To showcase her work in dermatology, Dr Sandra Lee set up an Instagram account for Dr Sandra Lee in 2014. People weren’t too interested in seeing how she did Botox treatments or what the results were.

People were very happy to see a video of the blackhead being squeezed by her, which is something most of us do in our private homes.

Her career as an Instagram star was accelerated when Dr Lee started posting bizarre but satisfying videos about the removal of blackheads from the skin, and excision of inflamed cysts that were small enough to be considered tiny volcanoes.

Seven years on, using the catchy nickname of Dr Pimple Popper, the 50-year-old has rock star status in the world of dermatology, with fans including Gwyneth Paltrow and Kim Kardashian — both self-confessed ‘popaholics’.

Dr Sandra Lee (pictured), who boasts over 7.3 million YouTube subscribers and 4.4 million followers on Instagram, reflected on her career as a social media star

Sandra Lee (pictured), with over 7.3 million YouTube subscribers, and 4.4million followers on Instagram is reflecting on her success as a social media superstar 

Dr Lee’s videos on her YouTube channel have been viewed an astonishing 1.8 billion times in total — she has 7.3 million subscribers. She’s got another 4.4 million followers on Instagram, 2.9 million on Facebook and 14 million on TikTok.

She also has a TV show called Dr Pimple Popper on the U.S. channel TLC that’s in its sixth season (episodes include Satisfying Blackhead Bonanza), has written a book on skincare called Put Your Best Face Forward and launched her product line SLMD in the UK this summer.

This is for many people a puzzle, and mildly annoying. It’s clear, however, that not only are there many who will eat this stuff but also those who enjoy it. ‘A small part of watching pimple-popping is entertainment,’ she admits. ‘Some people say it’s like riding a rollercoaster or watching a horror movie because there’s tension — you don’t know what’s going to happen and that gives you a thrill.

‘I think many people also find it satisfying on a deep psychological level because eliminating any kind of blemish, even if it’s not your own, offers a sense of accomplishment and closure. People seem to be happy because it makes them feel good. What I hope is that I’m helping to educate people to be more tolerant and understanding of people with skin conditions because, as we age, there’s a literal garden of stuff on our skin, and those bumps and spots on our faces and bodies can affect every aspect of our lives.’

We meet in Dr Lee’s clinic in Upland, California. The 5ft4in mom of her two teenager sons, is lively and friendly with long dark hair. The fluttery pink dress she wore underneath her white surgical gown makes her look super glamorous.

For a moment, I’m taken aback because the clinic is already festooned with Christmas decorations, including a lighted tree and fake wreaths. ‘We’re shooting our Christmas show later this week,’ she explains. ‘I’m starting off with somebody who has an eye growth, another person with big bumps on their forehead and someone else with a giant growth on their jaw.

Dr Lee has eight treatment rooms in the suite of offices she shares with her dermatologist husband Jeffrey Rebish. Pictured: Performing an operation to excise a cyst

Dr Lee has eight treatment rooms in the suite of offices she shares with her dermatologist husband Jeffrey Rebish. Pictured: A cystectomy operation.

‘I won’t know exactly what these people have until I examine them.

‘We’re also repairing stretched earlobes, looking at a large skin cancer and then I’m going to do liposuction on someone’s tush,’ she says gaily, using the American term for what we Brits politely call a backside.

Presumably there’ll be blackheads to extract too and, although it doesn’t sound very festive to me, Dr Lee says that her Christmas specials are a highlight for her millions of fans across the globe.

The suite she shares with Jeffrey Rebish includes eight treatment rooms. They met at medical school and dated for many years. After their training in dermatology, they started their own practice, with their respective patients. Her husband has said he doesn’t often watch her videos because ‘I’d rather not see that stuff outside the office’. She says that he’s ‘the brains for all the business stuff and I’m the personality’.

She tells me that I saw her famous blackhead removal video in horror. ‘You’re a popaholic!’ she says 

Her remarkable career path is evident all around. There’s a framed award from YouTube in 2016 to mark her first million followers. There’s a map with pins showing the countries people travel from to see her — Britain, Canada, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia — with the words ‘where’d you pop in from?’

Merchandise on show includes T-shirts, baseball caps and ‘poppin’ pimples’ shot glasses. Who’d want to drink out of one of those!

Dr Lee’s burgeoning empire now takes up a large amount of her time — and getting an appointment might take months, she says.

Her father was a dermatologist and as a young girl, she wasn’t squeamish about looking at pictures of people with chronic skin diseases in his medical journals.

Her parents — her mother stopped working as a nurse to raise her and her brother — were Chinese immigrants to the U.S. but weren’t ‘tiger-parents’ who hovered over them.

Dr Lee began sharing mostly anonymous videos and photos of her patients¿ skin conditions in 2014. Pictured: Dr Lee, her husband and their sons

Dr Lee began sharing mostly anonymous videos and photos of her patients’ skin conditions in 2014. Pictured: Dr Lee, her husband and their sons

However, her parents expected her academic success and she gained admission to medical school. At 33, she had completed a dermatology residency as well as additional surgical training. She and her husband took over her father’s thriving dermatology business when he retired.

In 2014, Dr Lee began sharing mostly anonymous videos and photos of her patients’ skin conditions (with their permission) to publicise their private practice.

One particularly horrific blackhead removal caught the attention of many. ‘I had comments and likes and I thought, “What the heck is this?”, so I posted another and another and then I realised that some people on the internet were sharing pimple popping videos with each other,’ she recalls.

While amateur videos are a popular trend on social media platforms such as Reddit, Dr Lee is the first dermatologist who has put them up.

‘People either loved them or hated them, but whatever reaction they had, they couldn’t help telling their friends and the views just kept on growing,’ she says.

The medical term for a blackhead or whitehead is a comedone — a pore clogged with keratin (skin protein) and sebum (oil).

The colour of blackheads is due to the exposure to oxygen, which can oxidise the clogged pores. These can be removed at home. But whiteheads — completely blocked pores — have fine layers of skin that must be pierced and should be handled by a dermatologist.

Dr Lee's (pictured) videos include pilar cysts, epidermoid cysts, which tend to break easily and become infected, and lipomas

Dr Lee’s (pictured) videos include pilar cysts, epidermoid cysts, which tend to break easily and become infected, and lipomas

‘Blackheads are like snowflakes — no two are alike,’ laughs Dr Lee. ‘They’re unpredictable — you never know if it’s going to slide out easily like a little tadpole or be stubborn.’ Her ‘favourite’ type of blackhead is the giant one called ‘dilated pore of Winer’.

‘They’re as big as raisins. There’s no mess — no blood. It’s like pulling the plug out of a kitchen sink. It comes away clean and it’s very satisfying.’

I told Dr Lee that during the interview I had waited till the very last moment before I saw any of her videos. I then viewed the first clips with my fingers.

As Dr Lee removed clogged pores, I was captivated by her famed blackhead removal on Pops’ nose.

In horror, Victor showed me a huge protrusion on his chest.

It was something I did not know that the human body can produce. And yes, it is fascinating — but it also gives me the shivers. She giggles. ‘You’re a popaholic!’ she says. More like a popaphobe.

Dr Lee’s videos show other things that pop out of people’s skin like a pilar cyst, which has the consistency of an olive, epidermoid cysts, which tend to break easily and become infected, and lipomas, a collection of benign fat cells that can grow to large sizes.

Dr Lee (pictured) has celebrity fans who enjoy watching her videos - including Gwyneth Paltrow and Kim Kardashian

The above photo shows Dr Lee with celebrity admirers, such as Gwyneth Paltrow or Kim Kardashian. 

In return for permission to film, the procedures are offered at no cost to patients.

The benefit of Dr Lee’s work is that she sees the difference in patients who have long-detested, benign skin conditions that make them feel ugly and ashamed and who are thrilled to be rid of them.

‘Acne doesn’t threaten your life, but it definitely threatens your wellbeing and your emotional stability,’ she says. ‘Just last night, I was talking to a patient called Roger who had growths like grapefruit hanging off his nose.

‘He said that he goes out on walks and talks to his neighbours now that they’ve been removed. His condition wasn’t going to kill him, but he’s got a new lease on life.’ She says extreme cases like that are ‘exceedingly satisfying to resolve’.

Dr Lee advises patients to say goodbye to their cyst or lipoma once it has been removed. ‘I ask if they want to see what I’ve extracted, and their responses are usually “oh that’s crazy!” or “that’s disgusting!” It’s a subtle way of giving a person control over the thing that caused them distress.’

These are among the most touching videos I have ever seen of hers.

Celebrities are fans of the internet’s favourite dermatologist and watch the videos, too. ‘Gwyneth Paltrow told me she watches with her daughter and Kim Kardashian is a big popaholic — she admires the way I’ve built my social media presence,’ Dr Lee says.

Dr Lee (pictured) said she gets to meet lovely people and perform procedures that make lives better

Dr Lee (pictured) stated that she is able to make people’s lives easier by meeting wonderful people. 

Chrissy Teigen contacted Dr Lee to help her with an stubborn chin pimple in 2019. ‘Please, Dr Pimple Popper I beg u,’ she wrote on Twitter. ‘I’ve had this thing on my chin for four years now. Around my periods, it gets larger. It’s unsqueezable and it’s ruining my life.’

Dr Lee replied: ‘DM me . . . I can make a house call.’

She adds: ‘A lot of celebrities don’t follow me openly. They also follow me through their alternate accounts. I feel like I’m waiting for somebody like Brad Pitt to come along and tell me he’s a secret popaholic.’

She is certainly imaginative in how she communicates with her fans — a compilation of her greatest ‘pops’ was released this autumn set to Earth Wind and Fire’s disco hit September. In the middle of the summer she launched her new SLMD Skincare product line. These products are designed to bridge the gap between a shopping trip in the skin care aisle and a visit with a doctor or dermatologist.

Formulated to treat and prevent various kinds of spots, products including the SLMD Skincare Retinol Serum (£40, and Glycolic Acid Body Lotion (£36) are particularly good for midlife women who suffer outbreaks of mild acne due to hormonal fluctuations.

‘I enjoy what I do,’ Dr Lee says. ‘I get to meet lovely people, treat fascinating skin conditions and perform procedures that make lives better. Even if something’s not very big, it can be distressing if it’s right in the middle of your nose or your forehead and you’re reminded of it every single day when you look in the mirror.

‘Some people might say my videos are like a car wreck where you drive by and can’t look away, but you’re getting rid of something that’s not supposed to be there. You’re getting that person back to normal, so there’s always a happy ending.’