Dermatologist Dustin Portela DO, FAAD has had a rapid social media ascent. The Boise, Idaho-based, board-certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon is also the founder of Treasure Valley Dermatology, where he provides dermatological care for patients of all ages. Dr. Portela’s growing social media channels include 2.4 million followers on TikTok, 296,000 on Instagram and 455,000 on YouTube.
Dr. Portela’s path is a different one as compared to his dermatologist peers or even more traditional skin-care influencers. It also serves as an example of how verified and accredited experts like him are getting creative, when it comes to expanding across social platforms.
The focus on Snapchat
To that end, in addition to hosting a podcast called “Between Two Derms” — a riff on actor Zach Galifianakis’ famed talk show, “Between Two Ferns” — Dr. Porela is also growing his Snapchat channel. Snapchat has 750 million monthly users as of 2023, whereas Instagram has 2.3 billion monthly users and TikTok has 834 million monthly users. Dr. Portela is expanding his Snapchat presence via a recurring segment called “Skinned,” in which he hosts an in-person meetup with a select follower in a city where he’s traveling.
The “Skinned” Snapchat series
For “Skinned,” Dr. Portela meets with one of his followers at a retailer such as Sephora, Ulta, Target, CVS or Walmart. There, he’ll address their skin concerns, educate on ingredients that would work best for them and take them shopping — on his own dollar — to design a personalized skin-care routine. All of this is captured content, of course. And these videos are edited down, repurposed and shared across his other social channels.
“On social media, I recommend products for certain conditions, but that doesn’t allow me to take follow-up questions and create a more nuanced regimen for their specific needs,” Dr. Portela said. When he’s with someone in-store, he can get real-time feedback when they select a product. For example, he’ll learn whether they like the texture or fragrance, or whether they used that product before and hated it.
As with most any platform launch, his Snapchat start was slow. It launched January 11, and, over the first few episodes, he and his team refined their strategy and presentation to better reach Snapchat users. For example, they updated the graphics and the show’s look to be more consistent with Dr. Portela’s branding across the other social media platforms. They also introduced non-shopping content, including TikTok reaction videos, which have helped to keep viewers’ attention. “We are now at 18,000 subscribers and over 1.5 million minutes of watch time on the series,” he said.
His favorite “Skinned” episode
One of Dr. Portela’s favorite videos in the series was centered on selecting a regimen for a shopper who had both dry skin and acne. “Many acne treatment products can really exacerbate dry skin, so we had to really be thoughtful about the products we selected,” Dr. Portela said. In the end, he built a routine designed to not only reduce acne, but to also improve dry skin. He focused on barrier repair products, like the black tea moisturizer from Fresh Beauty, and found a retinol alternative containing bakuchiol from Beekman 1802. “There is much less risk of dryness and irritation with bakuchiol compared to a traditional retinol,” Dr. Portela said.
Why Snapchat versus TikTok?
Snapchat allows creators to produce shows that can be up to five minutes long. And the video editing style that’s unique to Snapchat — with its quick pace with multiple cuts — works to retain viewer engagement, Dr. Portela said. “You can do that on TikTok, of course. But Snapchat will intersperse its ads at critical moments to really keep people engaged in the show,” he said. “It retains the audience better.” In comparison, a TikTok video will play in its entirety before any cuts.
“In my experience, it is more challenging to retain the average TikTok viewer for three to five minutes,” he said. It’s also not possible to stack multiple videos appearing in succession on TikTok the way that you can on Snapchat. When he started posting on the platform, there were no other creators, to Dr. Portela’s knowledge, making this kind of shopping-experience-with-an-expert content. That made the opportunity to succeed even greater, he said.
Dr. Portela said Snapchat presented a unique opportunity to develop a series designed to showcase his expertise as a dermatologist. “I worked with an agency to develop a concept we felt many people could resonate with,” he said. “It’s easy for any derm or influencer to stand in front of the camera and recommend products. I wanted to find a person and buy them the exact products they needed.” So far, Dr. Portela has created shopping videos at Sephora, Ulta, Target and Walmart.
“Walking through the store and having a conversation with a real person helps to showcase not only my expertise in skin care, but also as a physician who can help people achieve their health goals,” Dr. Portela said.
He added that the shopping series has resonated with many followers who find the product recommendations easier to identify with and understand. “I’ve noticed that the quality of questions in my inbox are more detailed and nuanced, as followers understand more about the reason I select certain products,” he said. Dr. Portela said he also receives messages simply expressing gratitude for better skin as a result of following the recommendations he’s shared.
The Impact on Dr. Portela’s Business
Dr. Portela’s clinic is already quite full, so the goal of the Snapchat series isn’t to bring new patients to the clinic, although that may happen. He also hasn’t accepted any sponsorships through the Snapchat series. “The goal right now is to keep an organic focus with genuine recommendations for what a person needs,” he says. That said, Snapchat does play ads during the videos which gives the creator an opportunity to earn some additional revenue. “This has allowed me to cover the costs of the products that I am buying for individuals I shop with,” he said.
Dr. Portela’s rise to fame on other platforms
Dr. Portela initially created his social media presence on Facebook and Instagram to raise awareness of his clinic in the local area. “Growth through Facebook and Instagram were slow in the beginning, but once I started posting on TikTok, I noticed explosive growth in my followers on all platforms,” Dr. Portela said.
He then took the time to learn the platforms and quickly began to establish a personal brand on social media that complemented his medical practice. “I did begin to notice more patients coming into the clinic after discovering me through social media,” he said. “My practice has now been open for five years and we have three locations. This month, we also broke ground on a brand new building that will be the forever home of my practice. To say that social media has played a role in helping us to grow to this point would be an understatement.”
Dr. Portela said he wants to find a way to reach more people with his medical care. “So many people in my area and across the United States simply don’t have access to medical care, especially specialty dermatology care,” he said. He’s initiated a project through a new nonprofit corporation that will allow him to reach more of those people. “I’ll be sharing that work through social media as a new way to educate followers and advocate for meaningful health reforms,” he said. He plans to formally announce that project closer to summer as he continues to secure funding.