Can Popping a Pimple In the 'Danger Triangle' Actually Kill You?

Can Popping a Pimple In the 'Danger Triangle' Actually Kill You?

Find out whether picking at a zit within the "danger triangle" of the face is as risky as it sounds.
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Even if you're past your teenage years, pimples can still pop up on your skin. When they do, it can be tempting to squeeze the suckers once they've turned white in hopes of getting rid of them faster.

And while dermatologists and other skin pros typically advise against pimple popping altogether, the internet is home to plenty of pimple popping dos and don'ts for those who can't be stopped. One such don't pertains to a particularly ominously-named region of your face: the "danger triangle."

Warnings on social media claim you should never, ever pop pimples within the area for risk of causing death (yes, really). If you're wondering whether that's a real possibility or an exaggeration designed to inspire shock, here's what you should know about the danger triangle.

First of All, What Is the Danger Triangle?

"The danger triangle, also referred to as the 'death triangle' is a colloquial skin term," says Ava Shamban, M.D., a dermatologist and founder of Ava MD. It refers to the area of the face that "includes an isosceles [triangle] from the top of the nose between the eyebrows as its pinnacle, and ends at the corners of the mouth around the upper lip as its base," she says. (Related: Exactly How to Prevent Adult Acne, According to Dermatologists)

Can Popping a Pimple In the 'Danger Triangle' Actually Kill You?
Credit: Getty Images

Is It Really Dangerous to Pop a Pimple In the Danger Triangle?

Yes and no. Popping a pimple in the "death triangle" is dangerous is because it's near blood vessels with a direct link to areas of the skull where infections can spread rapidly and become serious, says Dr. Shamban.

While a deadly infection is within the realm of possibility, the effects of popping a zit in this area are usually not serious, she says. Breaking the skin's surface anywhere (on your face or body) poses a risk of bacteria entering the bloodstream, which is the main concern with the "danger triangle," she notes. If a pimple is popped in the triangle and "if there is a particularly virulent or highly resistant and aggressive bacterial infection introduced from the popping into the bloodstream, it can travel to the other parts of the body, including the brain," says Dr. Shamban. Inflammation of the brain from bacterial infections can result in stroke, hearing loss, or permanent brain damage.

In that vein, you could trigger "a multi-layered cellulitis infection [a type of serious bacterial infection] or a boil-type infection in the hair follicle — both of which can be more difficult to treat depending on the bacteria," she says. But again, these serious repercussions are "in actuality, very, very rare... Circumstances would be extreme and truly a perfect storm," she says.

That said, there are "other lesser complications" that are more common, which can happen when you pop pimples anywhere on your face, says Dr. Shamban. Any time you're "picking, plucking and pummeling the skin," enough to result in redness or scabbing, you can develop inflammation or trigger contact or atopic dermatitis, says Dr. Shamban. (The former is a condition resulting in itchiness, a rash, or blisters, the latter is commonly referred to as eczema.) And if popped prematurely or improperly, a pimple "can stick around for weeks since the bacteria contained inside can be pushed deeper into the pore or spread onto the skin surface, as well as a lead to aggravation and scarring," she says.

So yes, popping a pimple (or otherwise picking at your skin) within the danger triangle can be dangerous, but it's more likely to simply aggravate your skin rather than cause a deadly infection. (Related: What Top Skin Docs Do When They Get a Pimple)

How to Pop a Pimple If You Feel You Must

Dr. Shamban says you should always avoid popping zits, anywhere on your face. "Truly, a blemish is best left alone," she says. "It is tempting to pick, but left to its natural cycle it will heal itself in about three to seven days."

But if you refuse to take heed for the sake of your skin, you can at least use the best technique possible. "I suggest leaving the popping to a pro, but if you must, wait until your pimple has a firm white head," says Dr. Shamban. "That is the signal that the the pus inside is close enough to the skin's surface and ready to be removed or expressed."

Make sure to wash your hands and use cleanser on your skin. Then, apply a warm compress — e.g. a washcloth dampened with warm water — to your skin and hold it there for about two minutes. Then, you should place a tissue between your skin and fingers to avoid bacteria passing into the blemish and gently extract the pimple by applying pressure on either side of the blemish, says Dr. Shamban. You'll know the job is done when pus starts oozing out. (Note: You should only have to apply gentle pressure. If you do, and the pimple still doesn't pop, that's a sign that it's not ready and that you should abort mission.) Then, tone the area using witch hazel. Use a blue LED device to kill bacteria and promote healing, or go the old school route and place ice on top to reduce inflammation.

However, if you can resist popping, Dr. Shamban recommends to first place ice over a zit you notice. (One minute of icing should do the trick.) That'll reduce inflammation and any itchiness so you'll resist the urge to pick your face. From there, she recommends using a hydrocolloid acne patch that contains salicylic acid. Dr. Shamban recommends any patches from Zitsticka (Buy It, $29, amazon.com) or Starface (Buy It, $15, target.com). This will flatten the appearance of the zit making it seem less "popable." Then, Dr. Shamban recommends using a tea tree oil or a bentonite clay product to draw out and absorb excess sebum and oils. Try: The Body Shop Tea Tree Targeted Gel (Buy It, $10, amazon.com) or Innbeauty Project Pimple Paste Overnight Blemish Drying Paste (Buy It, $15, sephora.com). You can repeat the ice step if desired, and your pimple should shrink within a few days. (Related: Here's How Pimple Patches Actually Help Get Rid of Zits)

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Dr. Shamban's overall advice is to refrain from popping pimples, whether they're inside or outside the danger triangle. Even though bacteria traveling to your brain is extremely unlikely, other possible issues are bad enough on their own.