Step away from the magnifying mirror, ma'am

I was recently talking with a patient whose face had markedly improved since her last visit. When I asked her what had changed she said, “You were right, and I finally took your advice. That made all the difference.” Gratified that my clinical skills had once again been validated, I asked her which specific and wonderful piece of advice she had taken, since I give quite a bit of wonderful advice. “I had my husband hide my magnifying mirror.”

I was recently talking with a patient whose face had markedly improved since her last visit. When I asked her what had changed she said, “You were right, and I finally took your advice. That made all the difference.” Gratified that my clinical skills had once again been validated, I asked her which specific and wonderful piece of advice she had taken, since I give quite a bit of wonderful advice.

“I had my husband hide my magnifying mirror.”

So here we are at yet another of my pet peeves—magnifying mirrors. Specifically, magnifying mirrors that are owned and operated by women who also own several pair of devilishly sharp tweezers, assorted safety and straight pins (cleaned with alcohol of course!), and their very own monogrammed comedome extractor (pimple popper) complete with loop on one end and scalpel blade on the other.

Before my gentlemen readers get too smug, at least the women don’t tell me “I didn’t know what that growth on my arm was, but it was bugging me, so I just took out my pocket knife and cut it off. See this scab right here? What do you think it was doc? You don’t think it was something serious do you?” To which I answer “I don’t have a clue.”

When women have a magnifying mirror, at-home surgical instruments, and the stubbornness of a mule, bad things can happen.

For instance:

  • Eyebrow shape becomes very peculiar, with the eyebrow starting centrally too far apart over the pupil, and the natural arch obliterated.
  • Milia, those small white balls under the surface of the skin that the nurses and I remove through tiny pricks in the skin with sterile instruments, are excavated through incisions in the skin that most doctors would close with stitches.
  • Hair on the chin is plucked, in-grows, is dug out with tweezers and needle, tweezed, in-grows again. The cycle is repeated until permanent brown and red pigmentation, and scarring occur. And then the hair, ingrown skin, red and brown discoloration, and scar are picked again. Repeat.
  • Pimples are popped and picked at before they are ready. Even when the picker knows they are not ready. Because they are there, and they are gross. So they must be picked, mustn’t they? Of course if one squeeze doesn’t remove the pimple and all signs of its existence, then 200 squeezes must be applied. Because that will make it disappear without a trace. By morning.
  • Scabs, flakes of skin, acne pimples that are trying valiantly to heal, are picked off every morning because the dry flaky top looks unsightly with makeup accentuating it. Unfortunately, the trauma of picking at it causes the lesion to make more protective flakey skin and scab, to thicken and pigment. It is in effect saying “please stop so I can heal.” Usually no one listens, and the cycle can literally go on for years.

Sarcasm aside, I commonly see women (and I hate to be sexist, but it is almost exclusively women, unless meth is involved) who have caused permanent and unnecessary scars to themselves by picking.

Am I any better? No. As my husband once said to me “I think you went into dermatology just so you could pick legally.” Partially true. But be that as it may, I am a licensed and trained professional who knows what the lesion is, how to remove it, how much I can destroy without a permanent scar, and when to stop. Even if I don’t always do it.

Magnifying mirrors should be available by prescription only. Or at least any magnifying mirror over 3x power. If I can’t see a lesion on exam with my 3x power magnifying glasses, it is not there. Instead, be like my patients who have had cataract surgery, except in reverse. They say “I never had all of these spots on my face until I had cataract surgery. It gave me spots. “I tell them, gently of course, “No you did, and I have seen them on your face for the last 10 years. It is just after your cataract surgery, you can see them too.” If you are prevented from seeing it in your 10x magnifying mirror, it will magically disappear.

So step away from the magnifying mirror ma’am, before someone gets hurt.

Next: if you must pick, do it like a dermatologist. Even though my lawyer is sitting at my shoulder trying to shake some sense into me.