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October 02, 2018

Philly dermatologists pick apart Dr. Pimple Popper

Five local docs opine on Dr. Sandra Lee and her methods of extracting zits, cysts, and other blemishes from the skin

Odd News Dermatology
Dr. Sandra Lee, Pimple Popper @SandraLeeMD/Twitter/for PhillyVoice

Lee called herself Dr. Pimple Popper, and she now has nearly 4 million YouTube subscribers — which she parlayed earlier this year into a TLC special, and now a regular series on TLC.

“Look away” is the theme song of the Netflix series Lemony Snicket's “A Series of Unfortunate Events.”

Just look away,

Look away—

There's nothing but horror and inconvenience on the way

Ask any stable person, "Should I watch?" and they will say:

Look away–

Look away, look away.

Many people simply couldn’t look away.

Lee’s “Back Blackhead Extraction Session #2 in 'Mrs. Gold' – Addressing the Inflamed One,” has been viewed more than 50 million times. Dr. Pimple Popper’s exploding popularity resulted in a TLC show, “Dr. Pimple Popper,” which premiered in July 2018. Season 2 is set for January 2019, so its popularity hasn’t come to a head.

With titles of shows like, “The World’s Largest Lump,” “The Curious Case of the Pooting Cyst,” and “An American Tail,” it’s hard to blame viewers for their curiosity.

It seems the secret obsession that some only do in the privacy of their bathrooms with a magnifying mirror has gone prime time.

RELATED READS: You can watch Drexel alum 'Dr. Pimple Popper' pop pimples on TV, if you'd like | Undocumented immigrants see doctors less often, but are they healthier than other U.S. populations? | Watch: NJ Transit door was left wide open while train, passengers zipped along

Blackhead and blemish removal kits are top sellers on Amazon.

Lee even created a pimple popping game. Fun for the whole family!

Dr. Pimple Popper’s legion of “Popaholics” are not simply your weird cousin who keeps a collection of skin tags in a jar.

Lee's viewers can’t look away. But what do her peers think? These are dermatologists who do the dirty work (it is gross) every day without a camera crew and their own line of skin care products. We took the time to interview a few on the local level. 

• Dr. Jonathan Wolfe, Division Head of Dermatology, Einstein Medical Center Montgomery Hospital

Dr. Jonathan WolfeProvided/for PhillyVoice

Dr. Jonathan Wolfe

Opinion of Dr. Pimple Popper:

“I’m not a huge lover of Dr. Pimple Popper. People squeezing at things can sometimes get them into trouble. When you squeeze a large cyst, it explodes. It might be fun to watch a video of it, but it can also lead to inflammation, it can become infected and become a problem.

“It makes it more difficult for us downstream to remove the cyst because it turns into scar tissue. It’s so much easier for us to remove something if it is not self-manipulated. I’m not sure from a pure dermatology point of view we are in love with Dr. Pimple Popper. She’s certainty popular, though.”

PV: Is what is seen on the show a part of your everyday schedule?

“Sure, absolutely. Cysts, acne cysts, pores, whiteheads, blackheads, those types of things are very common in our day-to-day."

PV: Should I pick that?

“Not everything that looks like a pore, cyst or blackhead is that. It always concerns dermatologists when people are self-manipulating things that they are not sure of what they are. It’s not good medicine to start squeezing everything you see. It can lead to more problems than it appears. What if it’s a growth, cancer or basal cell? You don’t know what you're picking. Don’t squeeze or manipulate on your own. It’s not healthy its not good medicine.”

• Dr. Nazanin Saedi, board-certified dermatologist specializing in dermatologic surgery and cosmetic dermatology, Jefferson Dermatology Associates

02 - Dr. Nazanin SaediProvided/for PhillyVoice

Dr. Nazanin Saedi

Opinion of Dr. Pimple Popper

“Initially, when I heard about the show, I felt she shortchanged us (derms) by simplifying what we do in terms of schooling and training. But once I watched a few episodes, I had a change of heart. She is very professional and seems to care about her patients and does a thorough job. She is well qualified and trained and is an excellent dermatologic surgeon.”

PV: Do patients mention Dr. Pimple Popper?

“All the time. I get comments about the show and the YouTube videos or patients come in being more educated about what they have and treatment options because of her videos.”

PV: Did you ever think there would be this amount of interest in your profession?

“No [laughs]. I never thought that. I think a lot of people find it to be disgusting. Especially with the cysts, extracting and injecting pimples, but I think her show also shines light about recognizing skin cancers and how dermatologists play an active role in diagnosing and treating them.”

PV: Should I pick that?

“No. I tell patients to not pick at anything that pops up on their skin. Come in and see us. And don’t own a magnifying mirror! I personally don’t own one, and if I did, I’m sure I would find all kinds of things on my skin and pick. It allows patients to see more and pick more. The more you pick, the more problems you can get.” 

• Dr. Karen Harkaway, board-certified Cosmetic Dermatologist and Dermatologic Surgeon, The Harkaway Center for Dermatology and Aesthetics

02 - Dr. Karen HarkawayProvided/for PhillyVoice

Dr. Karen Harkaway

PV: Do you watch Dr. Pimple Popper?

“I have seen it a few times, but, since I do this all day long, I do not watch on a regular basis! I think the show's brilliant! She is appropriate and capable, and it clearly encourages people to think about their skin.”

PV: Should I pick that?

“If there is a true whitehead, you may pop it –one time only – but all of the blackheads that are shown on the show would be very difficult for laypeople to extract themselves without significantly injuring their skin and increasing the risk of scarring.”

• Angelique Schriver, Nurse Practitoner and owner at Hermosa Concierge CosMedics

PV: Why can’t viewers of the show look away?

Angelique SchriverProvided/for PhillyVoice

Angelique Schriver

“It’s like watching a train wreck and you are too grossed out to look away. In my perspective, it’s fairly different to be the provider. Through a video, you don’t have all the senses engaged. You are just watching it. But cysts are extremely odorous. You can smell them right away when you open them up. If you notice, she now wears a full-face mask and a shield because they can explode. I’ve had cysts explode on me.”

PV: Did you ever think there would be this amount of interest in your profession?

“Absolutely. Just look at the 10 different types of magnification mirrors at Bed Bath & Beyond. Wasn’t one mirror enough?”

PV: Should I pick that?

“We call those frustrated dermatologists. It’s not a great idea. Do I do it myself? Absolutely. But I think, overall, you are more likely to create swelling around the area and not get it out. Most of us who appropriately pick at our skin use special tools, whereas, at home, you are using your finger pads or nails, which are dirty. It creates more trauma around the skin than actually getting it out.”

• Dr. Laura Schilling, Dermatologist in Media, Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals

02 - Dr. Laura SchillingProvided/for PhillyVoice

Dr. Laura Schilling

PV: Did you ever think there would be this amount of interest in your profession?

“I did not. A lot of people find it gross and don’t like to see it, but there are a good number who find watching the videos satisfying and entertaining.”

PV: Why can’t people look away?

“They can’t wait to see that big cyst being popped out of the patient. It’s a satisfying thing as a physician to do and a viewer to watch. They want to see it from beginning to end and her videos are relatively quick to watch.”

PV: Should I pick that?

“You should not. While it can be tempting to pop or squeeze larger pimples, it can make the problems worse and lead to delayed healing. It makes you more prone to infection and potentially permanent scaring, which no one wants. When you see your dermatologist, we will be able to properly diagnosis your skin condition, prescribe any medication, if necessary, or, if a procedure is necessary, we can use the appropriate and sterile tools.”