When it comes to pimples, nobody understands the urge to pop better than Dr. Pimple Popper herself, aka dermatologist Dr. Sandra Lee. And nobody has better tips and tricks for how to deal with zits than the expert. Not only does she have her own show on TLC, she even has her own Spin Master boardgame called Pimple Pete, where you can extract rubbery zits from a fake face. We chatted with the doctor about everything popping, pinching, and squeezing and why people love it so much.
When it comes the extraction videos Dr. Lee shares on her channel, she says she thinks there’s one particular reasons why people can’t stop watching, and that’s the satisfaction that comes with “getting to have something taken out that shouldn’t be there” and seeing everything get squeezed out of a zit or cyst. It’s similar to the same kind of satisfaction you feel popping at home. It’s like a release, and when it comes to actually popping, that’s literal. “It’s pressure under the skin,” Dr. Lee explains. “That’s what ‘causes the pain. If you squeeze it and you’re able to get the contents out, you feel that decreased pressure and you also get that improvement in pain.” Not to mention the satisfaction of a job well done.
Popping isn’t exactly a DIY kind of job.
But actually, if you’re doing it at home, it’s not always a job well done. “It’s not without risks sometimes,” Dr. Lee warns. Not everything is squeezable when you’re not an professional (and we don’t just mean professional in the sense that you’ve popped so many zits that you deserve a medal). “If you squeeze a cyst, you risk the chance for infection,” she explains. “And it’s probably not gonna go away because there’s a sac under there, so it’ll just fill up again.” Unlike zits, cysts aren’t filled with pus, they’re filled with what’s basically just wet skin cells. “It’s like a balloon under the skin [made of] your regular skin. So as your skin peels, it’s just peeling into that sac.”
And while you still can’t really DIY a cyst extraction at home, our solutions to them have come a long way from where we used to be. In the olden days, some doctors may have recommended hitting your cyst with something heavy in an attempt to rupture. “That’s an old wives tale, but that’s what people would do. They’d take a Bible and smash it.” To be clear, though, that doesn’t work on epidermoid cysts, aka the kind Dr. Pimple Popper deals with. And it doesn’t really work on other cysts, either, so don’t go around smashing yourself with a Bible regardless.
Most of the time, if you have a cyst and you don’t have the urge to pick or pop, you can just leave it alone. But if you don’t like the look of it (or just can’t keep your hands to yourself), Dr. Pimple Popper is your gal. “I say I’m a born-again popaholic,” she jokes, explaining that she doesn’t let the addiction take over her free time. “I don’t run around [chasing zits] like a lot of people who watch my channel. I don’t chase the kids around and try to squeeze that stuff, because I do that all day at work.”
It’s not the end of the world to pop your own zit, though.
Dr. Lee may not be much of a popping hobbyist, but the urge to see everything cleared is definitely familiar to her. When it comes to her kids, ages 12 and 13, she’s just like anyone else looking at a zit. “[When] they get pimples, I say, ‘Just go in the bathroom and take care of that; I don’t want to look at that anymore.’ If it’s ready to pop, they can squeeze it themselves.”
When it came to finding fame, though, she stumbled into the whole squeezing thing pretty much by accident. When she started her YouTube and Instagram acconuts, she posted a blackhead extraction video, and the clip basically blew up. “I thought, ‘That’s really weird.’ And then it happened again, and I thought, ‘What the heck is this?'” It turns out, there was a whole bunch of people on the Internet obsessed with popping and popping videos. Dr. Lee didn’t exactly get it — but she did get that it was an opportunity.
Being a popaholic is no joke.
“Actually, [popping fans online] are the people who taught me how to be a proper popaholic,” she explains. “I’d heard about [the /r/popping subreddit], but I didn’t really know what it was. And so I went there and I discovered there was like 50,000 people that were sharing videos! I thought that was so weird, but I could be their queen. I could do this for them.” She noticed everyone had a fun username instead of their real name, and when she came up with hers, Dr. Pimple Popper was born.
“I did like ten cysts a year, if that, and now I do like ten cysts maybe in a few days,” she says about how her practice has exploded. Because epidermoid cysts are expensive and not medically necessary to remove, she didn’t perform those procedures often. Once she started her YouTube channel and Instagram account, she was basically swimming in them, with patients willing to let her share the extractions online in exchange for treatments. “Everybody really wins. The popaholics get to see it, I get to post it, and the patient gets it gone.”
So how should you pop a pimple or squeeze a zit at home?
First of all, you shouldn’t. But, if you’re going to, Dr. Lee has your back. “I know that a lot of people can’t keep their hands to themselves,” she says. “I know it’s hard if you have a big one that’s calling out your name.” So what do you do? Obviously, start with clean hands and a clean face. And then, well, it’s all about being quick. “You should not be in the bathroom for like two hours. Limit yourself to 30 seconds really,” says Dr. Lee. “If you can’t get something out, leave it alone. The more you squeeze, the more swollen it is, the deeper something is under your skin, the less likely it is ready to pop, the more trauma you’ll create and the more likely you are to permanently scar yourself.”
The ideal moment to pop a pimple is right when it becomes a pustule or, as you probably know it, a whitehead. “The best time to pop a pimple if you’re gonna pop one, which I don’t advise you to, is when it’s on the surface of the skin.” That way all you need is a quick knick or squeeze to get all that pus out. Until then, you have to just let it be and wait, even when you can feel it looming just under the surface. “Even me,” she adds. “If I have a pimple like that [and it’s under the skin], I have to wait.”
There are some things you can do in the meantime, though. “You can put warm compresses on it, maybe like a little bit of spot treatment, that’s like the key. [But] you have to wait for it. Or you have to have a good relationship with your dermatologist and go in and get a shot… You know how it’s always good to have a lawyer in your family, or like an electrician? You need a dermatologist.” The number one rule? “Know when to pop and know when to stop.”
And if you just have the urge to pick and no pimples to pop, well, you can always pick up a Pimple Pete for yourself.