It can't be often that Dr. Sandra Lee, MD is shocked by the magnitude of a patient's skin condition, but in the season three premiere of her hit TLC show, Dr. Pimple Popper, the dermatologist went to work on some of the largest keloids she'd ever seen.
At the start of the episode, we meet Jennifer, a 29-year-old cosplay enthusiast with big, mysterious growths on her ears. She's had them for around 11 years, ever since her piercings in both ears didn't heal properly and became infected. The masses cause dizziness, nausea, and headaches-not to mention depression. And Jennifer doesn't know what she'll do if Lee can't fix the problem.
"Im in danger of not wanting to live anymore if, like, I cant feel good about myself, she says.
In this sneak peak of season three, you can catch Jennifer showing the growths to the camera around the 20-second mark:
The diagnosis: When Jennifer meets Lee, the doctor quickly recognizes them as keloids -an "overgrowth of scar tissue," she explains. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, keloids can appear after various forms of trauma to the skin, including cuts and burns-and yes, piercings. They can grow slowly over a span of years, which is exactly what happened to Jennifer.
"Jennifer has some extreme keloids," Lee says.
The deliberation: Lee knows that removing Jennifer's keloids will be tricky, because they're attached to a significant portion of Jennifer's ears (unlike, say, this memorable cauliflower-resembling skin tag ). The keloid surgery will be a form of trauma in and of itself, and Lee's concern is that the growths could come back-and even bigger. She also realizes she may have to remove part of Jennifer's actual ear: "The patient has to understand that she may not really get the ear that she used to have before the keloids were there," Lee explains.
Nevertheless, Lee proceeds with the surgery in the hope that she can remove Jennifer's keloids successfully (and permanently).
The treatment: It's surgery time. Lee injects the numbing agent and starts to cut around the edge of the first keloid, and in what feels like no time at all, it's off! "I removed the largest of the four keloids-it was probably the largest that I ever removed," Lee says, adding that she had to take off more of the normal ear than she expected.
"I can hear it scraping! That's so crazy!" Jennifer cries as Lee toils away at the keloids.
On Jennifer's other ear, Lee makes an encouraging discovery. She was worried Jennifer had one massive keloid that went straight through her ear, when in fact, she has two separate keloids-meaning the removal will pose less of a risk to the shape of the ear. Off they come!
Finally, Lee performs a skin graft on Jennifer's left ear-the one where she took off more than she planned. (A skin graft involves detaching healthy tissue from one part of the body and using it to patch up another area.)
After the surgery, Jennifer looks at herself in the mirror and covers her mouth. "I feel like half my face is missing," she says. She means that in a good way, mind you: "I forgot what I looked like," she says. "I forgot that I could feel so good about myself."
The removed keloids weighed 14 ounces altogether.
The follow-up: To prevent the keloids from returning, Lee has Jennifer come back for radiation therapy. Jennifer is really nervous for the procedure, but in the end, she discovers it's NBD. She hardly feels a thing.
"I'm feeling pretty optimistic about it working for me," Jennifer says. "I'm absolutely grateful for Dr. Lee because she went the extra mile to make sure they're not going to return."
A month later, Jennifer has no more of the headaches or vertigo she used to get. She has some slight scarring from the surgery, but life is good: She can actually wear headphones now, and she doesn't feel like she needs to hide. She's especially excited that she can dress up as any character when she does cosplay, without fear of her keloids showing. "I can actually pursue cosplay as a career now," she says.
Dr. Pimple Popper airs Thursdays at 9/8c on TLC.