Sandra Lee, a dermatologist in Southern California, calls them “popaholics” and their sickening yet somewhat intriguing obsession with watching others do the dirty deed “popaholicism”.
And she’s giving them exactly what they want: “pops,” oozing blackheads, whiteheads and cysts of all sizes, shapes and colours.
Lee, a cosmetic and surgical dermatologist in Upland, better known as “Dr Pimple Popper”, has gained widespread attention on social media, where she has posted countless videos showing her removing poppable things from her patients’ bodies.
“It’s fascinating to me why people love this stuff,” she said this week, explaining that people have told her that watching the videos relaxes and entertains them.
Since its premiere last week, which drew 2.4 million viewers, TLC’s Dr Pimple Popper has aired two episodes, showing several patients learning about their conditions and having various growths removed from their bodies.
“I think it’s going to capture the interest of more than just ‘popaholics’; it will convert people into ‘popaholicism’ because I think it shows a more well-rounded picture of what goes on,” Lee said about the show.
She said that “it’s not just about the ‘pops’ or the surgery” because it shows her patients’ journeys.
“It’s so interesting to me that this is all sort of starting on the grotesque, or something that is shocking or gross to so many people, but it ends up being a happy story,” she added.
Heather Berlin, a neuroscientist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, said that “evolutionarily speaking, it’s normal behaviour to want to remove bumps from your skin” because those bumps could be parasites or other things, so she said it makes sense that human beings evolved in a way that such behaviour can be pleasurable to them.
For some, Berlin said, popping pimples or watching others do it stimulates the nucleus accumbens, the reward centre in the brain that receives dopamine and gives people “a little hit of pleasure”. But to others who may find the behaviour disgusting, a different part of the brain called the insular cortex is activated.
Howard Lee, president and general manager of TLC, said though the dermatologist had become an online phenomenon, network executives questioned how her world would be seen on TV.
Lee said she remained surprised by how she became Dr Pimple Popper, a brand that has led to a skin-care line, a TV show and, soon, a game. “This is bonkers, just bonkers,” she said