Long before Dr. Sandra Lee took her Dr. Pimple Popper show to TLC, her Popaholics fanbase grew to millions of social media users who loved watching her incredible videos. Lee took YouTube and Instragam users on incredible journeys in just a few minutes as she helped patients live new lives by helping them with their cysts. The cysts made life a nightmare for her patients, but she changed all that in a matter of minutes for them. The videos could be gross or mesmerizing, but no matter what, they are hard to look away from.
Since debuting in January 2018, Dr. Pimple Popper has quickly become a big franchise for TLC. The main show recently aired its fifth season, with new episodes becoming available on the new discovery+ streaming platform. In September 2020, TLC launched the first spin-off, Dr. Pimple Popper: Before the Pop. Another spin-off, This Is Zit, is available on discovery+ as well.
What exactly is a cyst? According to Healthline, a cyst is a "sac-like pocket of membranous tissue that contains fluid, air, or other substances." They can grow almost anywhere on your body or under your skin. Most cysts are benign and can be treated by your dermatologist.
Lee has over 6.9 million subscribers on YouTube but first gained a following on Instagram with much shorter videos. She has over a decade of experience. Once she started posting videos, the popularity of her office exploded. "In the last three years, I've done more pimple popping and cyst removals than I have in my entire career times 100," Lee told Refinery29. In fact, Lee said dermatologists do not usually do the kind of extractions the videos show since insurance usually does not cover them. They can cost between $500 and $600. When she started, she would offer patients a deal: she films the extraction and does not get billed for it.
"It made me realize that people want these removed, but there's no one to do it for them," Lee told Refinery29. "So it was a win-win-win: I was able to create these videos, people were able to watch and enjoy them, and the patients were benefiting because they wouldn't have to pay for something that bothered them. Sometimes patients ask not to include their faces or voices, and I'm totally fine with that. The whole point is to make them feel safe — that's important for me. They are #1. We're not there trying to get the perfect camera shot or angle; that part is just secondary." Here's a look at some of Dr. Lee's most popular pops before Dr. Pimple Popper debuted.
This cyst was the size of a doorknob or a meatball. It was located in the patient's upper arm. In the 20-minute video, Lee extracts all the gunk from the patient's arm. The 2016 video is one of Lee's most popular, with 15 million views.prevnext
Blackhead Back Extraction
This is a short video, showing Lee extracting a blackhead from a patient's back. Uploaded in 2015, it has over 14.4 million views. Notably, Lee states in the description that the video was uploaded for educational purposes to avoid being kicked off YouTube.prevnext
Cyst on the Back
This 2016 clip shows a man getting the cyst on his back removed. It has over 13.2 million views. The man in the video said he took a train from Chicago to Los Angeles to visit his family in California. During the vacation, he scheduled an appointment with Dr. Lee.prevnext
Eruptive Vellus Hair Cyst
In January 2016, Lee took on the case of an Eruptive Vellus Hair Cyst. She had never done this type of extraction before. In her description, Lee wants that a "cosmetic" and time-consuming extraction like this would likely not be covered by insurance and could be too expensive for most people.
"Well, I chose to do this because I wanted to see if these type of cysts could truly be 'popped out' successfully, and I offered to treat these for free if she consented to my videotaping the procedure for you all to learn from and enjoy," she wrote.prevnext
Upper Back Cyst
This patient has a big epidermoid cyst on his upper back. The patient had a tattoo in the area, which made things interesting. She had to figure out a way to make sure the scar did not go against the tattoo. The video has over 8.6 million views.prevnext
This video was posted in September 2015 and already has over 47.7 million videos. Lee shows every stage of the process as she helps this patient with a nose cyst.prevnext
This patent traveled from the East Coast to see Dr. Lee. The woman learned about her unusual condition, Steatocystoma Multiplex, and saw other dermatologists. Lee later learned that the patient is a physician.
"What is most striking to me is that this interaction reinforces to me the fact that is whole "popping" phenomenon is not for entertainment sake," Lee wrote in a long statement about the video. "This is a patient who happens to me a physician who saw many dermatologists in her area who could help explain her condition but who were not helping the patient to extract these growths. And this is what she really wanted. She knows there is no treatment for this condition. She only wants me to help remove some of them because it's difficult, and in many instances impossible for her to do it herself. And I realized this as I was filming this video, that she travelled across the country because she just wanted help getting some of these OUT. That is all. And I was happy to help in the end."prevnext
This patient had a cyst in a really unfortunate spot: his scalp. Oddly enough, the material inside the cyst came out like a pillar. In the end, the man's hair proves challenging because it gets in the way of Lee stitching. This shorter video has 2.5 million views and was posted in December 2015.prevnext
Lower Back Cyst
This patient had a cyst on her lower back. It was very big, and Lee was not sure of what it was at first. "This is one of those blackheads that you were waiting to see! I thought this was a blackhead, or a Dilated Pore of Winer, but it proved to be an epidermoid cyst. It was flattened and disc-shaped because it's in a very tight area of the back and it couldn't grow down or up easily, so it spread out very flatly, which makes it look more like a large blackhead," she wrote.prevnext
The Baby-Faced Cyst
One of Dr. Lee's most unforgettable pops is the "baby-faced" zit. This is one you want to watch on an empty stomach. Lee was even surprised it was a cyst, since she thought it was a lipoma at first.prev