Every week on Dr. Pimple Popper, dermatologist Sandra Lee, MD, meets with men and women suffering from rare, often confidence-crushing skin conditions. The boils they carry are massive. The cysts are bubbling up to balloon-sized. But it's the people underneath the incredible lumps and growths that make the show worth watching. Just cover your eyes through the pus-filled eruptions, if you must.
You can DIY your skin-care routine, a cocktail (or three), and a decorative serving tray that looks chic on your coffee table — heck, we recommend all of these — but serious pimple popping? That should always be handled by a pro. If it weren't glaringly obvious before, let this week's episode of Dr. Pimple Popper serve as a cautionary tale of why it's never a good idea to operate on yourself. Between a massive neck lump, a baseball-sized cystic armpit boil, over 300 mysterious bumps, and a DIY surgery, the results are far from pretty. Read on for a recap of this week's episode of Dr. Pimple Popper.
Case #1: Belina
Belinda, 60, is a former bus driver, who we meet in her hometown of P0mona, California. Because of a massive bump growing on the back of her neck — which Belinda affectionately calls her baby — she's unable to swivel her neck side-to-side, which makes day-to-day life tough and turns driving into a safety hazard. Not only is Belinda's giant neck growth hindering her life, it's also impacting her 20-something son, Ladel, who is Belinda's best friend and primary caretaker. "I keep her schedule, and make sure she eats, and that her clothes are clean and all that," Ladel explains. So sweet Belinda makes her trip to Dr. Lee's office, hoping to have her huge neck pimple popped.
Dr. Lee isn't exactly sure what is causing Belinda's neck knot upon first inspection. If the mystery growth is a fat pocket, the course of action would be liposuction, but if the bump is a lipoma, it needs to be popped or excised with a scalpel. To figure out what's going on, Dr. Lee slices into the neck skin holding Belinda's "baby" and pokes around the protruding growth with her fingers. (Just a quick reminder to never attempt this at home!) Dr. Lee then identifies the mass as a lipoma by grabbing the edges of the cut with both hands and squeezing the big, yellow, hardened ball of fat calls to the surface of the skin. With one precise push, the entire ball of gunk satisfyingly spews out of Belinda's neck. After sewing her up, Dr. Lee lets Belinda cradle her baby lipoma.
Case #2: Nicole
The next case takes us to up to Portland, Oregon, where we meet Nicole, a young mother with a strange growth protruding from under her right arm."When my daughter was a baby, she slept on my chest," Nicole explains, showing the camera the cystic bulge coming out of her armpit. "The pressure caused my breast milk to migrate up underneath my arm, and into my lymphatic tissue. It grew almost immediately into a baseball-sized bump under my arm. I was so scared, because I thought it was cancer, but the doctors said it was breast milk migration, and the best course of action was to let the lump drain on its own." But eleven years later, Nicole is now engaged, and has been putting off planning the wedding because the large lump is still hanging down from her armpit — embarrassingly flopping out of any strapless wedding dress she tries on.
Nicole then journeys to Dr. Lee's California office, excited to have her armpit bump taken care of. In poking and squeezing Nicole's little underarm stress ball, Dr. Lee is a little bit nervous about the location of the bump, because it's hanging from the brachial plexus, which holds all the nerves that run from the armpit to the hand. "Nicole's operation could be tricky, because the lump is so close to the brachial plexus, and I don't want to mess with any of the nerves in her arm," Dr. Lee explains as she numbs Nicole's armpit area before carefully slicing into the skin. Bloody fat immediately bulges out from the incision as Dr. Lee uses scissors to snip away some of Nicole's arm skin to get a better look at the mysterious herniating tissue. Dr. Lee presses into the yellowish fatty tissue with her fingers, then decides to use a electric cautery device to help control the bleeding as she shapes and shrinks the fat tissue.
While there would typically be some blood and oozing pus in a pimple pop, this operation is... different. "The same way raw bacon sizzles and shrivels when it hits the heat, that's what is happening to Nicole's armpit fat," Dr. Lee explains after burning away Nicole's fat with a cauterizer. After the fatty tissue is trimmed down, Dr. Lee stitches Nicole up, and she's left completely lump-free and confident enough to find her perfect wedding dress.
Case #3: Adela
Next, we meet Adela, 62, who's looking to have around 300 mysterious bumps removed from her neck, chest, and back. Adela wasn't born with these bumps — which look like they could be skin tags or moles at first glance — they popped up when she was pregnant with her now-teenage daughter. They're not too noticeable at first glance, because the dots aren't pigmented any darker than her complexion, but they've long kept Adela from wearing the low-cut, leopard-print tops and dresses that she so desperately wants to wear.
Sitting down with Dr. Lee at her consultation, Adela finds out that her little mole-ish bumps are actually not moles at all, rather a condition called seborrheic keratosis. The wisdom spots, as Dr. Lee likes to call them, are more like skin tag-esque dots stuck onto the skin. "Many people get seborrheic keratosis, but it's important to differentiate them from moles," Dr. Lee explains. "Moles are composed of melanocytes, which is why they're usually dark and pigmented. Those melanocytes can turn cancerous, and we call that a melanoma. Seborrheic keratosis dots are not composed of melanocytes, thus, they can't turn into melanoma." Meaning that the sudden onset of these bumps isn't concerning or potentially life-threatening.
There are a few different dermatological methods to remove seborrheic keratosis, so Dr. Lee uses a few different techniques to treat Adela. Starting on the chest and neck area — trigger warning, if you're prone to picking — Dr. Lee slices off Adela's bumps using a tiny razor blade and a curved blackhead extracting tool. Then, Dr. Lee fires up a KTP laser, which is cool because it actually explodes Adela's bumps. Spoiler: You can actually hear a little popping sound, but it's not gross or bloody at all.
Flipping over to Adela's back, the seborrheic keratosis are bigger and darker than the tiny specks that were on her front side. For this tough area, Dr. Lee takes a different approach, numbing and snipping off the large sticky dots using serrated scissors. Remember Diane's neurofibromatosis removal from last week's episode? The painful snap of the scissors clipping off the skin gives you the same sensation when Dr. Lee treats Adela's back. When she finishes, Adela's skin is a little inflamed. Dr. Lee expects one to two weeks of healing time for the dead skin to flake off — and then Adela can wear her animals print tops with gusto.
Case #4: Nick
The last case of the day is by far the most disturbing because it involves an amateur, DIY popping situation. Though most of us understand that Dr. Lee's procedures are not to be tried at home — Nick, 27, missed the memo — and decided her could operate on the grape-sized lump popping out of his leg with an X-ACTO knife. After sterilizing his leg, and setting up a tripod (to document his stupidity), Nick sliced into his skin (with no numbing medication at all) and attempted to pop the gummy lipoma out of his leg.
Obviously, Nick's shoddy surgery left a pretty nasty scar, so he decides to pay a visit to Dr. Lee for a lesson on the importance of medical school — and to have his three other bodily lipomas handled by a pro. At his consultation, Nick shows Dr. Lee the home video of his surgery, and rightfully, she does not approve of his DIY approach. "Nick's scar is indented and stretched, it's the perfect example of a homemade scar," Dr. Lee explains, a little pissed off. "I am not pleased with Nick, but I'm nervous he'll take his other lipomas in his own hands if I leave them." So, Dr. Lee numbs Nick up, and pops the three remaining egg-sized lipomas around his body. Nick walks out of Dr. Lee's office a few lumps lighter, and all the wiser, after making a pimple promise to Dr. Lee that he'll never take a knife to his skin, ever again.
After an hour of surgical success stories and an important lesson — not to attempt any kind of at-home operation — Dr. Pimple Popper's fifth episode comes to a end. Tune in next week for a whole new crew of patients, and a whole lot more pus.