I admit it, I’m a popaholic and I’m proud. Not sure what that is? It’s a person who loves watching videos of pimples, cysts, blackheads. The bigger, the better. For a long
long long time, I never told anyone. I mean, once in a while, it slipped out. I’d show my wife a video that I liked. Her disgusted face was enough to reinforce that I shouldn’t share my love/fascination with anyone else. My wife is legally obligated to love me. Everyone else, not so much.
Anyway, that’s why I was so excited when I saw this article about Dr. Sandra Lee on BuzzFeed. I realized I wasn’t alone. There are people out there like me — and not just a few, but a lot! And the more I read about Dr. Lee, the more I admired her. She’s helping people and creating hours of entertainment. I thought it was time to introduce the world of poaholic’s and Dr. Lee to 8Asians.
I had a chance to sit down with Dr. Lee and ask her a few questions:
1. Tell us a little about yourself. e.g. Where did you grow up? What is your profession? And the most Asian of questions, what university did you go to and what degree(s) did you get?
My dad and mom came to America (Queens, NY) via Singapore and Malaysia the year before I was born, so that my dad could complete his dermatology residency in New York (yes, my dad is a dermatologist too (now retired)). I’m Chinese, but my dad’s from Singapore and my mother from Malaysia.
I was born in Flushing NY, but we all moved to Southern California when I was about 5.
I’m a board certified dermatologist, but I mainly consider myself to be a dermatologic surgeon, and I specialize in skin cancer surgery and cosmetic procedures and cosmetic surgery (I do liposuction, laser resurfacing, eye lifts, etc.)
I went to UCLA, which is not Asian at all 😉 … Got a BS in Biology (very unusual, hehe) Actually what IS unusual is that I got a “D” in physics and I was able to hide that from my parents for almost a year! I still don’t get that physics stuff… not my thing… hehe. I went to medical school at Hahnemann University in Philadelphia (which is now Drexel) – 4 years . Medical internship at Allegheny General Hospital -1 year. Dermatology Residency -3 years. And then I did a fellowship in Cosmetic, Surgical, and Laser Dermatology with a world famous dermatologist, Dr Richard Fitzpatrick, in San Diego. So, I was 33 years old when I finally finished training. I’m married to a dermatologist and we have two young boys.
2. I’m a huge fan of all your videos. I’ve watched them all at least twice. Did you always want to do this? Did you enjoy popping your own pimples when you were a teenager? (Random side question, I was always told you weren’t supposed to pop pimples, is this true?)
I didn’t always want to do this it all kind of happened by accident. Here’s the long story: I have had my YouTube channel for a few years now, but it mostly contained segments from my TV appearances. Independent of this, for fun, I was trying to build followers on my Instagram @DrSandraLee, which contains snippets from both my professional and personal life. Last December, I posted a video of a blackhead extraction that I decided to video and post on Instagram. I got a noticeable jump in response from my followers on Instagram, with many of them tagging their friends. Erin, one of my Physician Assistants, suggested that we start an Insatagram account just about pimple popping – this is how our IG, @DrPimplePopper began (I tried @PimplePopperMD first, paying homage to a Seinfeld TV episode, but it was taken).
I realized that I HAD something here. I realized that people either LOVE or DETEST pimple popping, but either way, they tagged their friends! So, I decided to upload entire pimple popping videos to my Youtube channel. After I had uploaded a few of them, I got an interesting and mysterious comment on one of the videos: “You may want to check out reddit.com, /r/popping. They are talking about you”.
I knew very little about reddit, but when I investigated, I was instantly fascinated. There is this whole subculture… a “popping” community! What??!! I started to post my own videos on there, just to see what would happen. Well, I didn’t know proper “reddiquette” in the beginning, but the people on that subreddit are WONDERFUL. They encouraged me to keep posting (of course, right? to feed their popaholic habit!). I feel I owe so much to this wonderful supportive community whose members encouraged me to make more videos, and it’s with their feedback, that I learned what the majority of popaholics really like and look for.
So, in general, I would say that most dermatologists AVOID popping blackheads, excising cysts, and extracting milia, because these are not “medically necessary” procedures, and so health insurance usually does not pay us for these procedures. But now, for example, if a patient sees me for acne or skin cancer monitoring, and I notice they have blackheads or milia, I will offer to extract them for free in exchange for permission to videotape the procedure to post on my social media. Interestingly, very few people decline. So I feel it’s a win-win-win situation. And there has been an unexpected “gift” for me – I didn’t realize how very appreciative many of my patients were to have me extract their blackheads and milia. Most are elderly patients who have trouble seeing, they feel these big bumps on their face, don’t know how to get rid of them, but the bumps make them feel ugly. I was surprised to see how appreciative so many of them are that we take the time to remove these bumps on them!
So, I’m sorry to let down my fans… I wouldn’t say that I LOVE popping my own zits. But I am a picker and will pop them because they bother me. But if I see a family member with a big blackhead… I’m not compelled to grab them and pin them down and squeeze it out. At least I wasn’t interested in this a few months ago. If I see it now, I WILL pin them down, but ALSO i’ll grab my cameraphone and record it. 🙂
I have NO idea why people love watching pimple popping, but I do agree that there is something hypnotic about pimple popping. Sometimes when I upload my own videos I find myself watching certain parts over and over, it’s like you forget where you are and time passes quickly! It can suck you in. So, I understand what some people are talking about that they are obsessed with my videos.
I have seen people mention ASMR, or that it is something primitive, and I do know that it helps some of my viewers cope with their dermatillomania. I have a few patients with this condition, and when I see one again, I plan to suggest that they watch my videos and let me know if it helps them cope with their condition.
And people also mention that they have been “in the closet” and have been hiding from others that they enjoy watching this stuff but now they feel like there is a community of like-minded people, and this makes them happy. I like to imagine that popaholics are proudly emerging from behind their computers in a darkened room to declare: Yes, I like to watch this stuff and I’m not ashamed anymore! haha
3. What’s the best part of popping a pimple, a blackhead, and/or cyst? And do you get the same pleasure viewers like me get when it (the pimple, blackhead, cyst) comes out?
Interestingly, I do get this feeling now. I don’t get grossed out at all EXCEPT for draining abscesses/ infected cysts. They are usually pretty smelly and gross I don’t like them and avoid them if I can. But, I understand how blackhead extractions can have a hypnotic effect. There is a real sense of satisfaction, of completeness, to empty out a “pore”. I have myself been sucked into my own videos, amazed at what comes out of some peoples’ skin. So now, yes, I’m one of you guys.
I don’t watch any other videos other people post which are similar to mine. Frankly, that’s why I feel I may not really be a true popaholic but that I have developed into one over the last few months…now I enjoy doing the procedures, especially because it makes the patient and so many other people happy, but I don’t seek out watching other people popping stuff, especially if it’s gruesome.. yuck!
4. Do you have a favorite video? And why?
I have a few favorites, because of a combination of two things: good popping, and a GREAT story. For example, “Mr. Wilson” who came in because he had an enlarged nose and so many blackheads. I knew that my resculpting his nose and extracting blackhead wouldn’t be paid for by insurance, so I asked him if he would allow me to tape his sessions and I would treat him for free. Lucky for all of us he agreed and I’m pretty proud of the transformation in him. I wouldn’t have done this otherwise, most likely. If insurance doesn’t pay for it, I can’t spend 3-4 hours working on a patient. But now I have, and I didn’t realize how rewarding it would be, emotionally. I’m proud of what this has become.
And there is also “Pops” It was by accident that this turned out to be a great human interest story. During filming I can’t avoid showing the banter between me and my patients and the conversation I had with this particular patient needed a little background information for the watcher to understand what was going on. The second video I posted on “Pops” really prompted a huge response from my audience. And prompted me to spontaneously start a GoFundMe account. The next morning, I woke up in a sweat, worrying that I violated patient doctor confidentiality and that he would be upset at what I had done! Thankfully, I called him and explained to him and he was only shocked and very flattered. In fact, I don’t think he knows yet how many people around the world have wrote wonderful notes to him, wish him love, and have sent donations. In a week or so I hope to present him with a check for over $6000, and I hope he lets me film it, so that we can thank all the people who have fallen in love with him.
I have many memorable patients: I like to say being a dermatologist is like being a glorified hairdresser because you really can develop long term relationships with your patients, even whole families, who visit you on a regular basis and you begin to learn about their lives and they have an impact on you. It’s a wonderful specialty to be in.
5. Do your family/friends/significant others ever watch your videos? What do they think/say?
I told my father what was going on with my social media – YouTube and Instagram, and essentially he scoffed at the whole thing. He thought it was just insane. Then the next day, he went to the Apple store to take one of those classes they give. He asked the teacher there about YouTube, mentioning that his daughter was posting on YoutTbe and he was interested in posting his flyfishing videos as I have posted mine. The teacher got excited and told him “Oh! If you want to see an amazing YouTube channel, let me show you THIS!!” Yup, guess who’s channel she showed my dad. HA!! Newfound respect from the person I appreciate respect from the very most. Was a great feeling to know he doesn’t think I’m insane anymore 🙂
6. I first heard about you from an article on Buzzfeed. Then I saw an article on Huffington Post. You’re an Internet star! What has been the most surprising thing about your recent brush with fame? Follow up question, do people on the street or at dinner parties ask you to pop their pimples?
[The most surprising thing about my brush with fame is] that I see me on the internet in Thai, in Chinese, in languages I can’t read! I have been doing TV segments for about 5 years, but internet stardom is stratospheric! The reach is WORLDLY. I mean, truly mindbendingly amazing.
People do ask me to pop pimples but getting derm questions is not a new thing. Sometimes being a dermatologist is like being a VERY minor celebrity. You wonder if someone is friends with you because they really like you, or is it mainly because they want to get Botox at a discount. You know what I mean?
7. What advice do you have for people to take care of their skin? Would the advice be any different for an Asian person?
For Asians the advice would be similar to others with our same skin type… Like hispanics. We are more prone to brown spots, less prone to wrinkling (but we sag like everyone else unfortunately), we have more natural “sun protection” so are less prone to skin cancers but we can STILL get them.
Most important point: Wear sunscreen and reapply often. Remember if you are outdoors and the last time you applied sunscreen was two hours ago, you probably don’t have proper sunprotection.
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