This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
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.
There’s nothing like a medical mystery to add some drama to an otherwise ordinary Thursday night, and Dr. Pimple Popper is serving it up hot. In episode three of season two, titled “The Last Unicorn,” the doctor brings us three patients, all suffering from shocking and seriously debilitating conditions. We have a rare, undiagnosed skin disease, a sweet Spanish speaker with a massive, squishy lump on her head, plus a guy with a boob-sized lipoma — all squeezed into an hour-long episode. If you’re intrigued, find all the juicy (literally) details, ahead.
Case #1: Louis
Superior, WI, is where we meet 70-year-old Louis, a lovable veteran and grandpa who suffers from a skin disease so rare, no doctor has been able to come up with a diagnosis. The condition presents as dry, flaky skin covering his entire body from head to toe, with the peeling worsening around his lower legs and feet. Watching Louis slowly pull huge, scale-like flaps of wrinkly dead skin from his shin is like a good Baby Foot peeling session taken to the extreme.
More than a visual annoyance, Louis’s condition is super painful, made worse by the fact that he has no idea what’s causing it. “On a scale of one to ten, the pain in my feet is a nine or ten,” he says. “It all started after I returned home from Vietnam and my skin started curling up on me. The condition has only become worse, and I’m convinced it’s caused by something that happened to my skin while I was overseas — chemical exposure or something.”
Come consultation day, Louis is excited to meet Dr. Lee and for the prospect of living a life without the mysterious skin condition he’s been suffering from for so long. “I want to be able to have a better quality of life,” he says. “I just want to be able to walk my grandkids to the park without a bunch of pain.”
In the office, Louis brings Dr. Lee up to speed on the history of his condition, and his theory that it dates back to Vietnam. “This is way beyond athlete’s foot or severely dry skin,” Dr. Lee says as she inspects his skin. “I’ve seen something like this in textbooks, but never in person.” Taking into account the safest way to proceed — considering Louis’s age and the rarity of his condition — Dr. Lee performs what’s called a punch test, where she biopsies the top layer of dead skin, plus the fat layer just below the surface, and sends that sample to the lab to find out what’s really going on.
In the meantime, Dr. Lee teaches Louis a healing skin treatment known as wet wrapping that he can do on his own at home by slathering Vaseline on his feet and ribboning layers of gauze over the top to trap hydration into dry skin. “I think that if Louis continues with this wrapping regimen, locking in lots of moisture, I think he might be able to see serious results,” Dr. Lee says, sending Louis on his way while she waits for his lab results.
A post shared by Sandra Lee, MD, FAAD, FAACS (@drpimplepopper) on Jan 10, 2019 at 1:58pm PST
Case #2: Irais
The second case takes us to Laguna Hills, CA, where we meet Irais and her cousin Gil. An immigrant from Mexico, Irais only speaks Spanish, so Gil tells us her story. “Irais is from Acapulco, and she’s been in the U.S. for about ten years now,” Gil explains. “Like many of us, she is here for the American Dream.” Unfortunately, there’s one thing standing in the way of Irais and a better life: a huge, sack-like bulge growing from her scalp.
“At first, she thought it was just a zit,” Gil explains as Irais parts her long black hair to show the camera the growth. “It just kept growing and growing. She hasn’t been able to save money to see a doctor, because she has to buy the essentials for her young daughters.” To get by, Irais wears a hat or a bandana to hide the squishy lump, but it’s understandably a serious hinderance on her self-confidence, getting in the way of her ability to live a normal life with her girls.
Despite the language barrier, when Dr. Lee walks into the exam room to meet Irais, she’s able to spot the issue right away. “Irais has a serious fatty bump on her head,” Dr. Lee says, assuming it to be a pilar cyst (the ones that usually grow on the scalp). In surgery, Dr. Lee pins back Irais’s hair and begins slicing into the squishy mass, and after some tugging and squeezing, the bump starts to excrete a runny bright-yellow liquid like nothing we’ve ever seen on this show. By the end, Dr. Lee has extracted the full, tumor-like scalp growth, and Irais’s head takes on a whole new shape.
A post shared by TLC (@tlc) on Dec 30, 2018 at 7:07pm PST
Case #3: Johnny
Next up is 77-year-old Johnny, who has a free-moving lump in his back — he playfully calls it his “ba-da-boob” — that he’s essentially ignored for about 25 years. “When I was younger and it started growing, I didn’t have insurance,” Johnny says. “I just let it be and didn’t pay attention to it,” he continued (bad idea). “But now, it’s pretty big, and my concern is that it might be affecting my health.”
At the in-office consult, Dr. Lee is pretty positive that Johnny’s floating back bump is a fatty lipoma. So they head into the operating room, where Dr. Lee slices into Johnny’s back, exposing a large, yellow sack of fatty tissuue. Using her fingers, Dr. Lee pulls and smoothly yanks out Johnny’s boob. Ba-da-bye.
And just when you’re looking at the time, thinking, “Wait, whatever happened with Louis’s skin culture?” the ever-reliable Dr. Lee loops us back around. Louis returns to the office, and Dr. Lee breaks down his lab results, diagnosing him with ichthyosis, which is medical speak for hyper-thickened, dry skin. “It’s hard to prove where exactly this has come from,” Dr. Lee says, with no clear proof that this condition was born from chemical exposure. “But luckily, there are no signs that is hereditary,” she continues — which is good news for Louis’s grandkids. Plus, with his wrapping regimen under control, Louis’s skin looks ten times better at the follow-up and he’s virtually pain-free.
With a new lease on life for Louis, we end episode three on a high note. Check back next week for another episode, sure to be filled with more heartwarming stories and fascinating surgeries.
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