'It wasn't my intention to be a star': Meet the doctor with over 14 million followers on TikTok

Dr Muneeb Shah, who is popular for debunking skincare myths, talks about his rise to fame during a visit to Dubai

Supplied photos
Supplied photos

By Nasreen Abdulla

Published: Sun 24 Apr 2022, 5:13 PM

Last updated: Wed 27 Apr 2022, 10:29 PM

With a combined following of over 16 million, Dr Muneeb Shah - or @dermdoctor as he is popularly known on TikTok - has been making waves around the world ever since he stepped into the world of social media.

Famous for his educational and informative content, Dr Shah has been debunking myths about skincare and skin diseases on TikTok.

“It was not my intention to become a social media star,” said Dr Shah, who is visiting Dubai to celebrate his fifth anniversary with his wife. However, when he started making content, he realised there was a gap that needed to be filled. Watch him talk about his journey below:

Beginning on social media

It was in May 2020 that Dr Shah posted his first video. “It was the pandemic,” he said. “My wife and I are both doctors and work in two different hospitals. So, we weren’t allowed to meet for fear of spreading the virus. After work, I would be home alone. I started creating videos to send to my friends and family. I didn’t really expect anyone to watch them.”

“My first viral video was about the worst skincare trends. One example I gave was about jade rollers. The best-case scenario is that it is cooling to the face and can move some lymphatic fluid around. However, some of the advertised benefits, like that it can change the shape of your jaw or build collagen were unfounded. The video got picked up by a couple of news channels and there was a huge discussion.”

“Then I started a series called What’s on Your Skin, where I would show photos of a common skin disease and explain what it was. People enjoyed the education and entertainment component. The response was so positive that I knew I had to keep doing this.”

Finding Dermatology

Being a dermatologist wasn’t Dr Shah’s initial plan. “I started specialising in radiology,” he said. “It was all about looking at images and making diagnostics based on that. I realized that seeing patients and interacting with them was important to me, so I pivoted into dermatology. I liked how visual it was. Also, as a dermatologist, we treat a huge range of issues. In a day, I could be treating acne, psoriasis, skin cancer and sometimes even a mystery rash. I enjoyed the challenge of it.”

“For my undergraduate studies, I majored in psychology. Also, as a teen, I have worked in several jobs including retail, fashion, and food. Working such diverse jobs has helped me a lot. As a doctor I learnt to communicate with different people in different situations and on social media, it taught me to speak in a way that people would understand and relate to.”

Shift on social media

According to Dr Shah, there has been a huge shift in how social media functions, and he considers it a welcome change. He gives the example of a recent TikTok trend to illustrate his point.

“There was an influencer who crushed aspirin and used it as a mask because it has salicylic acid in it,” he said. “Salicylic acid is a great acne ingredient, but you can’t crush aspirin and put it on your face as it could cause burns. Within a few hours of posting it, I had been tagged a hundred times and asked for an opinion. I made a video explaining how it was harmful and what could be done instead. The amazing thing was that the influencer took my advice on board.”

“Earlier, anyone could do post anything without any checks and balances. Now, there is an accountability factor. Even if I say something inaccurate, which I try not to, I will be called out. And that is the beauty of having so many doctors as well as beauty influencers on social media. I don’t think it should be territorial. Everyone is going to benefit if there are more people doing it.”

Pitfalls and gratification of social media

Dr Shah’s advice to all content creators is to have a thick skin. “The thing about social media is that they will pick up on anything that you have an insecurity about,” he said. “I got a lot of comments about how I looked and sounded. But I had siblings. We were four brothers and sisters. No one said anything mean to me that my siblings hadn’t already told me.”

“There was some negativity within the professional community. The dermatologists were very sceptical, especially because I am so young. Medicine is very hierarchical. However, I always try to address these issues face to face and try to win over such peers. You are bound to face some negativity when you try to do something new.”

But for Dr Shah, the positivity of his social media experience outweighs all the negative. “I knew that what I was putting out was good and positive information,” he said, “ I read a lot and made sure all videos are accurate even if it meant I had to deconstruct a lot of things I learnt. I knew that not everyone was going to like what I put out. But I knew that what I was doing was net beneficial for people. So, when I go to bed, I don’t worry about it.”

“Also, I get a lot of personal messages from people who have benefited from my videos. Even in Dubai, I had a lady come up to me and tell me how much her skin had changed after following some of my advice. That is a very humbling experience. To make an impact on people’s lives in whatever small way I can.”

Future Plans

“There are lots of things in the pipeline, but I can’t tell you anything for certain now,” said Dr Shah. “I do want to set up a practice that is global and hopefully come to Dubai, too. Right now, I am taking one day at a time and enjoying it as it comes.”



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