my gosh, this is a thing, this is crazy.
M&C: A lot of people are curious to know why some people are afflicted with these things and are more prone to them. I know genetics come into play but are there other reason, such as dietary, viral, or fungal infections?
Doctor Lee: Right, well if you say, “these things,” in general, the things that we’re doing on… if you’re talking about pops in general, like lipomas, or cysts, or blackheads, or whiteheads, those are the things that have grown in popularity on my channel because I try to focus on things that really pop out of the skin, essentially.
But, it is true that it has a lot to do with genetics, and the type of skin you have, maybe people with cysts maybe are more prone to oily skin. Somebody with acne and things like that usually have more oily skin.
Somebody who has lipomas, who has a lot of lipomas, that can be a very genetic thing. That could be something that runs in the family. But it’s also just maybe, you might say it’s a little bit of bad luck, it happens. It happens a lot.
It’s not like these are really rare things. Cysts are not rare, lipomas are not rare, they just happen. And I think that’s important, for the vast majority of people they may have small ones that never really grow very big or bother them very much. But I think the ones you see on the show are the ones that do grow really big and pretty noticeable and do bother the patient.
M&C: Do you get accosted in the airports, and public places with people showing you skin afflictions?
Doctor Lee: It’s weird because people think, I don’t really get people who show me their bumps, because I don’t think it’s… maybe every now and then, but I’m used to that as a dermatologist, in general, we get probably the most curbside consults than any other kind of medical profession, because it’s a visual field.
You can show them, you don’t really tell somebody about your problems with your kidney, maybe or try to show them anything that has to do with that.
So, I think when you have a mole on your back that’s unusual it’s easy for you to lift your shirt up and show somebody. I think I get just more people who like the show, now. People who are fans of the show. Not really somebody who has a big blackhead or something, because I think that those pop-aholics are probably have gotten rid of it themselves.
M&C: What are the more unusual things that you tackle as those “pores of Winer,” how does that happen?
Doctor Lee: I know, they’re pretty amazing, aren’t they though? There really big, the giant blackheads, they’re just giant blackheads. You might have seen the one on my YouTube channel that looks like an old fashion kitchen sink plug.
I think they’re really amazing because you marvel at the size of them, and then they’re also amazing, just that the way they come out. They’ve made a home in your skin and stretched your skin, like the kids’ games when you try to fit a certain shape, a certain block into a shape, and it maintains that shape.
So, they’re amazing. I can see how people for the first time they see it they just open their mouth, like gasp, “Oh my gosh.” That’s what sucks people in too, I think, to watching these videos.
The skin is amazing, I’m just trying to show people how interesting dermatology is. How interesting the skin is and I’m really pleased that people are getting it. They see how fascinating the human body is, and if I can help people along the way too, and make them feel better about themselves, but entertain and educate at the same time. Then I feel like I’m doing my job and this is all worth it.
M&C: Injectables (fillers) are ubiquitous now, people are getting Botox and fillers which can be super dicey sometimes if they’re not done right. Are skin problems, do you see from bad filler jobs do you see any kind of problems resulting from that?
Doctor Lee: Yes. Yes, we see a lot of problem with fillers. There is an issue, I think personally, that there is an issue now and there’s a wave, and I think there’s going to be, I predict that there’s going to be some backlash here.
Fillers are becoming so ubiquitous and so excepted, and social media allowing this to happen, that’s a whole other subject. The fact that there’s a lot of people on social media that post about doing fillers and how qualified are they? You don’t know. You don’t know if they are perfectly qualified nurses and PA’s, and even in some states maybe even an esthetician is allowed to do a filler, but what kind of education do they have?
No. I didn’t finish school until 34, and these people may take two years after college to complete their training.
So, it’s a scary thing and it’s so well accepted that people now think they can have a drive-through filler or can have Botox parties, or they can do things like in a mini-mall, a store in a mini-mall. It’s scary because people don’t realize there is too much danger, to injecting especially fillers under the skin, a definite risk for vascular occlusion of a facial blood vessel. And the main thing with that is blindness. There’s definitely the report of that, and other major problems. And it’s a very scary thing,
I think that the general public is a little bit uneducated about that. But just like I’m trying to show people that as a dermatologist, we are real physicians, we are not just pimple poppers. We actually do real surgeries, and remove quite large things and can change people’s lives that way.
Just like I’m showing that there’s just a lot of turf wars, there’s a lot of differing opinions. I’m hoping maybe with the show I can show that fillers and things like that, they’re really invasive treatments. People might downplay them, but they’re serious things. Make sure you have someone who knows what they’re doing!
Dr. Pimple Popper airs Wednesday nights at 10/9c on TLC.