What was Dr. Pimple Popper really like before she got famous? Given that her eponymous show debuted in 2018 and her socials blew up just a few years before that, the California-based dermatologist spent a good chunk of her life as a normal person just like the rest of us. But now that Dr. Sandra Lee is a staple of reality television, it’s hard to imagine what TLC was like before she lit up the screen with her ultra-white smile.
Of course, not everyone enjoys watching Dr. Pimple Popper, and from the name alone you can probably guess why: While some people can’t get enough — popaholics, as they call themselves — the rest of us aren’t exactly jonesing to watch Lee lance boils and squeeze blackheads. To each their own, we suppose.
Divisive content aside, from watching Dr. Pimple Popper fans have enjoyed getting to know Lee, who really does have a big heart and an earnest desire to help people with legit medical issues. So what was she like before she was a household name? This is what Dr. Pimple Popper was really like before she got famous.
Dr. Pimple Popper is the child of immigrants
If you go all the way back to the very beginning of Dr. Pimple Popper’s story — long before she was ever a famous reality television star with her own program — you’ll, of course, have to discover her parents’ narrative as well. As it turns out, Dr. Sandra Lee is the child of immigrants, like many other Americans. “My dad and mom came to America (Queens, NY) via Singapore and Malaysia the year before I was born,” she recalled in an interview with 8Asians. “I’m Chinese, but my dad’s from Singapore and my mother [is] from Malaysia.” Who knew that Lee had such an interesting and multi-ethnic background?
While things started out in the Big Apple for Lee and her parents, it wasn’t long before she and her family wound up relocating to a sunnier locale. “I was born in Flushing NY, but we all moved to Southern California when I was about 5,” she continued. To that end, it’s not surprising that SoCal is where Lee ended up putting down roots permanently, as it’s where she clearly feels at home.
Dr. Pimple Popper took after her dermatologist father
So just how is it that Dr. Pimple Popper decided to become a dermatologist as opposed to any other profession or medical specialty? Well, for one, she had a solid role model to study from a very early age, decades before celebrity came calling. “I come from a family of dermatologists,” she explained to Racked. “My father is a dermatologist … I remember opening my dad’s textbooks and seeing the most horrible pictures.” Of course, Dr. Sandra Lee was intrigued rather than totally repulsed (except for this one procedure), or else she wouldn’t have gone down the same path.
Later on when she was an adult, Lee re-affirmed her desire to go into dermatology for a pretty practical reason. “When I went to medical school, I realized that dermatology is the best specialty, especially for a woman,” she continued. “We don’t deal with a lot of emergencies, I don’t get called in the middle of the night to deliver a baby.” And that means that there’s room for things besides work for Lee in her life, which includes her successful show on TLC.
Dr. Pimple Popper met her husband in medical school
Not only is Dr. Pimple Popper the child of a dermatologist, she’s also married to a fellow skin doctor as well. In fact, Dr. Sandra Lee and Dr. Jeffrey Rebish, her now-husband, were introduced to one another at a fairly predictable place. “We were both at medical school in Philadelphia to become dermatologists,” he recalled in an interview with Refinery29. “Sandra walked into the room on orientation day, and I knew right away that she was the one.” Hey, when you know, you know!
After that first fateful meeting, Lee and Rebish hit it off quite well, proving to be a couple with staying power. “We dated through school,” he continued. “And when we both had our degrees, we moved out to California, where Sandra grew up and her dad owned a dermatology practice.” And when the time was right, the pair assumed the practice together as equal partners, after Lee’s father retired. All of that happened long before Lee became a household name, showing who Lee has been from the beginning.
Dr. Pimple Popper got married in 2000
Many years before she was famous, Dr. Pimple Popper and Dr. Jeffrey Rebish tied the knot. Now, decades later, Dr. Sandra Lee and her husband are still happily wed, and they spend quite a lot of time together. “As a married couple and business partners, we definitely discuss work at home,” he told Refinery29. “Especially if Sandra’s worried about a patient’s outcome.” He added that sometimes she’ll have to change plans if she’s deep in her feelings, but, fortunately, Rebish is always there for her.
Of course, Lee and Rebish had been married for years when the former became famous, which is something that they’ve both had to get used to. Fortunately, Rebish is super supportive of Lee’s ambitions. “The fandom is crazy, and we’ll probably have to continue to figure things out as Dr. Pimple Popper grows and evolves,” he continued. “Ultimately, I’ll always be involved any way Sandra needs me to be, because we’re a team.” We love to see it.
Dr. Pimple Popper didn't finish her education until she was 33
Everyone knows that it takes a long time and a lot of schooling to become a medical doctor, but, fortunately for Dr. Pimple Popper, she was able to stick it out until the end, becoming the successful dermatologist she is today.
According to 8Asians, after finishing high school, Dr. Sandra Lee went to UCLA, where she majored in biology. After she graduated (in spite of getting a D in physics!), Lee headed to Philadelphia for medical school to attend Hahnemann University, now known as Drexel University College of Medicine. While in med school, Lee briefly thought about not pursuing dermatology but stuck to her original plan. Following graduation, Lee held an internship at Allegheny General Hospital in Philly for one year.
But that’s not all! Once Lee finished her internship, she did the required three years of residency and kept going. “Then I did a fellowship in Cosmetic, Surgical, and Laser Dermatology with a world famous dermatologist, Dr. Richard Fitzpatrick, in San Diego,” she revealed. “So, I was 33 years old when I finally finished training.” That’s quite the journey!
Dr. Pimple Popper had meaningful relationships with patients before the fame
If you’re a regular viewer of Dr. Pimple Popper, you know that Dr. Sandra Lee has a pleasant and disarming bedside manner. As it turns out, that’s not just show for the cameras, as Lee is the real deal. “During filming I can’t avoid showing the banter between me and my patients,” she shared in a chat with 8Asians. There are some things you just can’t fake, after all.
Additionally, while Lee has real candor with her patients on her show, she’s been building bonds with them for years, long before she was a chatty reality television star. “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,” she continued. “You begin to learn about their lives and they have an impact on you.” Clearly, Lee puts her heart into her work!
Before she was famous, Dr. Pimple Popper focused on starting a family
Long before Dr. Pimple Popper made Dr. Sandra Lee a world-famous dermatologist, she had a much more salt-of-the-earth role: Lee is a mom. She and her husband, Dr. Jeffrey Rebish, have two children together, both boys born in the early aughts. And from the way Lee tells it, her kids aren’t exactly starstruck by her. “One of them doesn’t watch the show at all,” she revealed in an interview with Distractify. “The other one will watch it and put up with it. [He’ll] tell me when there’s a reaction video or some other video about me on YouTube because he kind of monitors it every now and then.”
Indeed, it would seem that no amount of fame and acclaim would make Lee’s kids be impressed by her, which, honestly, is pretty hilarious. “I once said to them, ‘You know, your mom’s a YouTuber,'” she continued. “They were like, ‘Mom, you’re not a YouTuber. You’re not. Please don’t even say that.'” Oof! Talk about relatable.
Dr. Pimple Popper didn't make as much money before the fame
While some people dream about becoming a celebrity and go after that goal with everything they have, that wasn’t the case for Dr. Pimple Popper. In fact, Dr. Sandra Lee never had aspirations of becoming the famous woman she is today. “I didn’t look for fame. It just comes with it,” she explained to People. “I’m just trying to be careful and not get ahead of myself.”
Additionally, getting famous has made Lee a wealthier person, thanks to the viral videos she’s posted on social media. But back at the beginning, it wasn’t nearly as lucrative as it would eventually become. “The first month I made $30 or something,” she continued. “Then the next month I did it again and made $300. Then the next month it was in the thousands.” Who knew blackhead videos were such a cash cow?
Lee is now worth a whopping $5 million, as noted by Celebrity Net Worth. And while a lot of that is likely from her already existing profession as a doctor, the riches that come with fame had to help.
Dr. Pimple Popper was active on YouTube and Reddit before her TV show
Many years before Dr. Pimple Popper was a popular show on TLC, Dr. Sandra Lee decided to start building her presence on social media. This was back when the internet was smaller and simpler, with folks just starting to experiment on YouTube, which Lee was messing around with as well. “Early on I posted a blackhead extraction video, and I noticed an increase in interest,” she recalled in a chat with GQ. “I thought that was very strange, so I did it again right away and I got the same reaction.” That’s when Lee realized that she was truly on to something.
Those viral hits are what led Lee to Reddit, where she found an entire community of popoholics. Excited at the prospect of being “their queen,” Lee amped up her social media activity across several platforms. “I just thought I would just keep posting things, and I saw the reactions, I saw people getting excited about it and it was just like this bonfire I felt like I was building,” she continued. Eventually, that explosive growth is what led to TLC knocking on Lee’s door.
Before she got famous, Dr. Pimple Popper offered free services
Once Dr. Pimple Popper realized that there was a surging demand for popping videos, she also was able to shift her concepts of capital and currency. Specifically, Dr. Sandra Lee decided to offer dermatological services for free for people if, in exchange, they let her film and post the video online. Well, given that many of the procedures that Lee does aren’t deemed “medically necessary” by insurance companies, and, therefore, aren’t covered, tons of people took her up on her offer.
Of course, this all started before Lee was famous on her own television show, so she wasn’t yet a household name. However, it didn’t take long for Lee’s profile to rise, thanks to her commitment to helping people. “There’s ‘Humans of New York’ and I feel like I’ve created ‘Humans of Dermatology,’ where the people are anonymous, but you get a little snippet of their life,” she shared in an interview with The Washington Post. “You don’t just want to see anonymous blackheads, you want to know about the story behind the person who has them.”
Dr. Pimple Popper named herself before she was famous
Everyone knows Dr. Sandra Lee as Dr. Pimple Popper now, but that obviously isn’t her real name. So how did Lee get christened with the moniker? It turns out that the dermatologist devised the handle herself during her early days on the internet. “My name on Reddit is ‘DrPimplePopper,'” she told Racked. “The people on the Popping subreddit know me now, and they’re really wonderful. I find this little subculture fascinating.”
While Dr. Pimple Popper isn’t exactly a subtle name, it works perfectly for Lee, who’s leaned into it with everything she has. “I joke with my friends that I want to be a pimple popping sensation,” she continued.
Interestingly, Lee isn’t an innate popoholic, herself, and never has been. But she doesn’t mind being known primarily for popping pimples — which, if you’re not Dr. Pimple Popper, might not be so great for your skin — even if she provides a variety of other services also. She noted that she tried sharing images and videos of her other procedures on social media, but soon learned that it’s the pimples that people want to see. So, pimples it is!
Dr. Pimple Popper did all of her filming and social media herself before the fame
When Dr. Pimple Popper was just starting out with posting content on social media, it was a fairly small operation. “I do it all myself,” she explained in a 2015 interview with Racked. “I edit, everything. I use my iPhone and iMovie — that’s it.” Hey, that’s all you need to build an empire!
By 2015, Dr. Sandra Lee was getting busier and busier, so she started to consider other options as well. “I might try to see if I can do some sort of GoPro or something like that, but I can’t wear something really heavy on my head,” she continued. “My staff knows I’m crazy.”
Just a couple of years down the road, Lee had upgraded her operation and was no longer a one-woman band. “It is a lot of work, but that’s why we have a team working on it,” she revealed to Mental Floss. “I have a little bit of a problem letting go because I feel like it’s my responsibility.” Well, eventually she had to, as now there’s an entire film crew to record Lee at work!
Dr. Pimple Popper's workload changed after her TV show
Probably one of the biggest changes in Dr. Pimple Popper’s life is her work schedule. Obviously, things are going to be different when you have your own reality show, but the impacts have ricocheted through Dr. Sandra Lee’s entire life. “Before Dr. Pimple Popper, Sandra and I divided our workload equitably, between our practice and taking care of our two sons,” her husband, Dr. Jeffrey Rebish, shared in a chat with Refinery29. “But since she’s kind of blown up — with a TLC show and a legitimate retail business, SLMD Skincare – things are different.” Understandably so!
What makes us super happy here at The List is the way that Rebish has fully committed himself to nurturing his wife’s career ambitions. “Sandra has to give a lot of time to Dr. Pimple Popper, and between filming and promotional events, she’s very, very busy,” he continued. “It’s her baby, so I pick up slack where she might’ve been more of a presence if it weren’t for the show.” Well, now the world knows how Lee’s life has changed since she got famous, but her super healthy marriage has always been #RelationshipGoals.
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